International Criminal Court (ICC) has ordered the release of former Congolese
militia leader Thomas Lubanga on the grounds that he cannot get a fair trial.
The prosecutors have been given five days to appeal his release. Lubanga is
accused of using child soldiers in clashes involving his Union of Congolese
Patriots militia during 2002 and 2003 in the Democratic Republic of Congo's
His trial was suspended last month after the court ruled that
prosecutors inhibited his defense team by refusing to share documents that
could help establish his innocence. The trial would have been the first at the
ICC focusing solely on the use of child soldiers.
Lubanga supporters in
Bunia, DR Congo, told VOA they hope Lubanga's release would focus world
attention on what they called the real war criminals in the region.
Singh is counsel with the International Justice Program at the New York-based
Human Rights Watch. She told VOA the Lubanga trial proves the ICC is a court of fair trial.
think it's clear that the trial chamber's decision to suspend the trial is a
disappointment for the victims of Lubanga's alleged crimes because they've been
deprived of an opportunity to have the crimes allegedly committed against them
addressed by the court. But at the same time, this court is about fair trial;
it's not just about prosecution, and indeed it would have been a bigger
injustice to move forward with what would have an unjust trial," she said.
said it is wrong for Lubanga supporters to think that the court's order to free
him is proof that he did not commit any war crimes.
don't think that's accurate because the court has indeed said that the
underlying grounds for the arrest warrant are still valid. So there's still
reasonable ground to believe that Thomas Lubanga committed the crimes alleged
against him. The recent decision is because of a procedural problem in the
disclosure of key evidence," Singh said.
explained the reason behind the court's decision that a fair trial for Mr.
Lubanga would not be possible.
a provision in the Rome Statute of the court that basically allows the
prosecution to collect evidence confidentially from certain sources. But
because it has been collected confidentially, the only way that they can
disclose that information to the court or the defense is if they have
permission from the United Nations or other providers to do so. The problem is
in this case they don't have permission from the United Nations," she said.
of Mr. Lubanga in Bunia, DR Congo, told VOA they were happy with the court's
decision to order his release. They said the charge that Lubanga recruited
children to fight is untrue. On the contrary, Lubanga supporters said the
children in question were orphans who sought protection from Lubanga.
Singh said whether orphans
or not, it is never a good thing to recruit children to fight in conflicts.
"Ultimately it's up to the
court to decide whether or not that is indeed true. But at the end of the day
children under the age of 15 cannot be used to participate actively in
hostilities regardless of whether or not they were recruited or enlisted or
whatever," she said.
She said there are both
positive and negative implications from the Lubanga trial.
"Certainly the impact on
ethnic tensions and perceptions in Ituri that's something that cannot be
discounted. And that's something that we raised with the International Criminal
Court that it is really important to explain what's going on in The Hague to
affected communities in Ituri to really convey that this is not an acquittal
for Lubanga. He is not being declared innocent by the court but rather it's a
technicality," Singh said.
Singh said Human Rights
Watch has collected information that suggests that Lubanga may be guilty of
certain crimes, including child recruitment. She said her organization also
collected information that suggests that people higher up in the chain of
command for Lubanga's rebel movement should also be prosecuted.
She said the Lubanga trial
sends a powerful message about the role of the ICC in its attempt to prosecute
"I think the message this
case sends ultimately is a positive message, which is this court is not a court
about prosecution at any cause. It's a court a of fair trial, and the judges of
the court would make sure that that principle is strictly adhered to in
proceedings before it," Singh said.