Jan 26 – A Congolese militia leader goes on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague accused of training child soldiers to kill, pillage and rape.
Prosecutors say Thomas Lubanga enlisted children under 15 to his Union of Congolese Patriots in eastern Congo during the 1998-2003 war to kill members of a rival ethnic group.
Lubanga is pleading not guilty to the charges.
Some of the evidence being used in the trial consists of two documentary videos.
The trial, and pre-trial events are being followed with great interest in Africa, the Middle East and Europe, though there has not been much US coverage.
Video For Change: Bringing Thomas Lubanga to Justice
The trial of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo at the International Criminal Court (ICC) is set to start on January 26, 2009.
In addition to being the first trial in the ICC’s history, it is also the first time that video has played an integral role helping bring charges against a warlord. Lubanga is accused of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of fifteen to fight in his army during the Congolese civil war.
The widespread recruitment and use of child soldiers in the DRC is without parallel in Africa. Tens of thousands of child soldiers have been recruited as combatants by all parties to the conflict, which has been described as Africa’s world war. Children make up the majority of combatants in the conflict, which has claimed over five million lives.
In this video, Bukeni Waruzi – WITNESS’ Program Coordinator for Africa & Middle East and a native of the DRC – talks about his work on this issue since he was a still student living in the South Kivu Province, Eastern DRC, until today, as he gets ready to travel to The Hague to attend the opening of the Lubanga Trial at the ICC.
A Duty to Protect: Justice for Child Soldiers in the D.R.C.
In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where civil war has taken more than four million lives, children as young as six are routinely recruited by militias and taught to kill. It is estimated that children, most between 8 and 16 years old, make up 60% of combatants in the region.
A Duty to Protect tells the story of Mafille and January, two girls who were recruited into the military at thirteen and ten years of age respectively. Mafille is a demobilized girl soldier whose experience of violence and secual exploitation cause her deep emotional scars. January is a girl soldier whose bravado veils her suffering, and whose characater and perceptions personify the complexity of the conflict and the views of the local population. This unique video also looks at the effects of the recruitment and use of child soldiers on their families and the broader community, concluding that the people of eastern D.R.C. wish for peace and justice in their region.
Other articles on the story:
Lubanga lawyers denounce ‘unfair’ ICC war crimes trial
THE HAGUE (AFP) – Lawyers for Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga denounced his war crimes trial as unfair Tuesday, accusing prosecutors of abusing International Criminal Court rules to shroud the proceedings.
“How can we have a fair trial under (these) conditions?” defence counsel Catherine Mabille argued in The Hague on the second day of Lubanga’s trial, the first-ever before the ICC. “There has been a wholesale abuse of the rules by the office of the prosecutor,” she charged. “The (situation) is prejudicial and detrimental to the defence.”
Lubanga, 48, pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of recruiting hundreds of child soldiers to fight in the armed wing of his Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) in the Congolese civil war between September 2002 and August 2003. Humanitarian groups say inter-ethnic fighting and violence involving militia groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern Ituri region has claimed some 60,000 lives since 1999 and created hundreds of thousands of refugees.
The prosecution alleges that Lubanga’s role in the conflict in Ituri was driven by a desire to maintain and expand his control over the region, one of the world’s most lucrative gold-mining territories. It says his militia abducted children as young as 11 from their homes, schools and football fields and took them to military training camps where they were beaten and drugged. The girls among them were used as sex slaves.
Some background for those unfamiliar with the DRC. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, also known as Zaire, or Congo-Kinshasa, was the former Belgian Congo.
It is the third largest country (by area) in Africa.
In order to distinguish it from the neighbouring Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is often referred to as DR Congo, DRC, or RDC, or is called Congo-Kinshasa after the capital Kinshasa (in contrast to Congo-Brazzaville for its neighbour).
The name “Congo” refers to the river Congo, also known as the river Zaire. (The river name Congo is related to the name of the Bakongo ethnic group).
The Democratic Republic of the Congo was formerly, in turn, the Congo Free State, Belgian Congo, Congo-Léopoldville, Congo-Kinshasa, and Zaire (or Zaïre in French). Though it is located in the Central African UN subregion, the nation is economically and regionally affiliated with Southern Africa as a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
DR Congo borders the Central African Republic and Sudan on the North; Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi on the East; Zambia and Angola on the South; the Republic of the Congo on the West; and is separated from Tanzania by Lake Tanganyika on the East. The country enjoys access to the ocean through a 40-kilometre (25 mile) stretch of Atlantic coastline at Muanda and the roughly nine-kilometre wide mouth of the Congo river which opens into the Gulf of Guinea.
The Second Congo War, beginning in 1998, devastated the country greatly and involved seven foreign armies and is sometimes referred to as the “African World War”. Despite the signing of peace accords in 2003, fighting continues in the east of the country. In eastern Congo, the prevalence and intensity of rape and other sexual violence is described as the worst in the world. The war is the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II, killing 5.4 million people.
The BBC reports Congo war crimes trial ‘unfair’
The war crimes trial against former Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga is “prejudicial”, his lawyer has told day two of the case at The Hague.
She claimed the prosecution’s use of anonymous witnesses and secrecy clauses for the International Criminal Court (ICC) trial would hamper the defence.
Wiki provides some backgro
und on Mr. Lubanga:
Thomas Lubanga Dyilo (born 29 December 1960 in Djiba, Ituri is a former rebel leader from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He founded and led the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) and was a key player in the Ituri conflict. Rebels under his command have been accused of massive human rights violations, including ethnic massacres, murder, torture, rape, mutilation, and forcibly conscripting child soldiers.
On 17 March 2006, Lubanga became the first person ever arrested under a warrant issued by the International Criminal Court. His trial, for the war crime of “conscripting and enlisting children under the age of fifteen years and using them to participate actively in hostilities”, began on 26 January 2009.
He is of the Hema-Gegere ethnic group. He studied at the University of Kisangani and has a degree in psychology. He is married and has seven children.
I have been following events in the Congo region for years now, since I spent time in the neighboring Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) when it was The People’s Republic of the Congo.
I will post updates on the trial as it unfolds.
Cross-posted at Daily Kos