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Lubanga Opposes Bid by 32 Victims to Participate in His Appeals

Thomas Lubanga, who was last year sentenced to 14 years in prison by International Criminal Court (ICC) judges over the use of child soldiers in armed conflict, has opposed applications by 32 victims who wished to participate in appeal proceedings.

He said that due to extensive redactions to the victims’ applications, the defense lacked crucial information regarding their admissibility. In addition, there were “significant” inconsistencies in the information provided by the applicants.

Mr. Lubanga, who allegedly led the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) that took part in an armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was convicted on March 4, 2012. Both the prosecution and the defense are appealing against his sentence. Mr. Lubanga is also appealing against the conviction.

According to lead defense counsel Catherine Mabille, the 32 applications relied solely on “imprecise, brief allegations from the applicants, uncorroborated by any documents or testimony to establish, prima facie, the actuality of the alleged facts.” The defense was therefore unable to verify the information provided by the applicants.

In a June 14, 2013 filing, Ms. Mabille observed that given the importance of the rights afforded to victims who are authorized to participate in proceedings, it was presupposed that the Chamber would carry out a sufficiently thorough verification of the conditions that applicants must meet in order to be granted victim status.

That verification required applicants’ allegations to be adequately detailed and corroborated by sufficiently reliable supporting material. Mr. Lubanga’s lawyer regretted that redactions to the applications made it impossible for the defense to establish the truthfulness of the information provided by the applicants, such as the locations of the alleged events, their enlistment and demobilization dates, the names of identified commanders, and the dates of various events.

Besides, the defense noted that only direct victims of the crimes imputed to Mr. Lubanga ought to be authorized to participate in the proceedings. This should be individuals who are able to prove that they suffered personal harm as a result of the enlistment, conscription, or participation in hostilities within the armed wing of the UPC of children under the age of 15 years during the period September 1, 2002 and August 13, 2003.

In specific comments to individual applications, the defense identified discrepancies related to the ages of applicants and the presumed period during which they served with the UPC. The defense said some applicants claimed to have been trained at camps in locations where the group Mr. Lubanga is alleged to have led did not have any camps.

Moreover, some applicants claimed they served at camps in locations where the UPC militia had once operated but at periods when its forces had been dislodged from these locations. The defense also said a number of applicants had provided contradictory information on their identity and dates of birth.

Ms. Mabille also observed that numerous applicants referred to harm that was “not linked to the crimes, or harm which is occasionally inconsistent with that which children under the age of 15 years might have suffered.” Examples cited were those of applicants who said they were less than 15 years of age in 2002 or 2003 and they lost a motorbike, a house, and cattle.

Of the 32 applications under review, 29 were submitted to the court’s registrar when proceedings in the trial were still on-going. The other three had previously been rejected because they contained incomplete information. On May 6, 2013, the presiding judge of the appeals chamber, Erkki Kourula, ordered the registry to submit all 32 applications, noting that they were completed during the trial phase and no deadline had been set for receiving applications for victims’ participation.

Earlier, Mr. Lubanga and the prosecutor had opposed the transmission of the applications, claiming it was too late in the proceedings and that accepting the applications would delay the proceedings.

A total of 129 persons were granted the status of participating victim in the trial phase. In their judgment, trial judges revoked the victim status of nine individuals, all of whom were found to have lied in their testimonies that they were former child soldiers in the UPC. All nine testified against Mr. Lubanga.

Judges are yet to pronounce themselves on the defense’s submission.