, THE HAGUE, Mar 14 – The International Criminal Court will Wednesday deliver its first ever verdict, deciding the fate of Congolese former rebel commander Thomas Lubanga, accused of using child soldiers.
The former rebel commander will face judges in The Hague at 10:00 am (0900 GMT) as the ICC hands down its first verdict since it was launched in July 2002 to try the world’s worst war criminals.
Lubanga, 51, faces two counts of conscripting and enlisting child soldiers under 15 to fight for his militia during the bloody four-year war in the remote northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) Ituri region.
Humanitarian NGOs said some 60,000 people were killed from 1999 to 2003 when the war ended.
First transferred to The Hague in 2006, the alleged founder of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) and chief commander of its military wing went on trial in January 2009. Arguments closed in August last year.
In the trial, prosecutors alleged that Lubanga’s role in the conflict was driven by a desire to maintain and expand his control over Ituri, one of the world’s most lucrative gold-mining territories.
Lubanga has pleaded not guilty to the charges. If found guilty of exceptionally grave crimes, he could be jailed for life.
His lawyers accused the prosecution of fabricating false evidence with the help of intermediaries used by the prosecution to find witnesses, and claimed that individuals were paid to give false testimony.
Judges also rapped ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo for abusing court processes and ignoring judges’ orders when he refused to hand Lubanga’s defence team the name of one intermediary, citing security concerns.
Moreno-Ocampo’s team in return told judges that Lubanga “was guilty beyond reasonable doubt” of enlisting child soldiers.
Prosecutors alleged that the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) militia under Lubanga’s control abducted children as young as 11 from their homes, schools and football fields.
They were taken to military training camps, where they were beaten and drugged. Girls among them were used as sex slaves, prosecutors told the court.
During 204 days of hearings, prosecutors called 36 witnesses, the defence 24 and three represented victims.
The ICC, the world’s only independent, permanent tribunal to try genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, has issued four arrest warrants for crimes in the DRC since opening its doors in 2003 and is investigating seven cases, all based in Africa.