International Criminal Court suspends case against Congolese rebel militia chief

16 June 2008

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has suspended proceedings against the Congolese rebel militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, accused of recruiting child soldiers, after finding that prosecutors had failed to disclose more than 200 documents to the defence that have the potential to prove Mr. Lubanga’s innocence.

The ICC trial chamber, which sits in The Hague, imposed the stay on the case on Friday and announced that the trial process will remain halted unless the stay is lifted. A hearing will now be held on 24 June to consider whether Mr. Lubanga should be released from custody.

Mr. Lubanga, the founder and leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots in the Ituri region of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has been charged with a series of war crimes, including conscripting and enlisting child soldiers into the military wing of his group and then using them to participate in hostilities between September 2002 and August 2003.

The judges said they had decided to stay the proceedings because the failure of prosecutors to disclose the documents they had in their possession – which contained “a significant body of exculpatory evidence” – to defence lawyers had the effect of “improperly inhibiting the opportunities for the accused to prepare his defence.”

The judges added that the disclosure of exculpatory evidence held by prosecutors is a fundamental aspect of the accused’s right to a fair trial.

The trial of Mr. Lubanga was due to have been the first to be held by the ICC, and it had been scheduled to begin next Monday.


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Trial of Congolese defendant ‘crucial step’ to end impunity – senior UN official

The trial of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, who has been charged by the International Criminal Court with recruiting child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), will be “a crucial step in the fight against impunity and will have a decisive deterrent effect against perpetrators of this outrageous crime against humanity,” according to the United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.