THE HAGUE, July 10: The International Criminal Court condemned a Congolese warlord to 14 years in prison on Tuesday, the first time the 10-year-old tribunal has sentenced a convicted war criminal and a potential landmark in the struggle to protect children caught up in violent conflicts.
Judges found Thomas Lubanga guilty in March of recruiting and using children in his Union of Congolese Patriots militia — sending them to kill and be killed during fighting in Congo’s eastern Ituri region in 2002-2003.
“The vulnerability of children means they need to be afforded particular protection,” Presiding Judge Adrian Fulford said at the sentencing hearing.
Human rights activists hailed the decision.
“This sentence sends out a stark warning across the world to those engaged in the use of child soldiers that their criminal actions will land them in prison,” said Armel Luhiriri of the Coalition for the ICC, a non-government group that supports the court and its efforts to end impunity for the world’s worst crimes.
Prosecutors had asked for a 30-year sentence, but said they would be willing to cut it to 20 years if Lubanga offered a “genuine apology” to the victims of his crimes. Lubanga did not offer an apology.
In a statement, prosecutors said the sentence, “sent a clear message to perpetrators of crimes: You will not go unpunished.”
Prosecutors are considering whether to appeal the sentence as too low.
They also renewed their call for another Congo militia leader, Bosco Ntaganda, to be arrested, alleging that he is involved in a recent surge in violence in eastern Congo.
The court first issued an arrest warrant for Ntaganda in 2006, but he has yet to be detained.
Wearing a grey suit and tie, Lubanga showed no emotion as Fulford read out the decision. He can appeal his conviction and sentence.
Fulford said that the time Lubanga has served in pre-trial detention since March 2006 would be deducted from the sentence.
One of the judges, Odio Benito, issued a separate dissenting opinion, saying the sentence should have been 15 years in recognition of the suffering of victims of harsh punishments and sexual violence.
It was not immediately clear where Lubanga would serve his sentence. The court has no prison cells for holding convicted war criminals, but has deals with seven countries to jail them — Denmark, Serbia, Mali, Austria, Finland, Britain and Belgium.—AP