In March, I wrote about the Democratic Republic of Congo’s former leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots Thomas Lubanga guilty of recruiting child soldiers to use in his rebel armies from 2002-2003, in a conflict estimated to have killed over 60,000 people.
Mr. Lubanga was the first person to be convicted in the ICC since its establishment 10 years ago.
Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he would seek a sentence of 30 years, one “in the name of each child recruited, in the name of the Ituri region.” Both sides have a further 30 days to appeal the court’s ruling.
Mr. Lubanga is to serve a further eight years, as he has already spent six years in custody at the ICC in the Hague. He was transferred to the ICC in March 2006 after his arrest by UN peacekeepers the previous year.
Details of the trial have been provided – it’s been revealed that Mr. Lubanga and his supporters would ask for door-to-door donations to his war efforts – donations such as money, livestock, or a child to join his rebel army.
Children as young as 10 were used in his army, working as bodyguards and militamen.
Reporters at the ICC said Judge Adrian Fulford acknowledged Lubanga’s conduct during the trial and was highly critical of prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.
Judge Fulford said that the prosecution did not give enough evidence to support his claims, misused witnesses for the prosecution and deliberately allowed his staff to give the press potentially misleading statements.
During the course of the trial which began in January 2009, the court heard from child soldiers sent into battle by Mr. Lubanga. One of them broke down in tears when he came face to face with Lubanga in the courtroom.
Criticising the length of his sentence, Mike Davis from Global Witness said that this sentencing, while important, was a “low sentence in relation to the crimes that he committed.”
Rob Williams, CEO of War Child, said this decision is dangerous as it “suggests a moral equivalence between gross and widespread violations of children with much lesser crimes. Military commanders in the field already know that the chances of ending up in court are remote. They now know that even if they are convicted the penalty will be so short that they can expect to return home and live out their retirement in freedom and comfort.”
He adds it is also a dangerous precedent for the ICC, as it could give its critics fuel to attack the $1 billion investment in the Court, for which so far only one conviction has been made since its inception. Such a meagre penalty “represents a difficult moment in the history of efforts to stop the culture of impunity around gross abuses of human rights.
On a broader level the sentence is dangerous for the credibility of international criminal law itself. This is a body of law supposed to address crimes so horrific that they warrant the pooling of national sovereignty and the application of a higher legal code. A sentence of 14 years does not address the extent to which the international community has declared itself determined to stamp out the use of child soldiers.”