14 March 2012
Brussels/The Hague, 14 March 2012 – Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) welcomes today’s decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to declare Thomas Lubanga Dyilo guilty of war crimes.
First person detained and accused before the ICC, the Congolese ex-war lord has been held responsible for the recruitment of child soldiers into the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) and for their active participation in the hostilities in eastern DR Congo. “This first ruling of the ICC is also acknowledgement of the victims’ rights”, ASF is pleased to announce.
More than 30,000 children have been abducted or recruited by the different armed groups active in the Congo between 1998 and 2008. These children have been mistreated during training, sent into combat and the girls have been used as sex slaves by commanders. In addition to the violence suffered, these child soldiers are often seen as criminals instead of victims by the communities – including sometimes their own families – who have suffered from their violent acts.
“The acknowledgement of Mr Lubanga’s culpability by the ICC is a clear message that such acts will not go unpunished”, ASF Executive Director Francesca Boniotti declared with satisfaction following the judgment. “This decision is also a victory for the victims, as their voice is now heard and their suffering has been acknowledged”.
From the beginning of the enquiry leading up to the “Lubanga” trial, ASF’s intervention alongside Congolese associations has been in helping to identify child soldier victims, explaining to them what is at stake through their participation in the trial, and in providing the assistance necessary to file application for participation to the trial. ASF has also ensured the intervention of lawyers and has put everything in place to ensure the safety of the victims. At the end of this pre-trial phase, the ICC – the first permanent international criminal tribunal – has, for the first time since its creation in 2002, officially acknowledged 12 minors initially assisted by ASF as victims; this enabled them to benefit from free legal assistance. In total, 123 victims are participating in the “Lubanga” trial, 101 of which are adults who have suffered from the FPLC’s violent acts.
Aside from expressing the suffering they have experienced, the victims are no longer considered as a mere element of proof. Those represented in the “Lubanga” case have been able to contribute to establishing the truth through the right to access, evaluate and contest evidence provided by both the prosecution and defence, as well as attesting to the crimes committed.
Suspected of having committed war crimes in the early 2000s, Mr Lubanga, ex-Commander in Chief of the FPLC, was arrested in March 2005 and was then transferred from the DR Congo to The Hague where the ICC has its seat.
Having been kept aside from the debates until the creation of the ICC, victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes finally have a role in the international justice system. ASF remains mobilised, to ensure that the victims’ hopes placed in the ICC are not disappointed. “Today’s ruling is only the first step. We now await the decision on sentencing and any compensation for the damage suffered”, says Francesca Boniotti. “This decision will serve as an important test for judging the efficiency of the international justice system”.