THE HAGUE, Jan 26 – The first-ever war crimes trial of the International Criminal Court is set to start in The Hague on Monday; that of Congolese militiaman Thomas Lubanga, accused of using child soldiers.,
Lubanga, 48, stands accused of recruiting hundreds of children under 15 to fight in the armed wing of his Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) in the civil war in the eastern Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo between September 2002 and August 2003.
Humanitarian groups say inter-ethnic fighting and violence involving militia groups in Ituri — centred on control over one of the most lucrative gold-mining territories in the world — has claimed some 60,000 lives since 1999 and created hundreds of thousands of refugees.
The UPC is mainly composed of people of the Hema ethnicity, pitched against the Lendu.
The trial of Lubanga, transferred to The Hague in 2006, is set to start Monday with an opening statement by ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, 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 prosecution has listed 34 witnesses, including former child soldiers, ex-members of militia groups involved in the Ituri fighting, and an array of experts in such speciality areas as determining the age of a child from bone x-rays.
Lubanga’s defence team has not indicated how many witnesses it intends to call.
The presiding judge, Briton Adrian Fulford, is expected to ask Lubanga to plead to the charges on Monday. The trial is expected to last between six and nine months.
Lubanga has been declared indigent by the ICC, who is paying for his defence team.
He is being held at the United Nations detention centre in the seaside suburb of Scheveningen in The Hague.
The ICC, which came into operation in July 2002, is the world’s first permanent tribunal to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.