Monday, January 29, 2007

ICC: Global Court to Rule on Charges For First Trial

Jan 29 2007 Reuters report (via CFD):
The International Criminal Court (ICC) was due to rule on Monday whether there was enough evidence against a Congolese militiaman for recruiting child soldiers to launch the new court's first trial.

Confirming charges against Thomas Lubanga is eagerly anticipated as it would trigger the first trial at the ICC, set up as the first permanent global war crimes court in 2002.

The Coalition for the International Criminal Court, a network of organisations supporting the work of the ICC, said moving towards a trial would be an "historic decision" for the court that is now supported by 104 nations.

The court could also throw out the charges, request further evidence and investigations, or ask prosecutors to consider amending a charge. Some victims' groups want the charges expanded to include crimes such as killings, rape and torture.

The Democratic Republic of Congo -- rich in gold, diamonds and timber -- was the battleground for rebels, local factions, tribes and several neighbouring countries in a 1998-2003 war in which 4 million people died, mainly from hunger and disease.

Prosecutors say Lubanga, the founder and leader of one of the most dangerous militia in Congo's Ituri district, trained children to kill, made them kill and let them be killed.

The 46-year-old, who holds a degree in psychology, has denied the charges. His lawyer has accused the prosecution of withholding information he needs to prepare the defence.

Lubanga is the only suspect to be delivered so far to the court that issued its first arrest warrants in 2005 for leaders of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), who have led a 20-year insurgency that has killed tens of thousands.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo also plans to charge suspects soon for atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region, which the U.N. Security Council asked him to investigate in 2005.

The United States has fiercely opposed the ICC, fearing it would be used for politically-motivated prosecutions of its soldiers and citizens, but its hostility to the court is waning and it abstained when the Security Council voted on Darfur.

Lubanga, leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), an ethnic militia now registered as a political party, is accused of using children to kill members of the Lendu ethnic group.

Ethnic violence in the Ituri region between the Hema and Lendu and clashes between militia groups vying for control of mines and taxation have killed 60,000 people since 1999.

Up to 30,000 children were associated with Congo's armed groups during the height of the war, according to estimates.

The ICC prosecutors' indictment said the children, who often joined the militia because of their desperate need for food or desire to avenge their murdered families, were subject to systematic military training and severe discipline.

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