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]
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Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, she has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and near Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working in New York at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.