Will the Lubanga Verdict at the ICC Bring Justice for Child Soldiers?

Posted on March 13, 2012 by Matisse Bustos Hawkes

Update: March 14th –  Lubanga is found guilty. BBC and many others reporting on the verdict.

Tomorrow the first trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) will come to an official close with the rendering of a verdict in the case against former rebel leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The trial and verdict could set important precedents for future cases against others accused of recruiting child soldiers, like the now infamous Joseph Kony of Uganda.

Analysis of the verdict are no doubt being planned by mainstream media as we write this. However, the trial has been watched closely by human rights activists and people who lived through the civil war in the DRC which is thought to have resulted in over five million dead, millions displaced, hundreds of thousands raped or victims of sexual violence used as a weapon of war, and about 30,000 child soldiers. It is estimated today that there remain about 7,000 child soldiers and many of them are thought to be girls.

Two of these advocates and witnesses are our own Bukeni Waruzi, Program Manager for Africa and the Middle East, and Madeleine a former girl soldier who Bukeni was able to secure the release of several years ago. They spoke over the weekend about their own hopes and observations about the trial and the coming verdict:

Bukeni will be available for a Q&A at 11am EDT/ 2pm GMT via web video chat following the verdict tomorrow. All details are here

The website LubangaTrial.org published by the Open Society’s Justice Initiative has included voices from the DRC and the region as well as legal scholars and human rights advocates since the start of the trial in January 2009.

Today they published a post by Olivia Bueno at the International Refugee Rights Initiative in consultation with Congolese activists called “Fear and Anticipation in Ituri Ahead of the ICC’s First Verdict.” It paints quite a complex picture of possible reactions. Here is an excerpt of what voices inside the region where Lubanga comes from and operated in:

The International Criminal Court (ICC) will announce its first verdict in the case of Thomas Lubanga, former leader of the Congolese rebel group, the Union des Patriots Congolais (UPC) tomorrow. In eastern DRC’s Ituri region, where Lubanga led the UPC and is accused of committing the crimes for which he is on trial, all eyes are on the Court. Speculation about the outcome is buoying the hopes of some and increasing the fears of others. In particular, rumors abound that Lubanga will be either acquitted or given a very light sentence, which, with time already served, might lead to an early release. As one Congolese activist put it, “Public opinion is preparing itself for only one eventuality, that of the liberation of Thomas Lubanga.”

Read the full post here.

What do you think?

Is the trial at the ICC an important milestone regardless of the verdict? Do you think that other militia leaders using child soldiers in violation of the Rome Statues change their tactics if a guilty verdict is rendered? Is the ICC’s power and reach diminished due to the U.S. government’s refusal to ratify and become a party to it?

 

What Others Are Saying

  1. Matisse Bustos Hawkes March 20, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    We’ve also got a piece on Global Voices blog which embeds the video conversation between Bukeni and Madeleine. Read it here: http://globalvoicesonline.org/2012/03/16/dr-of-congo-videos-helped-convict-thomas-lubanga-of-war-crimes/

  2. sophie d March 16, 2012 at 10:02 am

    When a democracy doesn’t adequately protect its citizens against human rights violations, that democracy runs a high risk of turning into an ochlocracy (or “mobocracy”).

    For a long time, abused citizens of such democracy (as those of dictatorships) could only find justice by lodging charges within the framework of other countries’ universal competence law, by virtue of which their tribunals can try foreigners for crimes against humanity that are committed abroad.

    In come countries (Belgium is one example) charges brought under universal competence law became so frequent that the tribunals and their budgets were submerged. The ICC was set up to relieve the work of those tribunals.

    Although a long process may lie ahead to deal with its challenges, the work of the ICC seems indispensable to the worldwide protection of human rights. The global community cannot leave any world-citizen without legal means to defend these rights. When crimes against humanity are perpetrated by governments the challenges are particularly complex, and solutions will only emerge empirically. We make up history has we go along.

    A word of caution: with the rapid development of telecommunications and social networks, public opinion is gaining unprecedented influence at all levels.

    Unfortunately public opinion can be ill-informed, reactive and emotional. Demanding justice is honorable and noble, but the public satisfaction of justice must not degenerate into sensationalism and irrational, simplistic projections on stereotypical villains.

    This would discredit the achievements of those who have thoughtfully fought for years for the improvement if human dignity.

    Thanks Witness and all :-)

    • Matisse Bustos Hawkes March 16, 2012 at 7:35 pm

      Thank you Sophie for your extensive and thoughtful comments. I appreciate you taking the time to share them with us.

  3. sophie d March 16, 2012 at 9:54 am

    When a democracy doesn’t adequately protect its citizens against human rights violations, that democracy runs a high risk of turning into an ochlocracy (or “mobocracy”).

    For a long time, abused citizens of such democracy (as those of dictatorships) could only find justice by lodging charges within the framework of other countries’ universal competence law, by virtue of which these countries’ tribunals can try foreigners for crimes against humanity committed abroad.

    In come countries (Belgium is one example) charges brought under universal competence law became so frequent that the tribunals and their budgets were submerged. The ICC was set up to relieve the work of those tribunals.

    Although a long process may lie ahead to improve the system and deal with its challenges, the work of the ICC seems indispensable to the worldwide protection of human rights. The global community cannot leave any world-citizen without legal means to defend these rights. When crimes against humanity are perpetrated by governments the challenges are particularly complex, and solutions will only emerge empirically. We make up history has we go along.

    A word of caution: with the rapid development of telecommunications and social networks, public opinion is gaining unprecedented influence at all levels.

    Unfortunately public opinion is often ill-informed, reactive and emotional. Demanding justice is honorable and noble, but the public satisfaction of justice must not degenerate into sensationalism and irrational, simplistic projections on stereotypical villains.

    This would discredit the achievements of those who have thoughtfully fought for years for the improvement if human dignity.

    Thanks Witness and all!

  4. Me March 14, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    ICC is a very lovely idea but unless it succeeds bringing Western leaders who commit massmurder to trial is is just another form of colonialism.

    • Matisse Bustos Hawkes March 14, 2012 at 9:17 pm

      I appreciate the comment and I believe a lot of people skeptical of the ICC’s intentions or power to create change feel similarly. It is clear from the reactions in the blog post we linked to in our post above (on the LubangaTrial.org site) that there are many mixed feelings among citizens in the eastern DRC about the intentions of the ICC. That is clearly a problem for the ICC as it moves forward.

      As to your comment about Western leaders being brought to trial there: It seems that it is the responsibility of citizens of countries like the U.S. and citizens from other countries who support the U.S. + other Western countries who are not yet signatories to the ICC, to voice their support and urge these governments to join the efforts of the courts. That of course would mean that some of their own citizens could be brought to trial there.

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