Congolese militia leader becomes first man charged at International Criminal Court

A former militia leader in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who is accused of recruiting child soldiers has become the first individual to face charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC).The ICC Prosecutor’s office issued a press statement today announcing that it has formally charged Thomas Lubanga Dyilo with enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities.The case against Mr. Lubanga Dyilo “represents almost two years of intense, on-the-ground investigation by the Office of the Prosecutor,” according to the statement, which was issued at the ICC’s headquarters in the Dutch city of The Hague.If the charges against Mr. Lubanga Dyilo are confirmed at a pre-trial hearing on 28 September, the Congolese national will be the first person to be tried at the ICC since it came into being on 1 July 2002. He could face life in prison if found guilty by the court.Mr. Lubanga Dyilo – who was arrested in March – is the President of the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC) and was the commander-in-chief of its former military wing, the Forces Patriotiques pour la Libération du Congo (FPLC) in 2002-03.According to the press statement, FPLC commanders systematically abducted boys and girls and then forcibly incorporated them into their ranks to help them in their conflict in the Ituri district in the north-eastern DRC.Mr. Lubanga Dyilo is accused of playing “an overall coordinating role” in the policy of the FPLC to recruit and enlist child soldiers and “he provided the organizational, infrastructural and logistical framework for its implementation.”Observing that foreign nationals supported Mr. Lubanga Dyilo’s alleged activities, the statement said the evidence is not strong enough currently to present a case against them.ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo described today’s charges as “just the first step in the case?We believe our evidence is strong. However, until his guilt is established, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo is presumed innocent.”Mr. Moreno-Ocampo added: “Regardless of the outcome of the proceedings, this case represents a huge step in the struggle against these serious crimes against children. Child conscription destroys the lives and futures of thousands of children around the world. This case will contribute to exposing the problem and in stopping these criminal practices.”Established by the Rome Statute of 1998, the ICC can try cases involving individuals charged with war crimes committed since July 2002. The United Nations Security Council, the ICC Prosecutor or a State Party to the court can initiate any proceedings, and the ICC only acts when countries themselves are unwilling or unable to investigate or prosecute. read more