Friday, March 16, 2012

Thomas Lubanga ICC verdict: A blow to impunity for war crimes

On 14 March 2012, the International Criminal Court (ICC) delivered its first verdict since it was established in 2002. The court found Thomas Lubanga Dyilo guilty of using child soldiers in the Forces Patriotique Pour la Libération du Congo (FPLC) during armed conflict in the Ituri region in the Democratic Republic of Congo, between 2002 and 2003. Thomas Lubanga has gone down in history and will be remembered as the first person to be arrested on an ICC warrant and convicted by the court. This is not an enviable record; it is a loud message to war criminals and a blow to impunity.

Thomas Lubanga was the commander in chief of the FPLC, an armed group that enlisted and conscripted children under 15 years old as soldiers, and was involved in other human rights violations. He was arrested on 17 March 2006 and his trial began almost 3 years later at the Hague on 26 January 2009. [Source].

I have no illusion that everyone will welcome this landmark ICC verdict. Many international law skeptics don't support the work of the court. They argue that it's a "western tool" designed to hunt down Africans. This assertion is based on the fact that all accused persons currently wanted and before the court are African.

It is true that the failure to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of alleged crimes, including former U.S president George W. Bush (and other top ranking members of his government), in other regions is an affront to the ICC and international justice. However, it's worthy to note that the absence of the international justice system, the ICC and other international criminal tribunals would embolden perpetrators of some of the most shocking crimes in Africa and beyond.

At the moment, only African cases are before the ICC, but a long list of charged and convicted war criminals reveals that international justice does not target only Africans. Over the years, numerous people from other parts of the world have been brought to justice in various international courts and tribunals. Recently, Ratko Mladic, former General of the Bosnian Serb army was extradited to the Hague for his role in the massacre of over 8000 Bosniaks during the 1992 - 1995 Bosnian war.

The Khmer Rouge trial also shows international law at work in Cambodia.

The books have not yet closed on alleged crimes authorized by George W. Bush and some top ranking officials in his administration. In July 2011, Human Rights Watch urged the US to investigate and prosecute crimes committed under the Bush administration. In October 2011, Amnesty International urged Canada to arrest, prosecute or extradite George Bush.

The conviction of Thomas Lubanga is a blow to impunity for war crimes and an indication that the international justice system works, despite concerns about double standards and snail's pace of proceedings. The system is capable of providing closure and justice for victims of grave crimes. In the words of a Congolese activist in a video released by Amnesty International, "when there is a verdict, victims feel recognized and... many will be scared... especially those military groups that are still very active, many of whom think that international justice is just a myth."

Other war crime fugitives wanted at the ICC are still at large, including Bosco Ntanganda and the infamous Joseph Kony. Governments have "consistently failed" to bring them to justice. [Source].

International law fugitives put civilians at risk. You are encouraged to join efforts to bring them to book. Sign a petition by Amnesty International urging UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to dedicate additional resources to protect civilians and to help governments arrest and surrender ICC fugitives.

Photo source: Human Rights Now.

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