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First verdict at International Criminal Court

15 March 2012

Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga has been found guilty of recruiting and using child soldiers between 2002 and 2003, in the first verdict delivered by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

Lubanga led a rebel group during an ethnic conflict between the Hema and Lendu tribes in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is rich in gold reserves. He was found guilty on three charges of recruiting children, enlisting children into rebel militia and using children in combat. The children concerned were aged between nine and 15.

Set up 10 years ago, the court has faced difficulties in securing co-operation from countries concerned and the verdict is regarded as a milestone. Prosecutors have also faced problems in making investigations, but the three-judge panel was critical of the prosecution in the present case, saying that the use of intermediaries at early stages of the present case had resulted in unreliable evidence and consequent delay in the proceedings.

Lubanga was arrested in 2005 but the trial only began in 2009. He will be sentenced at a later hearing and could be ordered to serve up to 30 years in prison. He has a right of appeal.

He still has supporters among his own Hema people, who believe he protected them from atrocities at the hands of the rival tribe.

Human rights groups have welcomed the verdict. Amnesty International said it showed the court could bring the world's worst offenders to justice, and UN Human Rights head Navi Pillay said it marked the “coming of age” of the court.

Further investigations in relation to cases intended for the court are currently in progress in seven countries, including others accused of war crimes during the Congolese conflict.

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