Appeal judges have upheld the conviction of a Congolese war criminal accused of using child soldiers.
Fifty three-year-old Thomas Lubangawas convicted two years ago at the International Criminal Court in the Hague and sentenced to 14 years in prison.
It is the war crimes court’s first case.
Lubanga could walk free as next year as the eight years he has spent in jail during his trial count towards his sentence and he could be eligible for early release.
ICC’s Lubanga ruling ignores war by rape
In the International Criminal Court’s first judgement, qualified as ‘groundbreaking’, presiding judge Adrian Fulford praised Thomas Lubanga Dyilo for co-operating during the trial.
Lubanga received a 14-year prison sentence in July 2012. Even Amnesty International called it ‘a historic moment for international justice’. That ruling has been upheld.
Yet Fulford found fault with prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.
Moreno-Ocampo said: “He committed some of the most serious crimes of concern for the international community, crimes against children.”
But the prosecutor failed to bring charges for sexual violence, in spite of underscoring widespread rape by Lubanga’s militia, and sexual slavery.
Many of the witnesses the prosecution called are former child soldiers. They testified that girls in the militia were repeatedly raped, daily.
The court’s sentence was limited to the conscription and use of child soldiers in armed conflict.
As Amnesty International and other media noted in 2012: ‘One of the three judges [wrote] a letter expressing her dissent from the majority decision for the sentence, saying that in her opinion it disregarded the extent of the damage the victims and their families suffered, and the harsh violent and sexual punishments [inflicted on] conscripted children.’ That was Elizabeth Odio Benito.
This rape practice is more than sporadic; it is institutionalised as a war weapon to force compliance.
Witnesses at Lubanga’s trial said militia commanders ‘would get girls pregnant and then [send them back] to their villages.’ This terrorises both the immediate victims and their communities.
The International Criminal Court has been praised for its accomplishments.
However, legal experts have also said that only prosecution strategies established early on in a trial can allow the full range of crimes to be addressed.
Human rights activists have said they regret that crimes like “sexual violence, summary executions and pillage” were excluded from the trial.
Congolese activist André Kito wrote: Andre Kito, coordinator for the DR Congo’s Coalition for the ICC, regretted that the court failed to cover the full scope of Lubanga’s crimes..
The International Federation for Human Rights carried this: Crimes of sexual violence and the Lubanga Case: Interview with Patricia Viseur Sellers, in March 2012. She is an international criminal lawyer.
Lisa Gambone, a NY attorney who has provided pro bono work for Human Rights Watch, the ICTR Prosecution and Lawyers Without Borders, in 2009 wrote 'Failure to Charge: The ICC, Lubanga & Sexual Violence Crimes in the DRC'
Here is a 10 July 2012 release from Amnesty International.