Congolese Warlord Found Guilty in ICC’s First Verdict

Posted March 14th, 2012 at 5:05 am (UTC-5)
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The International Criminal Court has found Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga guilty of sending children into battle, in the court's first ever verdict.

The judges said Wednesday the decision was unanimous; that the evidence, including video footage and witness testimony, proved beyond reasonable doubt Lubanga and his coperpetrators knowingly conscripted children younger than 15 to fight for the armed wing of his group, the Union of Congolese Patriots, during the Democratic Republic of Congo's civil war in 2002 and 2003.

“The chamber has reached its decision unanimously. The chamber concludes that the prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt Mr. Thomas Lubanga is guilty of the crimes of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 years into the FPLC and using them to participate actively in hostilities.”

Lubanga will remain in custody until his sentencing at a later hearing. He could face up to life in prison. He can still appeal the verdict.

Lubanga was the first suspect to be tried by the world's permanent war crimes tribunal, which was established in 2002. The trial got underway in 2009, three years after Lubanga's arrest.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Tuesday the verdict would set a precedent that shows the world on guard against crimes against humanity.

“Tomorrow is a very important day. The first decision of the first permanent international criminal court. The world was united at Nuremberg, but we learned that 'never again' requires that we are not waiting for a new Hitler. So tomorrow's decision on Lubanga, who was a local militia leader, is critically important.”

Meanwhile, authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo say a top commander from a different rebel group, the FDLR, has surrendered amid a “major military operation” mounted by the Congolese army and United Nations peacekeepers.

U.N. spokesman Madnodje Mounoubai told VOA Tuesday Lt. Colonel Bizimana, or Idrissa Muradadi, and three of his bodyguards turned themselves in to the U.N. mission in South Kivu.

Mounoubai said Bizimana is the first high-level rebel to surrender to the U.N. disarmament program, and he said he thinks it will lead more rebels to turn themselves in.

“It is excellent news because we think that the surrender of Idrissa will also have a demoralizing effect on the troops and we are expecting to see a lot of the FDLR [rebels] surrender in the coming days.”

“There is a major military operation going on right now by the FARDC [Congo's national army], supported by MONUSCO, and we believe that this has something to do with the surrender of Mr. Bizimana because I think they start feeling the heat of this operation now.”

The FDLR was established by ethnic Hutus who took part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide of Tutsis and fled to Congo after the killing spree was stopped.

The group has been accused of committing atrocities in the eastern DRC.