The International Criminal Court (ICC) has found the Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubanga, guilty of recruiting and using child soldiers between 2002 and 2003.
It is the court’s first verdict since it was set up 10 years ago. He will be sentenced at a later hearing.
He headed a rebel group during an ethnic conflict in a gold-rich region of Democratic Republic of Congo.
The prosecution accused him of using children as young as nine as bodyguards and fighters.
Anchor Marco Werman finds out more about Lubanga from Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch.
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman, this is the World. An African warlord was convicted today of exploiting child soldiers. This case does not involve Joseph Kony, mind you, he’s the warlord featured in that web video that’s gone viral. The man found guilty today by the international criminal court is named Thomas Lubanga. Anneke van Woudenberg is with Human Rights Watch, and she’s in The Hague in the Netherlands where the verdict was handed down at the International Criminal Court. Anneke, who is this guy, Thomas Lubanga, and what was he convicted of?
Anneke Van Woudenberg: Thomas Lubanga is, was, a warlord in Northeastern Congo who was the head of one of the armed groups who committed horrific atrocities in a place in Congo called Ituri. And there his troops committed widespread ethnic massacres, rape, torture, but also recruited and used children in combat. So today, these were the charges before him. It was only related to child soldiers, and the judges found him guilty on both accounts of recruiting children and using them in combat. And of course this is the first ever verdict from the International Criminal Court, which is a bit of a victory for child soldiers everywhere.
Werman: And given that victory, what was the scene in the courtroom today?
Van Woudenberg: You know, it was somber, it was serious. I’ve documented Thomas Lubanga’s crimes for close to 13 years now. I’ve met the man a number of times, I have raised these crimes and other crimes with him…and you know, as much as we can at Human Rights Watch, to document thoroughly what he was doing. And so today, I have to say it was a bit of a bittersweet moment for me, right, and I think for some others in the court. Because so many people in Ituri suffered, and I would like to have seen Thomas Lubanga be tried with other crimes…with killings, with rape, with torture. And the judges did mention that today, you know. During the course of the trial, there was quite a lot of information that came out about rape, and specifically the use of rape against the girl child soldiers. But unfortunately, Lubanga was not charged with those crimes.
Werman: This is the first verdict for the International Criminal Court, but is this also the first verdict for kind of a mastermind in using child soldiers?
Van Woudenberg: It is, actually. This is the first real case where this has been the single set of chargers. So often, perpetrators are charged with a broad set of crimes, of which child soldiers might be one of them, but this case particularly highlighted child soldiers…and you know, it shines a spotlight on I think two other individuals. One is General Bosco Ntaganda, and that is someone who is Lubanga’s co-accused, but he is at large. He’s currently living in eastern Congo; he’s a general in the Congolese army. He wines and dines in the top restaurants in Goma, the city in eastern Congo. We know where he lives, we know where he is every single day, and he has not been arrested…and I think today’s verdict really shines a spotlight that he needs to be arrested. I would say…I know I’m sure you want to ask me about this as well, but of course this shines a spotlight…on Joseph Kony.
Werman: On Joseph Kony. Well he’s the subject of the video we mentioned earlier that’s gone viral on the web and leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army which has been accused of some of the worst imaginable atrocities involving children. Remind us where Kony is.
Van Woudenberg: Kony and the LRA are currently moving between three countries. So they’re in northern Congo, they’re in the Central African Republic and in South Sudan. It is assumed that Kony himself is in the Central African Republic on the borders with Congo. So he also remains out there, and I think this verdict is one that sends a stark warning to him, too, because he is also wanted on an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court.
Van Woudenberg: He’s also wanted for forcefully recruiting children and today should make him stand up and take notice. The International Criminal Court is out there, and is prosecuting, and is finding guilty these kinds of crimes.
Werman: I’m really curious to know, Anneke, what your take is on Kony 2012, this incredibly controversial video that’s gone completely viral on You Tube. Is the complete surge of awareness about who Kony is and his alleged crimes helpful in the quest to bring him to justice?
Van Woudenberg: Look, I’ve been documenting Joseph Kony’s crimes for a good number of years now. I think any attention on him is welcome. This is an individual who has committed horrific atrocities. Not just against children, but really brutal killings of civilians, torture of civilians, you know, this is an extremely brutal armed group. The Kony 2012 video does highlight, of course, those crimes, and highlights the need to have him arrested…and that is a message that I do agree with. I think it is high time that Joseph Kony is arrested, brought also before the International Criminal Court to respond to crimes that he has committed. The solution to that is not easy. You know, and the Kony 2012 film does make it look like arresting Kony is all that’s needed, and of course it’s not. But it is part of the answer to the problem of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Werman: So given the guilty verdict for Lubanga today in The Hague, and the mass of buzz around Joseph Kony right now, where do you think this puts the relevance of the International Criminal Court, especially in terms of addressing the plight of child soldiers and the people who manipulate them?
Van Woudenberg: Look, I think today showed how relevant the International Criminal Court can be. It has put out this guilty verdict, the first ever individual found guilty before this new court. We’ve seen the court playing a bigger role in crises like the one in Libya, like Ivory Coast, so I think we’re starting to see the impact of the International Criminal Court. Of course, it’s only as strong as its member states, and it itself does not have a police force to go out and arrest anyone…and that is, I think why the attention is required on issues like Kony, on issues like this General Bosco Ntaganda, who remains at large and is also wanted on similar charges. And we also need countries that are members of the International Criminal Court to play their bit and to now put resources, to put their intelligence, to put their money where it is needed to ensure people like this are arrested.
Werman: You know, we tend to think of people like Thomas Lubanga, convicted today at the International Criminal Court, as monsters. You actually met him, Anneke Van Woudenberg. What was he like and did it give you a window into how somebody like this can actually operate?
Van Woudenberg: I certainly don’t think Thomas Lubanga is a monster, and I wouldn’t say that about many of the warlords I’ve met. They’ve made decisions that I disagree with, they commit crimes that I abhor. But I don’t think it’s useful for us to categorize them as monsters or as evil. I think it makes us think that there is an “us” and a “them”, and I think there’s potentially good and evil in all of us. What I want to make sure, as someone who is a human rights activist, who has documented these kinds of crimes…I believe it’s of crucial importance that the world speaks when such crimes occur, and that the world says no, and that the world says these kind of crimes are punishable. When I met Thomas Lubanga, he denied that he was committing any crimes. You know, I remember sitting in his office, talking to him about the crimes that has been committed, trying to very much warn him that these crimes were serious crimes, and letting him know that we were documenting these kinds of things being committed by his troops…and I spoke to him about child soldiers, and he said “No, no, I have no children in my ranks. Show me where there are children.” And we pointed to the window and we said, “Your bodyguards are children.” And he, you know, laughed it off by saying “No, no, you can’t tell. Those kids that you think are 12 years old are 21 years old.” And he would try to deny or minimize the crimes. You know, that was the kind of individual he was. He was a charismatic leader, but he did not want to face up to the horrors that he and his troops were committing…and today, he was put face to face with that and a very strong guilty verdict, unanimously, by all the judges.
Werman: Anneke Van Woudenberg with Human Rights Watch. She’s at The Hague today, where the International Criminal Court handed down its first verdict against Thomas Lubanga. Anneke, thank you very much indeed.
Van Woudenberg: It’s been a pleasure, thanks.
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