International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

What Can We Expect To Hear From The UN Expert On Children and Armed Conflict Today?

Expansive and inclusive definitions of child soldiering crimes – and why girl soldiers deserve special attention – will likely be the focus of today’s testimony as the trial of Congolese militia leader, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, starts up again at the International Criminal Court today after a six month long hiatus.

Mr. Lubanga has pleaded not guilty to war crimes charges of “Conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into the national armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities.” Mr. Lubanga is also expected to appear in court today.

The person taking the stand, however, will be Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN special representative on children and armed conflict, who appears today at the Trial judges’ request as … Continue Reading

The Case Against Lubanga So Far

Compelling testimony from former child soldiers was the main feature of the prosecution’s case against Thomas Lubanga.

Evidence heard included stories of the brutal treatment of boys and girls at the hands of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) military groups. Various witnesses testified about continuous beating, rape, near starvation and other abuses suffered during their time with the UPC.

Although their testimony involved tragedy and suffering, the prosecution has a very difficult charge to prove. This is because Lubanga, president of the UPC and on trial for conscripting and using child soldiers in his militia, was generally removed from the front-lines. There is little evidence to suggest that he himself was involved in physically committing the acts described above.

Therefore, although it … Continue Reading


Voices From the Ground

The Lubanga trial project, a joint initiative of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting Netherlands and the Open Society Justice Initiative, went on the road last month – to the city of Bukavu in eastern Congo’s South Kivu province.

DRC project coordinator Charles Mukandirwa and office assistant Backar Burubi met with lawyers, NGOs, journalists, students, religious leaders and local chiefs from July 26-August 3 to introduce them to the project and get their views on the trial and the International Criminal Court

It was clear that people had little information on the Lubanga trial but were nonetheless extremely interested in the latest developments in The Hague.

They also had many questions for the project team.

Pascal Munoka of the NGO Action pour le … Continue Reading

Witness Protection: Successes and Challenges in the Lubanga Trial

During the trial of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, the first for the International Criminal Court, challenges to effective witness protection have become apparent.  The court, and in particular presiding Judge Adrian Fulford, has been active in its approach to witness protection.

 However, short and long-term problems plague the witness protection program, and will demand diligence and financial support from the court as more trials begin. 

 Legal Basis for Witness Protection

 The court has an obligation under its founding document, the Rome Statute, to protect witnesses.  At trial, the judges have the power to take all “necessary steps” to protect witnesses and their families, including the use of private hearings and the presentation of evidence electronically or by “special means.” 

The judges can raise issues about … Continue Reading

Voices From The Ground On The Lubanga Trial

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting Netherlands, IWPR, in partnership with Open Society Justice Initiative has been meeting with local actors in the DRC to understand how much they know about the International Criminal Court, ICC, and the trial of Thomas Lubanga.

The impressions so far in North Kivu province from both civil society and the legal community is that there is little knowledge about the workings of the ICC in The Hague but a great interest in finding out more.

A representative from the sexual violence NGO Synergie des Femmes pour les Victimes des Violences Sexuelles, SFVS, in Goma said she needs more information about the court in order to properly inform the victims with whom she works.

“Sometimes the victims … Continue Reading

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Expert Reports on the Psychological Impact of Child Soldiering

The trial of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo began in late January and has heard testimony from nearly 20 witnesses to date.  At the end of the trial, the Judges will be required to evaluate the credibility of the witnesses in order to consider the credibility of their testimony.

Credibility is based in part on what the witnesses say and whether it is believable, but also on the way they say it and their physical demeanor in court. 

Lubanga is charged with conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 into armed groups, and using children to actively participate in armed conflict between July 2002 and December 2003.  As such, many witnesses have been former child soldiers. 

Lubanga’s defense attorneys have attacked their testimony … Continue Reading

Victims Voices Must Not Jeopardise Fair Trial

To date, 93 victims have been granted participation status in the trial of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, and although it is early days in the proceedings their presence is already being felt in the courtroom.

Lubanga’s trial began on January 26 with the opening statements of seven victims’ representatives. The victims are mostly former child soldiers, but others also include family members, a school which former child soldiers attended and the headmaster of that school. Under court rules private entities including schools can participate as victims and are classed as “legal persons”.

For the most part, their opening statements focused on the harm suffered by the victims, on the victims’ rights to truth, justice, compensation, recognition of the harm they suffered, rehabilitation and … Continue Reading

Court Focuses on Witness Protection

As the International Criminal Court (ICC) prepares to resume the trial of accused Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga in early May, witness protection has emerged as a key concern.

This was immediately apparent when the prosecution’s first witness recanted his story and told the court that he had been coached on what to say by members of an aid organization.

The witness was excused from the stand, but later returned and continued his testimony after he was shielded in the courtroom from Lubanga’s gaze.

While this was viewed as an initial setback, the prosecution has recovered, according to observers, and appears to be back on track.

Subsequent witnesses considered vulnerable to intimidation have been similarly shielded or have provided testimony in closed chambers.  

After … Continue Reading

Testimonial Inconsistencies Common in Criminal Trials

The case against accused Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga appears to be strong so far, say legal observers, despite attempts by the defense to undermine key testimonies.

Because the testimony has been provided by traumatized former child soldiers and some of the recorded statements were given three years ago, the inconsistencies can be explained, experts say.

 Such discrepancies, therefore, pose a small, but almost expected obstacle for prosecutors.

Dr. Susan Breau, a professor of International Law at the University of Surrey (UK), told IWPR that inconsistencies in the testimony of key witnesses often does little to damage the prosecution’s case.

The prosecution’s first witness, for example, a former child soldier from the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, admitted that he had … Continue Reading


The Uganda Connection

While renegade leader Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) top the list of Ugandans indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), some suggest that the ICC needs to look more closely at Uganda’s earlier role in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Indeed, it is becoming increasingly possible that Ugandans could eventually appear at The Hague-if not as defendants, then as witnesses-over their country’s well documented involvement in the Ituri region of DRC.

Since the trial of accused Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga began in late January, Uganda has been mentioned as having sponsored, trained, and armed his militia, and in so doing made it possible for Lubanga to commit the crimes for which he stands accused.

Uganda’s involvement in the … Continue Reading