DR Congo's Lubanga awaits ICC verdict

International war crimes court to deliver first verdict in case of Congolese leader accused of using child soldiers.

    The International Criminal Court (ICC) is set to hand down its first verdict in the case of Thomas Lubanga, the leader of a group accused of recruiting child soldiers during the Democratic Republic of Congo's 1998-2003 war.

    Lubanga, 51, was detained in 2006, becoming the first suspect to be taken into custody by the Netherlands-based court since it was established a decade ago.

    The former leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), an ethnic Hema group, is charged with recruiting and using child soldiers in northeastern DR Congo and went on trial in 2009.

    Lubanga is alleged to have been the leader of the military wing of the UPC. But he denies the charges against him and says he was a political leader.

    If found guilty, Lubanga could face up to life imprisonment, although a sentence will not be passed immediately.


    Thomas Lubanga

    - Born in 1960

    - Leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), an ethnic Hema group

    - Alleged head of the UPC's military wing, the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) until 2003

    - Accused of recruiting children under 11 as soldiers

    - He was arrested in Kinshasa in March 2005

    - Held by the ICC at The Hague since 2006

    Prosecutors alleged that Lubanga's role in the conflict was driven by a desire to maintain and expand his control over Ituri, one of the world's most lucrative gold-mining territories.

    Prosecutors alleged that the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) under Lubanga's control abducted children as young as 11 from their homes, schools and football fields.

    They were taken to military training camps, where they were beaten and drugged. Girls among them were used as sex slaves, prosecutors told the court.

    During 204 days of hearings, prosecutors called 36 witnesses, the defence 24 and three represented victims.

    Lubanga's lawyers have accused the prosecution of fabricating false evidence with the help of intermediaries used by the prosecution to find witnesses, and claimed that individuals were paid to give false testimony.

    Al Jazeera's Hary Mutasa reporting from the DR Congo says there are areas of the country which there is large swathes of support for Lubanga, who are looking at the ICC case with suspicion.

    "There is a resentment towards the ICC, as they feel Lubanga is unfairly targetted," said our reporter.

    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.

    Lubanga is one of 20 suspects who have been the subject of arrest warrants from the ICC. Others include Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the former Libyan leader, several members of the Sudanese government, including President Omar al-Bashir, and Joseph Kony, the fugitive Ugandan leader of the Lord's Resistance Army.

    Lead prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo has rejected criticism that the cases focus too much on Africa.

    "Our office has a mandate to prosecute the worst crimes in the world where no one is investigating," he told the Reuters news agency.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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