ICC delivers first sentence: 14-year term for warlord
Delivering its first sentence, the International Criminal Court in The Hague yesterday jailed Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo for 14 years for recruiting child soldiers.
The ICC was set up a decade ago to punish the world’s worst crimes through a new system of international justice, but its critics say it has moved too slowly and failed to put its most important suspects on trial.
Lubanga was found guilty in March of abducting boys and girls under the age of 15 and forcing them to fight in a war in the east of Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002 and 2003. At least 60,000 people are thought to have been killed in that chapter of a wider Congolese war.
“The trial and sentence handed down today sends a strong message to those who recruit and use children during times of war,” said Anneke van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch.
But taking into account the six years Lubanga spent in detention during the trial, his sentence has only eight years to run – and he could get parole earlier.
Critics of the ICC questioned how big an achievement it could claim from sentencing Lubanga.
William Schabas, a law professor at Middlesex University, said: “If you’d said at the beginning, this court would finish one trial in ten years, and that would be for a secondary offence like using child soldiers, people would have said they won’t waste their money on it.”
Some Congolese were also disappointed in Lubanga’s sentence, which is short when compared with the 50 years handed down in May by another court in The Hague to former Liberian president Charles Taylor for war crimes in Sierra Leone.
Emmanuel Folo, a human rights lawyer in Ituri, in the DRC, said: “We had hoped he would stay in prison for life in order to ease the minds of the victims.”
Presiding judge Adrian Fulford criticised the ICC’s founding prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, for his conduct of Lubanga’s case. Mr Moreno-Ocampo, who recently completed his term, did not respond to a request for comment.
Lubanga’s sentence was reduced because of his good behaviour in the face of the prosecutor’s failure to disclose some evidence and giving misleading statements to the media, Judge Fulford said.
Lubanga’s Union of Congolese Patriots fought against militias from the Lendu ethnic group, including the Congolese Popular Army and the Patriotic Resistance Force, in the Ituri region. The conflict was part of a wider war in which several million people are believed to have died.
In a statement, the prosecutor’s office said: “Local populations, including children, continue to be exposed to the dramatic consequences of war at the hands of armed groups.”
Other suspects before the court include Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of Ivory Coast, who is awaiting confirmation of charges of crimes against humanity in his country.
But others remain at large, including president Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, indicted by the court in 2009 and accused of war crimes in Darfur, and Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, the subject of an internet campaign last year, who is accused of enslavement and using child soldiers.
The ICC’s record compares to more than 60 people convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia since it was set up in 1993.
Foreign Minister William Hague said: “The ICC must ensure it learns the lessons of the first ten years and challenge those who argue international justice is too costly and lengthy.”
The court is also still constrained by its political environment. It is unable to prosecute alleged atrocities in Syria, for example, because Syria never signed the Rome Statute establishing the court. The ICC could still bring prosecutions if it had a referral from the United Nations Security Council – but that has so far been vetoed by Russia.
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