World court to try Congo warlord

A NEW chapter in international justice opened yesterday with the International Criminal Court (ICC) confirming that a Congolese warlord arrested last year will stand trial.

Thomas Lubanga Dylio will face charges of recruiting child soldiers for fighting in Congo's civil war.

Prosecutors say Lubanga, the founder and leader of a militia in the Ituri district, trained children as young as ten to kill.

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The 46-year-old, who holds a degree in psychology, has denied the charges.

His trial will be the first held by the new court, which opened four years ago, has 104 member states and is specifically constituted to try individuals for genocide, war crimes and other major human rights violations.

It comes amid unprecedented activity in war crimes courts, in what looks to be a key year in the history of international justice.

In the coming weeks, prosecutors of the Sierra Leone Special Court, also temporarily sitting in The Hague, will begin the case against Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president .

Taylor is the first former African head of state to go before a war crimes trial, and he is accused of using rape, murder and slavery to control of Sierra Leone's diamond fields in the late 1990s.

Meanwhile, early next month the ICC is expected to recommend charges in a separate investigation, aimed at Sudanese officials blamed for orchestrating ethnic cleansing in Darfur.

Taken together these cases are likely to determine the future course of war crimes justice, or indeed whether it has a future.

Last year saw many question the efficacy of war crimes justice after the two high profile trials, of former Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic and Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

Rights groups are now hoping that war crimes justice can now prove its worth in Africa.

Another bonus for advocates of war crimes justice has been a recent about-turn in the attitude by the United States. Until last year it was opposed to the ICC, arguing that the court, the world's only permanent war crimes court, could be used to mount political prosecutions against the US.

But as the Bush presidency begins the long process of winding down, John McCain, a leading Republican candidate, has called for the US to join the ICC. Washington has now backed the ICC's Darfur investigation and is likely to supply satellite photographs and signals intercepts to investigators.