In its first verdict since it was established about a decade ago, three judges in the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court this morning unanimously found Thomas Lubanga guilty of using child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s civil war.
After 204 days of hearings, 36 witnesses for the prosecution, 24 for the defence and three victims, the court reached its decision a little over three years from the start of its very first trial.
LubangaTrial.org, an Open Society Foundation documenting the course of this trial, says that this could constitute a war crime, one of the most serious international crimes.
While in Congo, Mr. Lubanga presided over the Union of Congolese Patriots from 2000, and took over as commander-in-chief of its military wing in 2002.
The prosecution accused 51-year-old Mr. Lubanga of using children as bodyguards, soldiers and sex slaves. They also said Lubanga had a desire to maintain and expand control over the gold-mining areas of the Congo, some of the most mineral-rich in the world.
The prosecution also allege that the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), the military wing of the UCP, adbucted children as young as 11 from their homes and schools and forced them into slavery or the militia. These children were taken to military camps and were beaten and drugged, and the girls were used as sex slaves.
The UCP’s members are primarily from the Hema ethnic group, and planned to control other non-Hemas, especially of the Lendu tribe.
This campaign of violence led to Mr. Lubanga’s arrest in March 2005, transfer to the Hague the following year and after a long delay, a trial which began on the 26th of January 2009. The ICC cannot impose the death penalty.
Mr. Lubanga could face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.