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The international criminal court has delivered the first verdict in its 10-year history, finding a Congolese warlord guilty of recruiting child soldiers.

Thomas Lubanga was convicted of snatching children from the street and turning them into killers. He showed no emotion as the presiding judge, Adrian Fulford, read out the verdict.

In a unanimous decision, the three judges said evidence proved that as head of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) and its military wing, Lubanga had been responsible for the conscription of child soldiers active on the frontline.

He now faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The court cannot impose the death penalty.

James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, welcomed the announcement. "The judgment is an important step forward in the worldwide struggle against impunity for grave crimes," he said.

Prosecutors had alleged that Lubanga, 51, was using a rebel militia to dominate the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo's Ituri region, home to one of the world's most lucrative gold reserves.

Children as young as 11 were recruited from their homes and schools to take part in brutal ethnic fighting in 2002-03. They were taken to military training camps and beaten and drugged; girls were used as sex slaves.

Lubanga went on trial in January 2009. Closing arguments were heard last August. Lubanga had pleaded innocent to charges of war crimes.

The ICC, the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal, opened in July 2002 to prosecute the perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Progress has been too slow, in the eyes of critics. Lubanga, seen as a small fish compared with the likes of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, was first transferred to the ICC headquarters at The Hague six years ago.

Backed by 120 countries – but neither China nor the US – the ICC has launched investigations in seven conflict regions, all of them African, since it opened.

The court has no police force, relying instead on the support of states to deliver suspects for trial. Last December, Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo became the first former head of state to appear at the ICC.

The verdict is also the first at an international trial focused exclusively on the use of child soldiers.

The case will set legal precedents that could be used if Joseph Kony, the elusive leader of the Ugandan rebel group the Lord's Resistance Army, is captured and brought to justice.

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/14/congo-thomas-lubanga-child-soldiers

Tag(s) : #International