The Lubanga trial is coming to an end as the prosecutors, victims’ representatives and the defense counsel make their closing statements in the submission of evidence phase before the trial chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
I came to attend this crucial phase with hope and trust in the evidence materials submitted by the prosecution that would prove the commission of the crime, the personal criminal responsibility of the suspect, Mr. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, for enlisting, conscripting children 15 years old and using them to participate actively in hostilities in Ituri region, North Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2002-2003. This is a war crime under Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the ICC. However, I was saddened, to see that the crime of sexual violence against girls wasn’t included amongst other charges against Mr. Lubanga.
Over the course of the presentations, I saw Mr. Lubanga closely following the presentations of the prosecutors and the victims’ representatives. The evidence gathered by the prosecutors were outstanding: videos, official letters and witnesses.
It reminded how I first came to the ICC in 2005, with my video “A Duty To Protect,” produced in partnership with WITNESS, with the objective of persuading the ICC’s prosecutor to prioritize the use of child soldiers in eastern DRC in its investigations and eventually arrest potential suspects.
The powerful videos we saw in the court room were demonstrating Mr. Lubanga boosting morale to newly recruited children whose ages were as young as 10, encouraging them as they joined his militia. It reminded me of the outstanding power of video, and especially of those children I saw in child recruitment camps in the Uvira region, when I used to visit those camps.
But as the prosecutors and the victims’ representatives were presenting, I was wondering how the Lubanga’s defense would refute the facts as they were being supported by strong evidence.
The defense counsel was effectively trying to defend Lubanga and question the credibility of the evidence, including several witnesses who came to testify before the court. They presented Lubanga as not the person who is criminally responsible, and questioned the prosecutor’s investigations which lacked some credibility.
As the judge granted Mr. Lubanga with the opportunity to speak, I was wondering what could he say? I thought his speech was substantially weak: he presented himself as a protector of the communities in Ituri. This was not convincing, especially since we all know the events that happened there: thousands were killed, thousands of children enlisted into armed groups, villages looted and burned, etc.
I left the court with a mixed feeling. Considering some inaccuracies that have been singled out during the proceedings, the power of the evidence, I simply don’t know how Mr. Lubanga will avoid conviction.
The ICC’s judges will be analyzing the submissions received, and will announce their decision sometime in the near future.
Now, the ICC’s judges have the responsibility to protect the children of the DRC and of the world. Failure to effectively and fairly convict Mr. Lubanga will send a wrong signal to war criminals in the Congo, and will revive conflict in the country.