Congo suspect to face war crimes charges

By Alexandra Hudson

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – A Congolese militia leader accused of
conscripting children for war will be the first suspect to face
trial at the International Criminal Court, the chief prosecutor
of the ICC said on Saturday.

Thomas Lubanga arrived at an ICC temporary detention center
late on Friday night after having been flown from the
Democratic Republic of Congo aboard a French military plane one
day after Congolese authorities surrendered him to the court.

“Thomas Lubanga Dyilo was transferred to The Hague and is
now in the custody of the Court,” the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor
Luis Moreno-Ocampo told a press conference.

Lubanga was the founder and leader of one of the most
dangerous militia in Congo’s lawless northeastern district of
Ituri, Moreno-Ocampo said.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed during years
of militia violence in Ituri, one of Congo’s most violent
areas.

Lubanga has been charged with enlisting children under the
age of 15 as soldiers, but investigations continue and the
charges against him could yet be expanded, Moreno-Ocampo said.

“These are extremely serious crimes. Forcing children to be
killers jeopardizes the future of mankind,” he added.

“We will show pictures of Thomas Lubanga inspecting the
camps where children from seven years were training to become
soldiers,” Moreno-Ocampo said.

The conflict in the mineral-rich area pits various
ethnic-based militias against each other and has displaced some
100,000 people since December, hampering the former Belgian
colony’s efforts to recover from a wider five-year war.

International pressure to arrest Ituri’s warlords, some of
whom have joined Congo’s national army as part of a peace deal,
increased last month after U.N. Bangladeshi peacekeepers were
killed in an ambush by unknown gunmen.

The ICC was set up as the first permanent global war crimes
court to try individuals, and Lubanga is the first suspect to
be delivered into its custody.

The court’s registrar Bruno Cathala said Lubanga would
appear for an initial hearing on Monday afternoon, but the
precise charges against him would be determined during a later
hearing.

The prosecutor for Ituri and U.N. human rights experts have
been gathering evidence of crimes carried out in the district.

“We will investigate crimes committed by other militias and
other persons — this is the first case, not the last,” the
chief prosecutor pledged.

Those accused will be tried either in a Congolese court or
the International Criminal Court, due to try those responsible
for crimes committed in Ituri after July 1, 2002.

The arrest of Lubanga was a step forward to ending impunity
and atrocities all over the world, Moreno-Ocampo said.

“For 100 years, a permanent international criminal court
was a dream – this dream is becoming reality,” he added.

The ICC issued its first warrants last year for five
leaders of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which
operates in Uganda, southern Sudan and the DRC. The court has
also launched investigations into war crimes in Congo and
Sudan’s Darfur region.

The United States opposes the new court, fearing it will be
abused for politically motivated cases against its troops and
citizens.

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