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Defense Says Lubanga a Scapegoat

Attorneys for Thomas Lubanga said today the accused militia leader is a scapegoat for others who bear the “highest responsibility” for the militia’s conscription of child soldiers and other atrocities.

Lubanga pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges of conscripting and using child soldiers in his militia, known as the Patriotic Front for the Liberation of the Congo.

The militia reportedly was the military arm of the Lubanga’s political movement, the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), which fought from 2002 and 2003 in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Defense attorney Jean-Marie Biju-Duval told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that Lubanga was the political leader of the UPC and that the militia’s chief of staff should be on trial.

The DRC President Joseph Kabila bears responsibility because Lubanga’s former chief of staff, Floribert Kisembo, remains free as an officer in the Congolese army, he said.

Biju-Duval accused Kabila and the Congolese army of continuing to conscript child soldiers, just as did Kabila’s father, Laurent Kabila who was DRC president until early 2001 when he was assassinated.

“Those who are the most powerful in the Ituri [region] are spared,” Biju-Duval said. “Thomas Lubanga is charged in the place of those who should have been prosecuted.”

Biju-Duval said government leaders in Rwanda and Uganda, who provided weapons and support to various militia groups in the DRC, were also culpable.

“The ICC cannot prosecute all suspects,” Biju-Duval said, but should resist the temptation to convict Lubanga as a “proxy” for those who are absent.

Catherine Mabille, Lubanga’s lead lawyer, told the court that the prosecution’s threat of additional charges against her client was “unfair and it puts the defense in a tricky position.”

Mabille challenged accusations against Lubanga that he was responsible for sexual violence and slavery committed by the militia.

“Those are not charges made against our client,” she told the court. “The victims’ representatives cannot charge my client with crimes with which he isn’t prosecuted.”

Mabille said that a fair trial for Lubanga was difficult because of the trial’s numerous delays and private hearings between the prosecution and ICC judges, as well as the news media’s tendency to “convict before [the defendant] is tried.”

“In eyes of the vast majority [of people], as soon as there is an arrest warrant, the presumption of innocence disappears,” she said. “Such a person [is now] appearing before the court.”