DELIVERING ITS FIRST verdict since it was established ten years ago, the International Criminal Court (ICC) today found the Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga guilty of conscripting and enlisting children to fight for him.
In an unanimous verdict from the three judges, the court said today that it had found Lubanga guilty of the war crimes of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities between September 2002 and August 2003.
Lubanga, whose full name is Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, was head of the Patriotic Force for the Liberation of the Congo (FPLC) rebel group during an inter-ethnic conflict in the Democratic of Republic of Congo (DRC) in the early part of the last decade.
“A common plan was agreed by Mr Lubanga Dyilo and his co-perpetrators to build an army for the purpose of establishing and maintaining political and military control over Ituri (DRC).
“This resulted in boys and girls under the age of 15 being conscripted and enlisted, and used to participate actively in hostilities,” the ICC said.
Lubanga can appeal against the verdict. He could face the maximum sentence of imprisonment and will be sentenced in the coming weeks.
It was the first verdict delivered by the court which is based in the Dutch city of Den Haag or The Hague. The court has 14 other cases before it, three of which are at the first stage of trial.
As BBC News notes, it is the first international trial which has focused on the use of child soldiers for warfare.
The issue has come to the fore in recent weeks following the advent of an online campaign to catch the Ugandan alleged warlord Joseph Kony.
Welcoming today’s verdict, Amnesty International’s Michael Bochenek said it was “a warning to anyone who commits the horrific crime of using and abusing children both on and off the battlefield.”
“The guilty verdict from the ICC today shows that when national authorities fail to investigate these crimes the international community can ensure human rights abusers like Thomas Lubanga Dyilo are brought to justice,” he said.
However, Bochenek added that his organisation was disappointed that the prosecutor at the ICC did not pursue allegations of others crimes committed by the FPLC including alleged sexual violence against abducted girls, including girl soldiers, and other civilians.