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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Ituri warlord Thomas Lubanga faces the International Criminal Court

The ICC is based in the Netherlands (ICC-Alliance)
The ICC is based in the Netherlands (ICC-Alliance)

Thomas Lubanga, the leader of a Democratic Republic of Congo militia, is the first war crimes suspect to face charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Lubanga was arrested on March 19, 2005, after nine Bangladeshi U.N. peacekeepers were killed in the Ituri region in the northeast of Congo. He was imprisoned in Kinshasa where he was, initially, to face national proceedings.

His defense lawyer, Jean Flamme, said to BBC News that he would be asking for his client to see the case file against him, since Lubanga has been in jail for a year without being told of the charges he was facing.

Lubanga was transferred into ICC custody on March 17, and will instead be tried for war crimes. He has been accused of kidnapping children under 15, some as young as 7, and turning them into soldiers, messengers and sex slaves during the interethnic war in the Ituri region.

Aimed to punish war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, the ICC was created by the Rome Treaty of 1998. ICC is the world’s first permanent and independent forum for judging “large-scale abuses,” and has said that it will deal only with top leaders and it will seek out cases that a national court is unwilling or unable to investigate.

A BBC News correspondent said that soldiers under Lubanga’s command are also accused of mutilating their victims. A human rights group said that Lubanga’s militiamen killed civilians using a sledgehammer in one massacre.

“He was the founder and leader of one of the most dangerous militias in Ituri,” said Luis Moreon-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor, to The New York Times.

According to The Washington Post: “(Lubanga was) often flamboyant; he danced on tabletops during news

conferences and was protected by twitchy children carrying Kalashnikovs – some as young as 10.”

Lubanga is the leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots, known by its French acronym UPC. According to The Washington Post, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a 2003 report that the UPC “launched a campaign of arbitrary arrests, executions and enforced disappearances.” “Many

fled, and others went into hiding,” the report said. “Wherever the UPC took control, it initiated a campaign against the ‘enemy.’ The campaign was systematic, and often involved torture, and apparently was authorized at the most senior levels of the UPC leadership.”

During the war, which began in 1999, 50,000 people have been killed in fighting, while another 3 million have died due to hunger and disease.

Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch interviewed Lubanga in 2004. He told The Washington Post that Lubanga was “a key player in crimes that ravaged the Ituri province in 2002-03.”

During the interview, Lubanga denied allegations of atrocities, and Dicker said, “he kept saying there were others.” Dicker felt that the interview was a “positive first step,” but he thinks that Ocampo should prosecute government officials from Congo, Uganda and Rwanda.

“The interethnic tensions were exacerbated and manipulated by Uganda and Rwanda as they jockeyed over control for the resource-rich regions of Ituri province in northeastern Congo,” Dicker said.

The ICC has indicted five Uganda rebels, but one was killed in battle and the others have evaded capture.

The Foreign Ministry of France, the former colonial power of the region, praised the ICC for Lubanga’s capture. “It is an important step in the fight against impunity, which has reigned too long in the Great Lakes region of Africa,” the ministry said to The Washington Post.

While the ICC is supported by 100 countries, including most of the European Union, the United States is greatly opposed to its existence. According to The Associated Press, the U.S. believes that politically-motivated cases could be taken against its troops and politicians one day.

“The U.S. has embarked on a worldwide campaign to sign immunity deals against the ICC and has suspended military assistance to 35 countries which declined to sign,” said Borjan Jovanovski of the International Relations and Security Network.

The ICC has not set a trial date for Lubanga. According to the prosecution, the charges may be expanded, which must be reviewed and confirmed by judges. The next hearing is currently set for June 27.

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