The International Criminal Court issued its first verdict in its 10 years of existence on March 14th when it found Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga guilty of conscripting child soldiers for his private army (Geoffrey York, “War crimes court convicts Congolese leader of conscripting child soldiers,” Globe and Mail, 14 March 2012).
Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga has been found guilty of conscripting children as young as 11 as fighters, bodyguards and sex slaves. He will face a sentence of up to life in prison.
Lubanga led the Union of Congolese Patriots, a Congolese militia that was involved in a ferocious war that took the lives of an estimated 60,000 people in northeastern Congo between 2002 and 2003. He was unanimously found guilty by the International Criminal Court for the crimes of conscription and enlisting children under the age of 15 to participate in warfare.
“The evidence demonstrated that children endured harsh training regimens and were subjected to hard punishment,” he said. “The evidence demonstrated that the children were deployed … and took part in the fighting.”
Not only was this the first verdict for the International Criminal Court, it was also the first international criminal case on the use of child soldiers.
The issue of child soldiers recently became the focus of an intense burst of public attention with the release of the KONY 2012 video. The video, which went viral earlier this month, calls for the arrest of Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which has made extensive use of child soldiers over the past 25 years. Kony, who remains at large, was the first individual to be indicted by the ICC.
The International Criminal Court has been criticized not only for its slow pace, but also on a range of other grounds, including ignoring the actions of powerful states, neo-colonialism, and even racism. Many human-rights organizations, on the other hand, have celebrated the court’s verdict as a first step toward the creation of a true internatonal system of justice.
Dismas Kitenge, vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights, expressed hope that the verdict will “contribute to consolidating the legitimacy of the Court, which is essential for the exercise of real, preventive authority.”
Photo by Vincent van Zeijst