The newly formed International Criminal Court has handed down its first sentence, while sending a strong message at the same time, says Amnesty International.
Thomas Lubanga Dyilo has been given 14 years for recruiting and using child soldiers in armed conflict in the Court’s first sentence. This is a historic moment for international justice, Amnesty International said.
The sentence takes into account that Lubanga has been in custody since his 2006 arrest. Prosecutors had originally asked for a 30-year sentence.
“This first sentence is a historic moment. It puts the whole world on notice: anyone who recruits or uses children as soldiers faces trial and imprisonment,” said Michael Bochenek, Amnesty International’s director of law and policy.
“Today’s verdict demonstrates that the International Criminal Court is up and running.”
The prosecution’s decision to limit the charges to conscription, enlistment, and use of child soldiers meant that the court could not consider allegations of other crimes committed by the FPLC under Lubanga Dyilo – including crimes of sexual violence – potentially denying justice and reparation to many more victims.
The court did however add these crimes in March to the arrest warrant already issued for one of Lubanga’s deputies, Bosco Ntaganda who is currently leading the armed group, M23 in North Kivu province, Eastern Congo.
“It’s critical that defendants in subsequent trials face a full charge sheet rather than one reduced for expediency,” Bochenek said.
Lubanga was first arrested in March 2006, for crimes he committed in 2002-2003 when he forcibly conscripted child soldiers into the FPLC (Forces Patriotiques pour la Libération du Congo). The trial was scheduled to start in 2007, but finally got under way in 2009, with a final conviction in March 2012.
Thomas Lubanga was the alleged founder and president of the Union of the Congolese Patriots (UPC) and commander in chief of its armed wing, the FPLC. The FPLC was involved in numerous human rights abuses, including the abduction and use of children as soldiers. The recruitment and use of children in armed conflict by foreign and Congolese armed groups continues. The Congolese national army has also used child soldiers. Bosco’s M23 forces continue to forcibly recruit civilians including children. Amnesty International received several reports of civilians being killed after they refused to join the M23.
Prosecutors also failed to recover any assets linked to Lubanga to help pay for his crimes, so the burden of payment will fall on the ICC ‘Trust Fund for Victims’ and state governments.