Volume 1, Issue 4 (Originally Published 19 March 2012)
This week the International Criminal Court (ICC) marked a milestone with the delivery of its first guilty verdict.
The court found Thomas Lubanga guilty of the war crime of ‘conscripting and enlisting children under the age of fifteen years and using them to participate actively in hostilities’ in his native Congo.
The conviction comes more than six years after Lubanga became the first person ever arrested under an ICC arrest warrant. In 2006, Congolese authorities arrested Lubanga and transferred him into ICC custody.
Unlike the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the ICC prosecutes individuals. Proceedings before the ICC may be initiated by a State Party, the Prosecutor or the United Nations Security Council (even though the ICC is not part of the United Nations system). The ICC was set up in 2002 as a permanent tribunal to prosecute individuals for crimes against humanity.
Former United States President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute which established the ICC, however the treaty has not been ratified in the US, which has argued that the court could be used to pursue politically motivated prosecutions. Former President George Bush “unsigned” the treaty. Other major powers including Russia, China and India have declined to sign and/or ratify the treaty.
Human Rights Watch has hailed Lubanga’s conviction as ‘a warning to rights abusers.’ The Lubanga trial has contributed to raising awareness about the plight of children forced to go to war. Children were so prevalent in Lubanga’s Union of Congolese Patriots that the force was known as “an army of children.” All parties to DRC’s war in Ituri used children as soldiers. Children are still in the ranks of armed groups and the Congolese army, and in some areas of Congo children are being actively recruited, including by force’.
The Lubanga verdict comes immediately in the wake of the ‘Kony 2012’ video, which captured the world’s attention.
The concept of war crimes first arose in the twentieth century, with the first war crimes trials being held in Nuremberg (1945-6) and Tokyo (1948).
The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, an amendment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, was introduced in 2002 and later signed by more than 120 nations.