UN official hails international court’s decision to try Congolese militia leader

29 January 2007 – The top United Nations official dealing with children and armed conflict today welcomed a ruling by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to try Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo for war crimes involving recruiting children as soldiers, in what would be the Hague-based court’s first trial.

“This case is considered a major milestone in international attempts to fight against impunity in order to eradicate the practice of using child soldiers. It will be the first trial of the ICC and, importantly, focuses exclusively on child soldiers,” said a statement from the Office of UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy.

“The former militia leader from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is charged with war crimes for enlisting, recruiting and using children under fifteen in hostilities. The Office of the Special Representative reiterates its supports to the ICC and will follow closely the different steps of the proceedings and due process of the Court,” it added.

The Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC confirmed the charges against Mr. Lubanga Dyilo and referred the case to trial.

Mr. Lubanga Dyilo was formally charged by the ICC Prosecutor’s office in August last year and hearings took place in November. He was arrested in March and 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 in the Ituri district in the north-eastern DRC.

He is accused of playing “an overall coordinating role” in the policy of the FPLC to recruit and enlist child soldiers and providing the “organizational, infrastructural and logistical framework for its implementation.”

Established by the Rome Statute of 1998, the ICC can try cases involving individuals charged with war crimes committed since July 2002. The UN 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.

The Assembly of States Parties to the ICC’s Rome Statute – the Court’s management oversight and legislative body – met today at UN Headquarters in New York, where its President, Bruno Stagno Ugarte of Costa Rica, announced that the charges had been confirmed against Mr. Lubanga Dyilo. All concerned are “pleased, very pleased that the ICC is moving forward” on the case, he said.

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