First ICC verdict confirmed by Appeals Chamber: Thomas Lubanga found guilty of war crimes committed in DRC

The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) today confirmed the conviction of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Head of the military wing of the Union des patriotes congolais (UPC) for his responsibility in the war crimes of enlistment and conscription of child soldiers, committed in Ituri in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2002 and 2003. The Chamber also confirmed the decision sentencing him to 14-year imprisonment. As the conflict in DRC is still raging in the East of the country, this court decision reasserts that perpetrators of international crimes must be held accountable.

“This verdict confirms the importance of judging and sanctioning the perpetrators of this heinous crime against children and their use in armed conflicts. There were so many children involved that Lubanga’s UPC was called the ‘army of children’. The trial and final conviction of Lubanga has largely contributed to raise awareness among public opinion on the fate of children who are forced to go to war and the importance of enabling them to find justice” , have delcared our organisations [1].

However, our organisations regret that the Appeals judges, were not able, as the Trial Chamber judges, to grant the Office of the Prosecutor’s request that sexual violence against girl-child soldiers under 15 years of age be considered as aggravating circumstances when deciding on the sentence. Judges felt that the Prosecutor had not provided enough evidence on Lubanga’s responsibility. We hope that the Prosecutor’s new policy on investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of sexual and gender-based crimes will be able to face up to the challenges brought up in this first trial.

“Although the sentence was confirmed, at the majority of the Appeals Chamber’s judges, the two dissenting opinions, in particular the one of Judge Usacka, pointed to the need for sound strategies and policies for investigations and prosecutions and also the importance of respecting the right of the accused to a fair trial,” our organisations added.

The trial of former Head of the UPC military operations, Bosco Ntaganda, should begin in June 2015.

Our organisations now hope that the appeals decision on reparations in this case be rendered as quickly as possible, and urge the government of DRC to continue its cooperation with the ICC and the ICC Victims Trust Fund so to enable swift implementation of reparation orders for victims.

Our organisations also call upon the Congolese authorities to implement the arrest warrant issued by the ICC against Sylvestre Mudacumura by arresting him and transferring him to the ICC.

Since the ICC is not able to prosecute all the perpetrators of the most serious crimes committed in DRC, national authorities should also provide the DRC courts with the resources needed to carry out impartial investigations, carry out prosecutions against suspects and implement the reparation measures already granted to victims. Our organisations are again calling upon DRC authorities to establish specialised and hybrid Chambers to judge those responsible for serious human rights violations.

Highlights of the Lubanga case

Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, President and founder of the Union des patriotes congolais (UPC) and commander in chief of its military wing, the Patriotic Force for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), was found guilty of enlisting, conscripting and using children under the age of 15 years to participate actively in hostilities.

- 19 April 2004: ICC referral by DRC;
- 23 June 2004: Opening by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor of an investigation into the situation in DRC;
- 17 March 2006: (Public) issuance of an international arrest warrant for Thomas Lubanga Dyilo;
- 17 March 2006: Transfer of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, under arrest in DRC, to The Hague;
- 9-28 November 2006: Confirmation of charges hearing against Thomas Lubanga;
- 29 January 2007: Decision to confirm charges against Thomas Lubanga;
- 26 January 2009: Opening of the trial against Thomas Lubanga;
- 14 March 2012: Decision finding Thomas Lubanga guilty;
- 10 July 2012: Thomas Lubanga sentenced to 14 years imprisonment;
- 7 August 2012: Decision on reparations in the Lubanga case.

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