The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Tuesday sentenced a former Congolese warlord to 14 years in prison after he was found guilty of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 into the Forces Patriotiques pour la libération du Congo (FPLC) militia.
In March this year, the court found Thomas Lubanga, the commander-in-chief of the FPLC, also guilty of using children to participate in hostilities in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern Ituri region between September 2002 and August 2003.
The court ordered Mr. Lubanga’s prison term to start from March 16, 2004, the day he had surrendered.
He is the first person to be tried at the IC since it started operation on July 1, 2002. The court was established to try cases involving war crimes committed since July 2002. The United Nations body only goes into action when countries are not able or unwilling to investigate or prosecute these crimes.
In handing down the verdict, judge Adrian Fulford said after considering the case, the Trial Chamber had become sensitive to the damage caused, particularly “the harm caused to the victims and their families, the nature of the unlawful behaviour and the means employed to execute the crime; the degree of participation of the convicted person; the degree of intent; the circumstances of manner, time and location; and the age, education, social and economic condition of the convicted person.”
Judge Fulford also said Mr. Lubanga was convicted on crimes that affect the international community, taking into cognizance “vulnerability of children means that they need to be afforded particular protection that does not apply to the general population, as recognised in various international treaties.”
The presiding judge said the court took into consideration Mr. Lubanga’s cooperation and respectful attitude throughout the proceedings. However, one of the judges Elizabeth Odio Benito disagreed with the Chamber’s majority decision “to the extent that, in her view, it disregards the damage caused to the victims and their families, particularly as a result of the harsh punishments and sexual violence suffered by the victims of these crimes.”
The sentencing of Mr. Lubanga has been hailed by the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coormaraswamy, saying it is a signal to the world that child recruitment no longer goes unpunished.