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DR of Congo: Controversial Sentence for Thomas Lubanga

[All links send to French articles unless stated otherwise]  

On July 10, the Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC), convicted the Congolese Thomas Lubanga Dyilo to a total sentence of 14 years in prison.

He was found guilty of war crimes for having conscripted and enrolled children under 15 years old and made them participate actively in hostilities from September 1, 2002 to August 13, 2003 in Ituri, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This is the first sentence promulgated by ICC since its creation on July 1, 2002.

A “Statement of the Prosecution Office regarding the sentence pronounced against Lubanga” reported that:

The Prosecution had requested a longer sentence in line with the gravity of the crimes and the aggravating circumstances. The Prosecution is now studying the Judgment in detail and will consider whether or not to appeal. The Prosecution is also expecting to hear the judges’ decision on reparations in order to ensure the victims of Lubanga’s crimes see the full scale of justice.

Screenshot of Thomas Lubanga in a documentary on FirstRaceTV

In a post published on Congo opportunities, Eljiv K Ndamuso recalls that:

The former head of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UCP) was found guilty on 14 March 2012 of war crimes and mass murder of hundreds of civilians on ethnic grounds in Ituri, eastern DRC. A sentence of 30 years was required against the accused on 13 June, by former Attorney general Luis Moreno. Following the defence appeal, mitigating circumstances have been granted to the former rebel leader for his constant cooperation throughout the procedure. Thus, the penalty is reduced to 14 years of imprisonment.

Since the defendant had been surrendered to the ICC in 2006, Wairangala Wakabi, Ugandan journalist, reports on his website regarding Lubanga's trial:

While establishing the sentence, the Court has decided to deduct all the time already spent in prison. Mr.Lubanga has been held in detention unit of ICC in Schevenigen since March 2006.

Therefore, T. Lubanga should only be held in prison for 8 years, although he is suspected of having committed crimes of exceptional gravity. There have been many negative reactions online.

Within the college of judges who issued the sentence, unanimity has not been reached. The site aeta-network.org of the NGO “Action for transparent and peaceful elections in Congo” reveals that:

Ms. Judge Odio Benito has composed an individual opinion, dissenting in a particular issue. She disassociates herself from the decision of the other two judges to the extent that she believes they have not accounted for the harm caused to victims and their families, especially ravages caused by the severe punishments and sexual violence endured by the victims of these crimes.

Internet users have shown their anger on plenty of websites. Below there is a sample. On the website of Radio France International, one of the most followed radio stations in the South Saharan region, an anonymous reader wrote:

he should have received 50 years, I am truly sorry

Another reader expressed his disillusionment:

I am very disappointed with the ICC. Justice in Congo is preferable than the ICC. Lubanga should have received a life sentence. Unfortunately the ICC saved his life.

There were additional outraged reactions on the website of  the TV channel France24. Thus, Roger Nzita wrote:

We the Congolese people see with suspicion the condemnation of Mr Thomas Lubanga, who scattered grief in the east of our country, but we regret that the real organisers of crimes committed are not worried…

In an article which undertakes a retrospective on the events that M. Lubanga coordinated, the site congolol.net, gives in depth information about the role of his movement in the tragic events that have devastated the DRC.

August 1998, less than two years after the fall of Mobutu, another war breaks out in DR Congo. It is opposing power given to Kabila the father, supported by Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia; in favour of several rebel groups backed by Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. In this entanglement, Thomas Lubunga reinforced by Rwanda and Uganda, finds himself at the head of an armed group, the Union of Congolese Patriots (UCP).

The international NGO Human Rights Watch reports after a field investigation several cases of human massacres along ethnic lines:

The general context of war in Congo and the wide availability of political and military support from exterior actors, especially Uganda and Rwanda, have fuelled the growth of armed political groups in Ituri based on ethnic differences. Foremost among these groups was the UCP, lead by Hema, the National Front for Integration (NFI) controlled by Lendu, the Party for Unity and Safeguarding of the Integrity of Congo (PUSIC) dominated by Hema South and the Armed Forces of the Congolese People (FAPC) with mixed leadership.

These different groups have carried out massacres, rapes and burned villages. HRW reports on facts which the NGO has heard in vivid detail:

Following the attack against Mongbwalu, UPC attacked a number of nearby villages including: Kilo, Kobu, Lipri, Bambu and Mbijo. The forces of UCP overtook Kilo on 6 December 2002 and few days later the command of UCP ordered the deliberate killing of dozens of civilians. The UCP fighters detained men, women and children, who are believed to be have been hanged, and forced them to dig their own graves ahead of killing them.

With so much evidence collected from credible sources, we can better understand the reactions of indignation. Marie- France Cros in a public post on lavoixdukasai.blogs.lalibre.be, expresses the views of many observers:

It should have been a great day: that of the first judgement of the first permanent International Criminal Court (ICC). Instead it is a day of disappointment because the Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga is sentenced to 14 years in prison for war crimes in a conflict that claimed over 60,000 lives.

Meanwhile, after a failed attempt by  the government to integrate elements of the rebellion, particularly those of General Bosco Ntanganda and his troops ( ally of Thomas Lubanga), the rebels have resumed fighting in the north-east of Democratic Republic of Congo.

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