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.”
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?