International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

ICC Judges to Deliver Lubanga Verdict on March 14

On March 14, International Criminal Court (ICC) judges will hand down the verdict in the trial of Thomas Lubanga, the first conducted by the court since its founding in 2002. The verdict will come eight years after the Congolese political leader was taken into ICC custody and more than three years since the start of his trial.

According to a statement issued today by the court, the decision on the innocence or guilt of Mr. Lubanga will be issued in a public hearing at 10.00 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14, 2012.

“In the event of a conviction, the chamber will later consider the appropriate sentence to be imposed. Irrespective of whether the accused is acquitted or convicted, the court is required to establish the principles to be applied in relation to reparations, and it may make orders as regards awards of reparations to victims,” added the statement.

If an accused is found guilty, victims can ask for reparations, compensation, or restitution for the damage suffered. If the person convicted has no financial resources, the court would have to use the ICC’s Trust Fund for Victims to provide reparations to the victims.

A total of 129 victims are participating in the Lubanga trial, three of whom testified at the bidding of their legal representatives. Over the course of 204 days of hearings, the trial heard 36 witnesses called by prosecutors, 24 witnesses called by the defense, and four experts called by judges. Three of the prosecution witnesses were expert witnesses.

Mr. Lubanga, who was president of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), a political group that prosecutors claim had an armed wing that used child soldiers, has been in ICC detention since March 16, 2006. His trial commenced on January 26, 2009. The closing oral statements took place on August 25 and 26, 2011.

Mr. Lubanga is charged with committing three war crimes between July 2002 and December 2003. The specific counts against him are: conscripting children under the age of 15 years into armed groups; enlisting children into armed groups; and using children to participate actively in armed conflict. His trial is the only one conducted to date by the ICC that is solely related to the use of child soldiers.

In his defense, Mr. Lubanga has argued that he was only a politician and had no say in the command of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo (FPLC), the armed militia of the UPC. Although he has conceded that there were child soldiers in the FPLC, he denies that he took any part in enlisting or conscripting any child. Rather, Mr. Lubanga argues that when it was within his means, he worked tirelessly to demobilize child soldiers from the group.

However, prosecutors have claimed that Mr. Lubanga took part in conscripting children, that some of the child soldiers served as his bodyguards, and that he was the overall commander of the UPC’s armed wing. Moreover, prosecutors have stated that whereas Mr. Lubanga publicly told the international community that he would demobilize the child soldiers, in reality he opposed their disengagement from the group.

Notably, Mr. Lubanga’s trial was stayed twice. In June 2008, judges issued the first stay of proceedings, arguing that it was impossible for the trial to be fair because the ICC prosecutor had not disclosed to the defense, or availed to judges, important potentially exculpatory evidence.

While the judges also ordered Mr. Lubanga’s unconditional release, the decision was not effected following a prosecution appeal. Appeals judges in October 2008 upheld the decision to stay the proceedings but reversed the decision to release Mr. Lubanga. On November 18, 2008, trial judges lifted the stay of proceedings against Mr. Lubanga, after determining that the reasons for the suspension had “fallen away,” because prosecutors had complied with the disclosure obligations. 

In July 2010, judges ordered a second stay of proceedings and that Mr. Lubanga be released from ICC detention when prosecutors refused to honor an order by trial judges to disclose to the defense the identity of an intermediary, who had helped prosecution investigators contact witnesses. The order was prompted by defense claims that prosecution intermediaries bribed and coached witnesses to provide false evidence.

The prosecution immediately appealed while also securing the agreement of the intermediary in question to be identified to the defense, accompanied by witness protection measures. In October 2010, appeals judges ruled that the trial chamber erred in staying proceedings without first applying less drastic measures, such as imposing sanctions against the prosecutor following his failure to comply with the orders of the trial judges. The trial resumed less than three weeks later with the evidence phase of the trial concluding April 18, 2011.