THE HAGUE, Jul 8 – The International Criminal Court will hand Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga its first-ever sentence on Tuesday, for using child soldiers in a brutal conflict in the central African country.
Lubanga, 51, was convicted in March of war crimes, specifically for using child soldiers in his rebel army in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002-03, in the ICC’s first verdict since it started work a decade ago.
The former militia commander will face the bench at a public hearing set down for 9.30 am (0730 GMT) for his part in a war which humanitarian NGOs say has left some 60,000 people since 1999.
Lubanga was found guilty of abducting children as young as 11 and forcing them to fight and commit atrocities in the DRC’s northeastern gold-rich Ituri region. During the trial prosecutors told how young girls served as sex-slaves, while boys were trained to fight.
The Hague-based court’s former chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo earlier this month called for a 30-year sentence against Lubanga, saying his crimes were “of the most serious concern for the international community”.
“These children were told to kill and rape. That was the education he (Lubanga) gave these children,” said Moreno-Ocampo. He has since handed over the position to Gambia’s Fatou Bensouda.
Moreno-Ocampo at the time did however say he would be ready to accept a lesser sentence of 20 years should Lubanga “sincerely apologise” and actively engage in helping “to prevent further crimes.”
Lubanga, who has been detained in The Hague since 2006 is the founder of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) and commander of its military wing the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC).
He pleaded not guilty and has maintained his innocence, adding at a June 13 hearing to discuss his sentence that the court’s decision to find him guilty of war crimes hit him “like a bullet in the face.”
“I am being presented as a warlord… but I never accepted or tolerated such enlistments taking place.”
If sent to jail, the ICC will determine where Lubanga should serve his time.
Six countries have indicated their willingness to accept prisoners sentenced by the ICC: Austria, Belgium, Britain, Finland, Mali and Serbia.
So far Lubanga’s team has not indicated whether they would appeal his conviction or sentencing or both.
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.
Two militia leaders, Germain Katanga, 34 and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, 41, who fought against Lubanga, are currently facing trial on similar charges.
Former UPC leader Bosco Ntaganda, a Lubanga ally, is yet to be arrested to face the Hague-based court on war crimes charges.
The ICC is investigating seven cases, all based in Africa.