The order issued by judges yesterday for Congolese war crimes accused Thomas Lubanga to be released has received wide coverage online. Media from all continents have reported the story, as have bloggers, with many dwelling on the causes of the stay of proceedings and resultant order for Mr. Lubanga’s release. Others sounded out parties to the trial, and yet some looked at the way forward was likely to be.
Judges on Thursday ruled that Mr. Lubanga – the first person tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC) should be released unconditionally if the prosecution did not appeal the release order within five days. The stay of proceedings which preceded the release order arose from the failure by the Office of The Prosecutor (OTP) to implement an order by judges to reveal the identity of an individual who helped prosecution investigators identify persons who testified against Mr. Lubanga. Here below we bring some of the media buzz on this order:
The French news agency AFP quoted Mr. Lubanga’s lead attorney Catherine Mabille as saying: “We are satisfied with the chamber’s decision that the prosecutor cannot hold himself above the judges.” http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gfUn7qh_UJu9y7PldfnNEK2XndHQ
On the other hand, various news agencies quoted OTP spokeswoman Nicola Fletcher as saying they would appeal the stay of proceedings and the release order. A statement issued by the OTP was also quoted widely. In that statement, the OTP regretted the “disturbance” caused by the release order, but argued that this was a sign that the ICC was a court of justice.
“The victims of Thomas Lubanga’s alleged crimes must remain confident that justice will be done in this case,” the OTP statement added.
The Associated Press (AP) described Thursday’s ruling as the latest setback in what rights activists called a landmark case as this was the first trial to deal exclusively with child soldier allegations. According to AP, “the case has been beset with problems and almost from its start in January 2009, as prosecutors and judges clashed over the admissibility of evidence gathered in confidence from U.N. personnel and non-government volunteers in the battlefield, who believed disclosure of their identities could jeopardize their lives or work.” More on this story:
Similarly, the BBC reported that the trial “has been plagued by legal challenges”, pointing out that the first witness at the trial retracted his testimony after first saying he had been recruited by Mr. Lubanga’s fighters on his way home from school. The BBC also noted that one of the problems facing the court was that Bunia – the capital of the Ituri region where Mr. Lubanga was a rebel leader – was still considered a conflict zone. This meant the safety of potential witnesses could not be guaranteed (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-10650399).
Reuters contended that chances that Lubanga would be released in the short term were considered small because the court had built a number of conditions into its ruling. The agency quoted Jan Wouters, a professor of international law at the Catholic University Leuven in Belgium, as arguing that it nonetheless made sense to ask for Mr. Lubanga’s release.
“A fair trial also means a timely trial. In that sense the court has an obligation to set an example,” Prof. Wouters said. “In the meantime it appears that the trial is turning into a sparring match between the court and the prosecutor, while no final ruling has been given in the court’s eight-year existence.” This article is available here: .http://alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/LDE66E1ZH.htm
According to The Hague Justice Portal (http://www.haguejusticeportal.net/eCache/DEF/11/887.TGFuZz1FTg.html) , the prosecution had not appealed the two orders with which it had refused to comply last week – the very orders that sparked the stay of proceedings – and judges had noted that the Prosecution continued to be in non-compliance with its orders. However, the judges had decided to adjourn any action under article 71 of the Statute, dealing with the OTP’s misconduct before the Court, until the Appeals Chamber’s judgment on this appeal.
On the other hand, CNN – while observing that Mr. Lubanga was not likely to be freed soon – made reference to ICC prosecutor Luis Morno-Ocampo’s opening address at the start of the trial, in which he stated: “Lubanga’s armed group recruited, trained and used hundreds of young children to kill, pillage and rape. The children still suffer the consequences of Lubanga’s crimes. They cannot forget what they saw, what they suffered, what they did.” CNN noted that Mr. Lubanga has maintained his innocence. This article is available at http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/africa/07/15/icc.militia.leader.release/?fbid=bNdFByYL_gx .
In its brief report, The New York Times said that while it was unlikely that Mr. Lubanga would go free anytime soon, the order was tantamount to a stern warning to the prosecutors: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/16/world/europe/16briefs-Hague.html .
Meanwhile, VOA News quoted Lubanga family member Sylvia Dzbo as saying the family hoped this time around Mr. Lubanga would be freed. “Here, we are very happy about the news, but our main concern is that it’s not the first time that they have said they will release him. If they say he will be freed and go anywhere he wants, then we can say yes we win this war because we believe he is innocent about everything that they say,” Dzbo said. To read more of this story, please see: http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/africa/Butty-DR-Congo-Lubanga-Release-Order-React-Dzbo-16july10-98582194.html
For its part, The Financial Times of UK noted the ICC had been dogged by controversy and criticism almost since it was founded in 2002. “Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the court’s prosecutor, has attracted criticism by going after high-profile indictments but failing thus far to secure any convictions. His most eye-catching target has been Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s president, for whom the court this week issued a new arrest warrant, adding genocide charges to earlier accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” the FT said.
Moreover, FT stated that human rights groups had said the long-delayed Lubanga case was perhaps a final chance for the ICC to prove that it could be an efficient forum to try the most serious war crime allegations. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/698d3408-9042-11df-ad26-00144feab49a.html?ftcamp=rss
The OTP has indeed stated it will be appealing the order to release Mr. Lubanga. Mr. Moreno-Ocampo said the prosecution had filed the appeal and was confident of winning an order suspending Lubanga’s release. See http://af.reuters.com/article/topNews/idAFJOE66F0JW20100716