Three years, 10 months, one week. That is how long for he has waited. This week, Thomas Lubanga gets to start telling judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) why they should set him free.
The 49-year-old psychology graduate has pleaded not guilty to the war crimes over which he first appeared in court at The Hague on March 20, 2006. He has stayed in ICC detention since then.
Following the start of his trial a year ago on January 26, 2009, Lubanga has calmly sat through 74 days of hearings spread of over several weeks, listening to witness after witness give evidence that supports his indictment.
Now this week, finally, Lubanga’s defense case will kick off. For many weeks – months perhaps – his team led by Catherine Mabille will introduce evidence to prove Lubanga’s innocence, and they plan to call about 30 witnesses.
Lubanga is the first person to be tried by the ICC, which alleges that he was the founder of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) and the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC). The ICC also alleges that Lubanga was the commander-in-chief of the FPLC from September 2002 to the end of 2003, and that he committed war crimes during this time.
Specifically, the ICC charges that Lubanga enlisted and conscripted children under the age of 15 years into the FPLC and used them “to participate actively” in armed conflict. The alleged crimes were committed between September 2002 and August 2003 in Ituri province in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Lubanga’s defense is likely to try and discredit testimony given by prosecution witnesses and participating victims that Lubanga was the commander of the UPC’s militia group, that he took part in conscripting and using children under the age of 15 years in inter-ethnic fighting, and that he was aware of the existence of child soldiers in UPC and FPLC.