The International Criminal Court on Tuesday sentenced Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga to 14 years in jail for using child soldiers in his rebel army, in the tribunal’s first such order.
“Taking into account all the factors… the court sentences Mr Lubanga to 14 years in prison,” presiding Judge Adrian Fulford told The Hague-based court in an address in which he also took aim at the prosecution in the case.
Lubanga, 51, was convicted in March of war crimes, specifically for using child soldiers in his rebel army in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002–03, in the ICC’s first verdict since it started work a decade ago.
The former militia commander was sentenced Tuesday by a three-judge bench at a public hearing in The Hague for his part in a war in the central African country which aid groups say has left some 60,000 people dead since 1999.
He had been found guilty of abducting children as young as 11 and forcing them to fight and commit atrocities in the DRC’s northeastern gold-rich Ituri region. During the trial prosecutors told how young girls served as sex-slaves, while boys were trained to fight.
Fulford said the court has taken into account the time Lubanga has already spent behind bars since March 2006, meaning he will effectively spend eight years in prison.
Lubanga had pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
“The crimes of conscripting and enlisting children under 15 and using them hostilities are undoubtedly very serious crimes,” the judge said.
“The vulnerability of children mean that they need to be afforded particular protection that does not apply to the general population, recognized in various international treaties,” he added.
But Fulford lashed out at the prosecution’s conduct in the case, in particular former chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, saying “Mr Lubanga was put under considerable unwarranted pressure by the conduct of the prosecution.”
He said the prosecution did prove that sexual crimes were committed against children nor that Lubanga had a hand in any such acts.
Moreno-Ocampo earlier this month called for a 30-year sentence against Lubanga, saying his crimes were “of the most serious concern for the international community.”
Moreno-Ocampo said at the time however that he would be ready to accept a lesser sentence of 20 years should Lubanga “sincerely apologize” and actively engage in helping “to prevent further crimes.”
Lubanga, who has been detained in The Hague since 2006, is the founder of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) and commander of its military wing the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC).
At a June 13 hearing, he said his conviction had hit him “like a bullet in the face.”
“I am being presented as a warlord… but I never accepted or tolerated such enlistments taking place.”
Lubanga’s team has not yet indicated whether it would appeal his conviction or sentencing.
Six countries have indicated their willingness to accept prisoners sentenced by the ICC: Austria, Belgium, Britain, Finland, Mali and Serbia.
The ICC, the world’s only independent permanent tribunal to try genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity has issued four arrest warrants for crimes in the DR Congo since opening its doors in 2003.
Two militia leaders, Germain Katanga, 34 and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, 41, who fought against Lubanga, are currently facing trial on similar charges.
Former UPC leader Bosco Ntaganda, a Lubanga ally, is yet to be arrested to face the Hague-based court on war crimes charges.
The ICC is investigating seven cases, all based in Africa.