x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Congolese warlord jailed for 14 years for using child soldiers

Thomas Lubanga is the first to be sentenced by the International Criminal Court.

THE HAGUE // The International Criminal Court (ICC) jailed Thomas Lubanga, the Congolese warlord, for 14 years today for using child soldiers in his rebel army, the first sentence to be handed down by the world's only permanent war crimes tribunal.

"Taking into account all the factors ... the court sentences Mr Lubanga to 14 years in prison," presiding Judge Adrian Fulford said at the tribunal in an address in which he also took aim at the prosecution in the case.

Lubanga, 51, was convicted in March of war crimes, specifically for using child soldiers in his rebel army in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002-03, in the ICC's first verdict since it started work a decade ago.

The former militia commander was sentenced by a three-judge bench at a public hearing in The Hague for his part in a war in the Ituri region which rights groups say killed some 60,000 civilians between 1999 and 2006.

He had been found guilty of abducting children as young as 11 and forcing them to fight and commit atrocities in the north-eastern gold-rich Ituri region.

During the trial prosecutors told how young girls served as sex-slaves, while boys were trained to fight.

Mr Fulford said the court has taken into account the time Lubanga has already spent behind bars since March 2006, meaning he will effectively spend eight years in prison.

Lubanga had pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

"The crimes of conscripting and enlisting children under 15 and using them hostilities are undoubtedly very serious crimes," the judge said.

"The vulnerability of children mean that they need to be afforded particular protection that does not apply to the general population, recognised in various international treaties," he added.

But Mr Fulford lashed out at the prosecution's conduct in the case, in particular former chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, saying "Mr Lubanga was put under considerable unwarranted pressure by the conduct of the prosecution."

He said the prosecution did not prove that sexual crimes were committed against children nor that Lubanga had a hand in any such acts.

"Nothing suggests that Mr Lubanga ordered or encouraged sexual violence or that it could reflect his culpability," Mr Fulford said. The prosecutor failed to establish "the link between Lubanga and sexual violence beyond reasonable doubt".

The court said it found that Lubanga had co-operated and had a respectful attitude to the proceedings.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo had called for a 30-year sentence against Lubanga, saying his crimes were "of the most serious concern for the international community".

Lubanga, who has been detained in The Hague since 2006, is the founder of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) and commander of its military wing the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC).

At a June 13 hearing, he said his conviction had hit him "like a bullet in the face".

"I am being presented as a warlord ... but I never accepted or tolerated such enlistments taking place."

Lubanga's team has not yet indicated whether it would appeal his conviction or sentencing.

Six countries have indicated their willingness to accept prisoners sentenced by the ICC: Austria, Belgium, Britain, Finland, Mali and Serbia.

The ICC, the world's only independent permanent tribunal to try genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity has issued four arrest warrants for crimes in the DR Congo since opening its doors in 2003.

Two militia leaders, Germain Katanga, 34 and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, 41, who fought against Lubanga, are currently facing trial on similar charges.

Former UPC leader Bosco Ntaganda, a Lubanga ally, is yet to be arrested to face the court on war crimes charges. The ICC is investigating seven cases, all based in Africa.