THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled on Monday there was enough evidence against a Congolese militiaman to launch the new court’s first trial.
The decision to confirm charges and pave the way for a trial against Thomas Lubanga, accused of recruiting child soldiers, is a major landmark for the ICC, set up as the first permanent global war crimes court in 2002.
“The chamber confirms the charges brought by the prosecution,” Judge Claude Jorda told the court. “Thomas Lubanga Dyilo should be committed for trial.”
Democratic Republic of Congo — rich in gold, diamonds and timber — was the battleground for rebels, local factions, tribes and several neighboring countries in a 1998-2003 war in which 4 million people died, mainly from hunger and disease.
Prosecutors say Lubanga, the founder and leader of a militia in the Ituri district, trained children as young as 10 to kill, made them kill and let them be killed in 2002-03.
The 46-year-old, who holds a degree in psychology, has denied the charges. His lawyer has accused the prosecution of withholding information he needs to prepare the defense.
Lubanga is the only suspect to be delivered so far to the court that issued its first arrest warrants in 2005 for leaders of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who have led a 20-year insurgency that has killed tens of thousands.
ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo also plans to charge suspects soon for atrocities in Sudan’s Darfur region, which the U.N. Security Council asked him to investigate in 2005.
The United States has fiercely opposed the ICC, fearing it would be used for politically motivated prosecutions of its soldiers and citizens, but its hostility to the court is waning and it abstained when the Security Council voted on Darfur.
Lubanga, leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), an ethnic militia now registered as a political party, is accused of using children to kill members of the Lendu ethnic group.
Ethnic violence in the Ituri region between the Hema and Lendu and clashes between militia groups vying for control of mines and taxation have killed 60,000 people since 1999.
Up to 30,000 children were associated with Congo’s armed groups at the height of the war. The United Nations estimates there are as many as 300,000 child soldiers worldwide.
The ICC prosecutors’ indictment said the children, who often joined the militia because of their desperate need for food or desire to avenge their murdered families, were subject to systematic military training and severe discipline.
The ICC is separate from the International Court of Justice, the highest legal authority of the United Nations known as the World Court which is also based in The Hague and which was set up in 1946 to resolve disputes between states.