The International Criminal Court on Wednesday found Thomas Lubanga Diylo of war crimes for conscripting and enlisting children under 15 into the Forces patriotiques pour la libération du Congo (FPLC).
Mr. Lubanga, 51, was found guilty in The Hague of enlisting children as young as 11 to fight during the a bloody conflict in the gold-rich Ituri district of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between 2002 and 2003.
“The chamber reached its decision unanimously that the prosecution has proved Thomas Lubanga guilty of crimes of conscription and enlisting children under the age of 15 and used them to participate in hostilities,” said presiding Judge Adrian Fulford.
“The evidence demonstrated that children endured harsh training regiments and were subjected to severe punishment,” he said in a judgment heard by a crowded public gallery which included Hollywood star Angelina Jolie.
The recruitment of children under the age of 15 is a war crime under the Rome Statute of the Court.
“Today, impunity ends for Thomas Lubanga and those who recruit and use children in armed conflict,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy said. “In this age of global media, today’s verdict will reach warlords and commanders across the world and serve as a strong deterrent.”
She said she hoped the Court would provide reparations to the victims and their communities to acknowledge the harm suffered, and as a restoration of their rights in a country where UN-Habitat has worked in post-conflict and disaster management for many years helping rebuild in the wake of conflict, especially in the Ituri district.
In 2008, Ms. Coomaraswamy was called as an expert witness to the International Criminal Court, where she underlined that the involvement in armed conflict must take into account children serving in support roles during combat such as spies, messengers, porters, scouts, and cooks. She also stressed that girls often experience sexual slavery, repeated rapes, forced marriages, and forced pregnancies which should be recognized as active participation.
The judgment is part of a larger international effort to end impunity for violators of children’s rights in conflict and to bring perpetrators to justice, especially those with command responsibility. These include the Secretary-General’s annual list of shame of parties committing violations against children, and the adoption and possibility of sanctions by the Security Council.