30 January 2009
A Congolese militia leader accused of recruiting child soldiers is being tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague this week. The case is the first to come before the ICC.
Thomas Lubanga, the former leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia, is charged with enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 as soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo between September 2002 and August 2003.
During the conflict between Congolese forces and armies from Rwanda and Uganda, the UPC carried out widespread killing, rape and torture of thousands of civilians in the region of Ituri in north eastern Congo.
More than 30,000 children were recruited during the fighting, which saw some 60,000 people lose their lives. The prosecution claims that children were abducted as they walked to school and suffered beatings and other abuses.
The chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, told the court: “Lubanga’s militia recruited, trained and used hundreds of young children to kill, pillage and rape. The children still suffer the consequence of Lubanga’s crimes. They cannot forget what they suffered, what they saw, what they did.”
More than 90 former child soldiers under Lubanga’s command will give evidence at the trial.
Enrique Restoy of Anti-Slavery International, said: “The forced recruitment of child soldiers is a brutal form of slavery. It is essential that the ICC aggressively pursues all perpetrators of this war crime to send a strong message that the use of child soldiers will not go unpunished.
“Action is also needed to ensure the release of the tens of thousands of child soldiers still caught up in the horror of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other conflicts and to rehabilitate those that have been demobilised.”
Children are currently used in armed conflict in at least 15 counties: Afghanistan, Burma (Myanmar), Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Iraq, Occupied Palestinian Territories, Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand, and Uganda.