Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga was today handed a 14-year jail sentence by International Criminal Court (ICC) judges over the use of child soldiers. The six years he has spent in court custody will be deducted from his sentence.
“Lubanga is sentenced to a total period of 14 years imprisonment. The chamber deducts the period March 16, 2006 until today from his sentence,” said presiding Judge Adrian Fulford. This means he will serve a sentence of a little under eight years.
On March 14, 2012, Judges Fulford, Elizabeth Odio Benito, and René Blattmann found Mr. Lubanga guilty of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 years into his Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia group. They said the accused actively used those children in an armed conflict in the Ituri province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In their verdict, judges said that the prosecution established beyond reasonable doubt that Mr. Lubanga and his co-perpetrators agreed to, and participated in, a common plan to build an army for the purposes of establishing and maintaining political and military control over Ituri. Whereas the UPC hoped to bring peace to the ethnic conflict ridden region, evidence showed that between September 1, 2002 and August 13, 2003, there was “persistent” recruitment of children in order for the militia to achieve its goals.
“The UPC/FPLC used children under the age of 15 to participate actively in hostilities including during battles. They were used, during the relevant period, as soldiers and as bodyguards for senior officials including the accused,” concluded the judges.
In determining their sentence, judges said they took into consideration the gravity of the crimes and extent of damage caused and in particular “the harm caused to the victims and their families, the nature of the unlawful behavior and the means employed to execute the crime.
Moreover, the judges took into consideration the degree of participation of the convicted person; the degree of intent; the circumstances of manner, time and location; and the age, education, social and economic condition of the convicted person”
Mr. Lubanga’s co-accused, Bosco Ntaganda, remains at large, despite the arrest warrant issued by the ICC in early 2006.
Describing Mr. Lubanga, 51, as an “intelligent and educated individual” in a position of authority, judges stated that this marked a level of awareness of the crimes and was an aggravating factor.
Judges did not consider sexual violence and the harsh punishments that occurred during the course of the crimes as aggravating factors because they could not be directly attributed to Mr. Lubanga.
Furthermore, Judges took into account Mr. Lubanga’s behavior and conduct throughout the trial. They noted that “he was respectful and cooperative throughout the proceedings, even during times of unwarranted pressure.”
In its submission for sentencing, the prosecution recommended that Mr. Lubanga should be given a 30-year prison sentence. Judges stated that such a sentence “would be inappropriate in this case” as it can only be justified by extreme gravity of crimes and the individual circumstances of the convicted person.
For their part, the defense submitted that in addition to time spent in ICC custody, the time their client spent under house arrest and detention in the DRC between 2003 and 2006 should also be deducted from his sentence. The defense argued that the detention was imposed “as a result of the same conduct [of Lubanga] as president of the UPC.”
However, judges declined to deduct this period of time from Mr. Lubanga’s sentence, stating that there was insufficient evidence to establish that Congolese authorities detained Mr. Lubanga for the same crimes as those he was convicted for at The Hague-based court.
In addition to imprisonment, individuals convicted by the ICC can be fined and ordered to pay reparations to victims for the crimes suffered. In the case against Mr. Lubanga, judges ruled that it was “inappropriate” to impose a fine in addition to the prison term given Mr. Lubanga’s financial situation.
“No relevant funds have been identified,” said Judge Fulford.
Mr. Lubanga was the first person to be tried and convicted by the 10-year old court. His trial, which commenced in January 2009, was halted twice and on both occasions a stay of proceedings was ordered due to failures by the prosecution to comply with court orders. On both occasions, judges ordered his unconditional release.
Three other Congolese nationals are on trial at the ICC – Jean-Pierre Bemba, Germain Katanga, and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui.