Inside Story
Can the ICC deter other despots?
Can its first guilty verdict after a decade since its inception deter other leaders from oppressing their people?
Last Modified: 15 Mar 2012 12:20

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has found Thomas Lubanga, the Congolese rebel leader, guilty of recruiting and using child soldiers during the final years of the Democratic Republic of Congo's 1998-2003 war.

Lubanga, 51, became the first suspect on whom the Netherlands-based international court has delivered a verdict since it was established a decade ago.

"The ICC is working properly and is able to deliver a judgement in a difficult case. The threat of prosecution serves as a deterrent. "

- William Schabas, international law professor, Middlesex University

The former leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots, an ethnic Hema group, was charged with recruiting and using child soldiers in northeastern DR Congo.

He had been held at The Hague since 2006 and went on trial in 2009.

"The chamber reached its decision unanimously that the prosecution has proved Thomas Lubanga guilty of crimes of conscription and enlisting children under the age of 15 and used them to participate in hostilities," said Adrian Fulford, the presiding judge. 

It is the first verdict in the ICC's 10-year history.

The ICC, the world's only independent, permanent tribunal to try genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, has issued four arrest warrants for crimes in DR Congo since opening its doors at The Hague in 2003 and is investigating seven cases, all based in Africa.

"This  is not a turning point in international law … because there has only been one verdict. Perhaps if the court was removed from politics, it would convince the victims and the public that one could not negotiate or postpone one's indictment."

Florence Hartmann, former advisor to the UN International Criminal Tribunal

Lubanga joins 19 other suspects who have been the subject of arrest warrants from the ICC.

Is the ICC really a long-term project that is still in its early days, and can this verdict become a deterrent to other leaders who are committing crimes against their own people?

To discuss the effectiveness of the ICC in this episode of Inside Story, are guests: Florence Hartmann, a former spokesperson and the Balkan advisor to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague; William Schabas, an international law professor at the Middlesex University; and William Pace, the convenor of the Coalition for the ICC.

 "This verdict will be seen as one the most important advances in international criminal law in all of history. This is new system of international criminal justice that is starting to make an impact on middle-sized democracies and soon other countries will have to opt to join the ICC - but not on the basis of exceptionalism but with equalness. "

William Pace, convenor of the Coalition for the ICC


  • The UN has ad hoc tribunals dealing with abuses in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, but the ICC is the first permanent court set up to try individuals for genocide, war crimes and other major human rights violations.

  • The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was established in 1998, and the treaty entered into force on July 1, 2002.

  • The court is now supported by 119 nations. Among those that have not signed up is the US, which opposed the creation of the ICC fearing that it would be used for politically-motivated prosecutions of its citizens.

  • Countries that are not party to the Rome Statute are not obliged to hand over suspects. It is is currently handling 11 cases.
  • Proceedings before the ICC may be initiated by a state party, the prosecutor or the UN Security Council.

  • The ICC is separate from the International Court of Justice, the highest legal authority of the UN which is also based at The Hague and which was inaugurated in 1946 to resolve disputes between states.


  • Jean-Pierre Bemba is accused of leading fighters in a campaign of torture, rape and murder in the Central African Republic.

  • Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan, is charged with war crimes in the Darfur region in 2003, along with Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein, his former defence minister.

  • Laurent Gbagbo, the former Ivory Coast president, is charged with criminal responsibility for acts during the post-election standoff in 2010.

  • Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the desposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, is accused of crimes against humanity stemming from the Libyan revolt.
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