14 Mar Breaking: Lubanga Convicted by the ICC
Today, International Criminal Court (ICC) judges in The Hague delivered the Court’s first verdict—a finding of guilt against former Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga.
Prosecutors accused Lubanga of the war crimes of conscripting, enlisting, and using children under the age of 15 years for combat purposes while he served as political head of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) rebel group in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Lubanga denied all allegations against him, insisting that he gave orders for children not to be involved in combat and that prosecutors had influenced witnesses to lie against him.
The ICC judges ruled that the prosecution proved beyond reasonable doubt that Lubanga is guilty of the crimes charged. Judge Adrian Fulford, Presiding Judge of the Trial Chamber, in delivering the verdict said that there was reasonable evidence to believe that Lubanga was involved in a recruitment drive for his UPC rebel group and that such drive included conscripting children and using them for combat purposes. The judges also found that Lubanga personally used children as his bodyguards.
The judges agreed with the defense on allegations that the prosecution had delegated its investigations to local intermediaries in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and that these intermediaries manipulated and influenced some witnesses to lie against Lubanga. The evidence of these prosecution witnesses were in doubt and were therefore disregarded by the judges. On the strength of other prosecution evidence, including a video footage of Lubanga addressing children at a UPC training camp, the judges found that Lubanga is guilty of the charges against him.
The verdict is not particularly surprising: the evidence against Lubanga was overwhelming, and the OTP — for reasons that still have never been adequately explained — declined to bring more serious charges against him, even though he had been facing murder and torture charges in the DRC. It is good news, though, that the verdict was unanimous; more than one insider predicted that Judge Fulford would dissent. (Note, though, that there is a separate opinion by Judge Fulford and a dissenting opinion on a point of law that does not affect Lubanga’s criminal responsibility by Judge Benito.)
Of course, no ICC prosecution would be complete without at least something that makes Luis Moreno-Ocampo look bad. The OTP handled the intermediaries terribly, at one point raising the specter of Lubanga being released. I’m glad that the Court did not take such a drastic step — but I’m also glad that it acknowledged that the intermediaries deliberately encouraged witnesses to perjure themselves. That is a clear indication the judges took the defense’s arguments seriously.
Lubanga’s sentence will be imposed at a later date. Most articles say that he could receive a life sentence, but I don’t think that’s true. According to Article 77 of the Rome Statute, the maximum penalty for an ordinary crime is 30 years imprisonment, with a life sentence being possible only “when justified by the extreme gravity of the crime and the individual circumstances of the convicted person.” To sentence Lubanga to life imprisonment for a crime that does not even require death would set a very bad precedent; if recruiting child soldiers is so grave as to justify a life sentence, what international crime would deserve a lesser sentence?
In any case, it’s very unlikely that Lubanga will receive even the maximum sentence for an “ordinary” crime. A good friend has guessed that he will be sentenced to 10 years; I’m guessing 15. Readers, shall we start a pool? The winner will receive an official OJ coffee mug — on the condition that the blog ever commissions one.
PS. You can download the judgment here — all 650+ pages of it.