Opening of the ICC trial against the Congolese militiaman Thomas Lubanga Dyilo

Conscription and use of child soldiers prosecuted

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Association africaine des droits de l’Homme (ASADHO), Groupe Lotus and Ligue des électeurs, welcome the opening of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) trial of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo on Monday 26 January. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo is accused of having committed war crimes in the district of Ituri, Province Orientale, DRC between September 2002 and August 2003.

"The opening of the first trial of the International Criminal Court is a crucial moment for justice and the fight against impunity in the Democratic Republic of Congo", said Souhayr Belhassen, President of FIDH. "Although we are worried about the massive crimes that continue to be committed in DRC, we hope that this trial and other trials to come will have a deterrent impact and that they will significantly contribute to the prevention of conflicts in the region".

Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, President of the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC), is accused of having conscripted and enlisted children under the age of 15 in the Forces patriotiques pour la libération du Congo (FPLC), military branch of the UPC, as well as having used them to participate actively in hostilities. These crimes were allegedly committed in the context of an armed conflict opposing Hema militia (including the UPC) and Lendu militia since 1999.

FIDH and its member organisations have denounced the limited scope of the charges, which fail to cover the numerous other crimes, including murder, sexual crimes and looting, for which Thomas Lubanga’s militia are allegedly responsible. Our organisations regret that the Prosecutor did not extend the scope of the charges despite calls made by Congolese and international human rights organisations.

FIDH and its member organisations nevertheless hope that the symbolic character of this trial will contribute to exposing and condemning the widespread practice of enlisting and using child soldiers, in DRC and other conflict situations. Our organisations also hope that this trial will shed light on the sexual crimes committed in the context of the conscription and participation of child soldiers in hostilities, in particular against girl soldiers.

Moreover, FIDH and its member organisations strongly welcome the historic opportunity for victims of the crimes to participate in a trial before an international criminal tribunal. A major innovation of the ICC Statute is that it allows victims to appear before the Court in order to express their views and concerns. 93 victims have been allowed to participate in the proceedings against Thomas Lubanga. They will be represented by three teams of lawyers who will defend their interests throughout the trial.

> Team of the victims legal representatives at the opening of the trial - © ICC-CPI/Michael Kooren

Finally, FIDH and its member organisations take this opportunity to call upon all ICC States Parties to execute pending arrest warrants issued by the ICC. In particular, our organisations underline that Bosco Ntaganda, former associate of Thomas Lubanga, is still at large and continues to perpetrate international crimes in eastern DRC.

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