THE HAGUE, Aug 26 – Former DR Congo militia leader Thomas Lubanga is guilty “beyond any possible doubt” of conscripting child soldiers, the International Criminal Court heard Thursday in the closing stages of its first ever trial.
Lubanga, 50, is accused of using children under the age of 15 to fight for his militia during the Democratic Republic of Congo’s five-year civil war, which ended in 2003.
“The evidence submitted in this case show not only beyond reasonable doubt but beyond any possible doubt that Thomas Lubanga is guilty,” deputy prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told judges at the Hague-based court.
“Those children were trained in about 20 camps around Ituri… they were used to rape and pillage.”
Lubanga’s trial began in January 2009 and the international tribunal has also since begun the trials of two other militia leaders from the DRC who fought against his militia.
“Thomas Lubanga, in a plan with others, systematically enrolled children under the age of 15,” Bensouda told the world war crimes court.
She said child soldiers fighting for Lubanga’s Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) were subjected to the “most cruel training” and beaten when they were sick or tired.
“Those who have no visible scars on their body keep scars that will remain within,” she said.
“The case we present is a plea of humanity to law,” added Benjamin Ferencz, a former Nuremberg prosecutor and special counsel to the prosecutor’s office.
“Words and figures cannot adequately portray the physical and psychological harm inflicted on vulnerable children. Imagine the pain of mothers (…) still wondering what happened to their child,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of victims, their legal representative Paolina Massida the trial was “historic for the thousands of victims in Ituri hoping that justice will be done.”
“Nothing and no one can erase the terrifying moments when they had to look death in the face,” she said when talking about child soldiers.
If convicted, judges can sentence Lubanga, but they have the option of asking parties involved on what they thought to be an appropriate punishment before making a decision.
In addition, the militia leader could also be ordered to pay compensation to some 118 victims in the DR Congo’s eastern region, one of the world’s most lucrative gold-mining areas.
The judgment is not expected for months.
During 220 sittings, judges heard testimony of 36 prosecution and 24 defence witnesses, as well as three witnesses representing victims.
Lubanga’s trial was suspended on July 8 last year for three months after the prosecutor’s refusal to disclose to Lubanga’s defence team the name of an “intermediary” used by prosecution investigators to find witnesses to Lubanga’s alleged crimes.
The militia leader’s defence team claimed that false testimonies were “fabricated” with the help of intermediaries and in collaboration with the prosecutor’s office.
The defence then tried in vain to stay proceedings.
Two other trials are currently pending before the ICC. Congolese militia leaders Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo, who were Lubanga’s former enemies.
They face crimes against humanity and war crimes charges and have been on trial since November 24, 2009, for the attack on a village in the DRC in 2003.
Former DRC deputy president Jean-Pierre Bemba has been on trial since November 22, 2010 for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the Central African Republic.
Opening its doors in 2002, the ICC, is the world’s only independent, permanent tribunal with the jurisdiction to try genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.