Rule of Law / UN

The first verdict delivered from the International Criminal Court

The United Nations drafted the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002. However, it should be understood that the ICC is an independent international organization and not under the authority of the United Nations. The ICC serves as an international court system, in The Hague, Netherlands and is supported by 120 countries as of 2012.[1] The ICC has the jurisdiction to try persons that commit the most serious crimes, such as crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.[2] Yet, the ICC is a court of last resort and cases are only investigated when a member country does not investigate or prosecute its most serious crimes. Many people have criticized the legitimacy and seriousness of the ICC because since its establishment, there has only been one verdict reached.

Cases are referred to the court’s prosecutor by a member country, any member country of the UN Security Council, individuals or organizations. To date, the prosecutor has opened 15 investigations in 7 countries: 2 cases in Kenya, 4 cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 5 cases in Darfur, Sudan, Uganda, and one each in the Central African Republic, Libya, and Côte d’Ivoire.[3] Although not all of these countries are member states of the Rome Statute, if the majority of the UN Security Council agrees, the prosecutor is given the jurisdiction to open an investigation.

March 14, 2012 was a historic day for the ICC because the court delivered its first verdict, in the case of The Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, since its establishment in 2002. Thomas Lubanga, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was charged with war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 years into his army and using them in hostile armed conflict, as sex slaves. The prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, claimed Mr. Lubanga used young children, “as young as nine, as body guards, sex slaves and fighter” between 2002 and 2003.4 Human Rights Watch estimates that Mr. Lubanga’s child soldiers were responsible for more than 60,000 civilians were brutally slaughtered, raped, tortured or arrested.[4]

The process from investigation to verdict in the Lubanga trial has been long and difficult. The prosecutor first opened an investigation into Lubanga was crimes in 2004. In 2005, Mr. Lubanga was arrested and a year later handed over to the ICC. Charges were filed against Mr. Lubanga in 2007 and the trial date was set for June 23, 2008.[5] However, less than two weeks before the trial was scheduled to start, Mr. Lubanga’s lawyers claimed that it was not a fair trial because they were not given full access to all of the prosecutor’s evidence.[6] The court decided to suspend the trial until the prosecutor properly disclosed all of the available information. The trail was rescheduled to begin on January 26, 2009.

During the trial, the prosecution declared that Mr. Lubanga was in charge of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) and the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC). As the leader, the prosecution claim, Mr. Lubanga oversaw the recruiting, training and instructing of child soldiers as well as the operation’s finances and weapon supply. The defense argued that the UPC did not recruit child soldiers and any child that joined FPLC did so voluntarily. Mr. Lubanga also claimed that the prosecution’s witnesses were lying, despite the video footage presented into evidence.

Nevertheless, the International Criminal Court reached a verdict on March 14, 2012, finding Mr. Thomas Lubanga guilty of the charges. The presiding judge announced that the court found reasonable evidence to believe Mr. Lubanga recruited and used children as soldiers.[7] Since the ICC does not have the death penalty, Mr. Lubanga could serve a life sentence in jail. A separate hearing will be held later to determine his jail time.

–Catherine Kus