International Criminal Court hearings start in case seen by UN as move against impunity
Hearings began today to determine whether a former militia leader in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) accused of recruiting child soldiers will be the first person tried before the International Criminal Court (ICC), in a case which United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has described as sending a message that impunity will not be tolerated.
Thomas Lubanga Dyilo was formally charged by the ICC Prosecutor’s office in August with enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities.
The hearings, which will last until 28 November at the ICC’s headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands, will determine whether there is enough evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe that Mr. Lubanga Dyilo committed the crimes charged.
Mr. Lubanga Dyilo, who was arrested in March, is the President of the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC) and was the commander-in-chief of its former military wing, the Forces Patriotiques pour la Libération du Congo (FPLC) in 2002-03 in the Ituri district in the north-eastern DRC.
He is accused of playing “an overall coordinating role” in the policy of the FPLC to recruit and enlist child soldiers and providing the “organizational, infrastructural and logistical framework for its implementation.”
In August, ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo described the charges as “just the first step in the case… We believe our evidence is strong,” he said. “However, until his guilt is established, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo is presumed innocent.”
In March, Mr. Annan said he was very pleased with Mr. Lubanga Dyilo’s arrest. “It’s a very good example for other,” he told a news conference in Kinshasa, the DRC capital. “It is a message that impunity cannot be accepted, and international community working with the Government must to everything to ensure that this kind of activity cannot continue.”
Established by the Rome Statute of 1998, the ICC can try cases involving individuals charged with war crimes committed since July 2002. The UN Security Council, the ICC Prosecutor or a State Party to the court can initiate any proceedings, and the ICC only acts when countries themselves are unwilling or unable to investigate or prosecute.