Congo Warlord Convicted of Using Child Soldiers

Thomas Lubanga’s trial will set the bar on how those who exploit child soldiers will be handled, such as in the case of disreputable militia leader Joseph Kony.

Posted: 03/13/2012 03:41 PM EDT

As much of the world is still digesting the passionate call to action against Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), another militia leader accused of exploiting child soldiers has just been convicted for his crimes in a landmark verdict for the International Criminal Court (ICC).


Thomas Lubanga, a former rebel leader from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is the first person to be tried by the ICC and, given that his alleged crimes are eerily similar to those pinned on infamous LRA leader Joseph Kony, many say the outcome of his trial will give hope to those seeking to bring Kony to justice.


In a unanimous verdict handed down Wednesday, all three judges found Lubanga guilty of “conscripting children under the age of 15 years into armed groups, enlisting children into armed groups, and using children to participate actively in armed conflict.”


Lubanga’s crime carries a maximum punishment of life imprisonment and although he has yet to be sentenced, his conviction has signaled the beginnings of a new legacy for the oft-criticized court.


“The verdict against Lubanga is a victory for the thousands of children forced to fight in Congo’s brutal wars,” said Géraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, international justice advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “Military commanders in Congo and elsewhere should take notice of the ICC’s powerful message: using children as a weapon of war is a serious crime that can lead them to the dock.”


In addition to Lubanga’s case being the first decided by the court, analysts note that the trial’s inclusion of testimony from actual alleged victims (including child soldiers) of Lubanga contributes to the impact of the decision.


According to prosecutors, Lubanga served as leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots and commander of the group’s armed wing, the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo. Lubanga allegedly recruited children into the group and used them to perpetuate the group’s nefarious aim of establishing the dominance of the Hema ethnic group through violence against non-Hema peoples.


"The defendant stole the childhood of the victims by forcing them to kill and rape," prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told judges at trial. "Lubanga victimized the children before they ever had a chance to grow up into full human beings who could make their own decisions."


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(Photo: MICHAEL KOOREN/Landov)

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