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Victims Ask To Take Part In Lubanga Release Appeal

Lawyers representing victims who are participating in the trial of Thomas Lubanga have asked appeals judges to allow them to become party to the prosecution’s appeal against his release.

According to Paolina Massidda, Principal Counsel of the Office of the Public Counsel for Victims at the International Criminal Court (ICC), the participation of victims in the interlocutory appeal lodged by prosecutors is appropriate because their interests are affected by the outcome of the proceedings on Mr. Lubanga’s release.

“An analysis of all the articles and rules governing victim participation in the proceedings before the court clearly shows that victims’ participation is not restricted to specific stages and is therefore possible at all stages in the proceedings, including interlocutory appeals,” said Ms. Massidda.

She added that victims’ participation in the prosecution’s interlocutory appeal “accords perfectly with the requirements of a fair trial, since their participation will allow the views of victims whose personal interests are undeniably affected by the outcome of the appeal in question to be taken into consideration in an objective and in-depth fashion.”

Trial judges on July 14, 2010 ordered for Mr. Lubanga’s release following a stay of proceedings a week earlier. However,  prosecutors have contested this order, and the former Congolese rebel leader will remain in detention until the appeals chamber decides on the application.

Luc Walleyn, who represents 24 victims, contends in a July 26, 2010 application that the victims consider that they have a personal interest in the proceedings, particularly because “what is at issue is not interim release under the supervision of the court, but unconditional release.”

Adds Mr. Walleyn: “The unconditional release of the accused could have real repercussions for the safety of the victims participating in the proceedings where their identity is known to the accused, particularly for those who had agreed to give evidence for the prosecution.”

Appeals judges have asked the prosecution to file a response to the legal representatives’ applications by August 6, 2010. Additionally, Judge Anita Usacka, on behalf of the presiding judge, on Wednesday this week asked two victims’ lawyers – Paul Kabongo Tshibangu and Carine Bapita Buyangandu – to clarify the legal basis for filing confidentially their applications to participate in the trial.

Some 103 victims are participating in the trial – the first to be conducted by the ICC. During both the prosecution and defense phases of the trial, victims’ lawyers attended the proceedings, including those held in camera. They also questioned some defense and prosecution witnesses. Moreover, three victims have also taken the witness stand.

An additional 15 applications by victims wishing to participate in the trial were filed in June. The majority of victims currently participating in the trial are former child soldiers.

Mr. Lubanga is on trial over the recruitment, conscription, and use of child soldiers in armed conflict during 2002 and 2003. According to ICC prosecutors, the crimes were committed in Ituri province in the Democratic Republic of Congo while Mr. Lubanga allegedly headed the Union of Congolese Patriots rebel group.

It is expected that appeals judges will give an indication of when the appeal will start once the summer judicial break ends next week. Prosecutors have asked the appeals judges to allow in-court arguments “given the importance of the case and the complexity of the issues”.