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The International Criminal Court is ready to announce its first-ever verdict, in the trial of Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese warlord accused of committing war crimes for recruiting child soldiers under age 15. The verdict will be read on March 14 at the court’s headquarters in The Hague, where the judicial body began operating in 2004.
The two-year trial went through many fits and starts as the court ironed out early kinks, including the prosecution’s holding back evidence that might have exonerated Lubanga, but the trial finally finished in August 2011. Lubanga was arrested in 2006 and held by the court until his trial, led by the chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, began in 2009. Moreno-Ocampo has been the court’s first and only prosecutor so far, and he has said he wants to see some of the court’s four cases currently in trial reach a verdict before his term ends in June. He is to be replaced by Fatou Bensouda, his deputy.
Lubanga is accused of not only recruiting child soldiers in the Ituri region of eastern Congo but also of using them in the region in his militia, the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo, or FPLC in its French version, from September 2002 to August 2003. The conflict ravaged the area and involved other armed rebels as well as neighboring countries. The children were reportedly trained in military camps and sent to front lines in uniform with weapons to kill, while others acted as bodyguards to Lubanga and his top men.
Lubanga pleaded not guilty.
The court’s verdict, which is decided by judges and not a jury, must be convinced beyond reasonable doubt of the guilt of the accused. If Lubanga is convicted, the sentencing is announced at a later time. In a guilty verdict, victims can ask for reparations, compensation or restitution for their suffering. If the accused has no money, the court will use its victims’ trust fund to pay them.
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[This article was updated on March 1, 2012]