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Lubanga goes on trial at ICC in The Hague

Article published on the 2009-01-26 Latest update 2009-01-26 09:44 TU

Thomas Lubanga at the Hague in March 2006(Photo: AFP)

Thomas Lubanga at the Hague in March 2006
(Photo: AFP)

The trial of the Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga begins Monday at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands. It is the first-ever trial conducted by the seven-year-old international justice body. Lubanga, who founded and led the Union of Congolese Patriots (UCP), is accused of enlisting child soldiers to fight in the civil war in DRC’s eastern Ituri district from 2002 to 2003.

The prosecution has listed 34 witnesses, including former child soldiers, former members of militia groups involved in the fighting, and experts specialised in areas like determining the age of a child from bone X-rays.

Lubanga, whose defence team is being paid for by the ICC because he was declared indigent by the court, is expected to plead not guilty. His defence has not indicated how many witnesses it will call.

Rights groups will be following the trial closely, as it is the first for the judicial body that was founded in 2002, and the first for crimes committed in the DRC.

“We think it is an important trial for the development of the court,” Geraldine Mattioli of the rights group Human Rights Watch told RFI. “It will enable the court to try a number of its internal mechanics, if I may say. In terms of witness protection, victim participation, among others.”

Comment: Geraldine Mattioli, Human Rights Watch

26/01/2009 by Sarah Tisseyre

Mattioli says the trial is also important for the victims.

“There isn’t very often justice for the crimes comitted in Congo,” she said. “This trial will be an opportunity for victims seeing justice being done for the crimes they suffered.”

Lubanga is only being tried for his involvement with child soldiers, something that Mattioli regrets.

“It is important to underscore for us that the recruitment and use of child soldiers is a very serious charge, and we hope this trial sends a very strong message in the Congo to other warlords who are still using child soldiers,” she said.

“However, Lubanga’s group has committed a lot of other very serious crimes in Ituri, according to other research that Human Rights Watch has conducted… and we regret that no other charges are being brought against Mr. Lubanga for these crimes or against other officials of the UPC for these crimes."

An opening statement Monday by the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, will be followed by lawyers for 93 alleged victims, and then the defence. The first witness, a former child soldier, is expected to take the stand on Wednesday, followed by his father.

The trial is expected to last between six and nine months.

About the ICC

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No justice without the International Criminal Court? (Audio - 12 minutes 36 seconds)

No justice without the International Criminal Court?

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(Photo: Wikipedia)