Lubanga trial: A missed opportunity for the victims

Congo (the Democratic Republic of the)International justiceNews

Brussels/The Hague, 11 July 2012 – On 10 July, the International Criminal Court (ICC) passed its first sentence, sentencing Thomas Lubanga Dyilo to 14 years’ imprisonment for war crimes. Responsible for the recruitment of child soldiers and for their active participation in the hostilities in eastern DR Congo, the former warlord has already spent more than six years in custody; he should normally serve a further eight years in prison. Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) fears that this sentence will not have the hoped-for deterrent effect on the perpetrators of war crimes. ASF also regrets that the principle of compensating victims was not mentioned in the court’s decision.

“Although we welcome this first judgment of the ICC, we fear that the sentence passed yesterday will not have the hoped-for deterrent effect of stopping the violence suffered by the ethnic groups in the Ituri region,” declares ASF Executive Director Francesca Boniotti. “For the victims, it’s a missed opportunity in combating the impunity of perpetrators of war crimes.”

The sentence was based solely on the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Their particular vulnerability justifies special protection. Nevertheless, it was impossible to consider the claims of abuse, sexual violence and various punishments due to a lack of evidence presented by the prosecution. The court also considered that Thomas Lubanga had cooperated with the ICC throughout the trial, which was suspended on two occasions. As far as the possibility of fines was concerned, it declared the accused insolvent. ASF fears that the victims will find it hard to understand the narrow basis for the court’s sentence, which does not reflect the extent of their suffering.

ASF regrets that the victims were forgotten in the Court’s decision. Just two days before the hearing, the court postponed the decision on the issue of compensation indefinitely. Neither the principle of compensation, nor the continuation of the proceedings is mentioned in the judgment. “It’s difficult to understand this omission. It’s as if compensating for the wrongs suffered by the victims were a secondary matter that could be postponed without giving a reason,” comments Francesca Boniotti. ASF reiterates that any compensation awarded will only mean something to the victims if they are actively associated with the trial.

On 10 May 2012, Avocats Sans Frontières submitted recommendations relating to compensation to the ICC*. Having been consulted beforehand by ASF, the affected communities expressed a wish to receive joint compensation so as to promote reconciliation between the communities. Measures to rehabilitate children, such as counselling and vocational training, were also suggested.

“Now, the court must make sure the communities affected truly understand the judgment delivered in order to avoid any feeling of injustice,” concludes Francesca Boniotti.

© ICC-CPI/Jerry Lampen/ANP

A total of 123 victims took part in the Lubanga trial, including 101 parents of child soldiers who had suffered the abuses of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo (FPLC). Suspected of having committed war crimes in the early 2000s, Mr Lubanga, ex-Commander in Chief of the FPLC, was arrested in March 2005 and was then transferred from the DR Congo to The Hague where the ICC has its seat.

From the beginning of the enquiry leading up to the Lubanga trial, ASF’s intervention alongside Congolese associations has been in helping to identify child soldier victims, explaining to them what is at stake through their participation in the trial, and in providing the assistance necessary to file an application for participation in the trial. ASF has also ensured the intervention of lawyers and has put everything in place to ensure the safety of the victims.

* Click here to download the recommendations for compensation submitted to the ICC by ASF (PDF in French)