The International Criminal Court (ICC)
in The Hague Monday begins the trial of Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga on
war crimes charges. As founder of the Union of Congolese Patriots
(UPC) rebel forces in Congo's eastern Ituri district, Lubanga is accused of
enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 to kill members of the
Lendu ethnic group during the 1998-2003 war.
Many see the Lubanga trial as a
test of the credibility of the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal, and
it comes a few days after the arrest by the Rwandan government of another
Congolese militia leader Laurent Nkunda.
Richard Dicker, director of the
international Justice Program at Human Rights Watch told VOA the Lubanga trial should send a message that the days of
impunity for crimes against humanity are over.
think the significance of this is several-folds. First and foremost it
ends the complete impunity that has prevailed for these most serious crimes in
eastern Congo over the last 10 years, and I think suggests that the day of no
accountability for such crimes is beginning to end. I think it will send some
encouragement to others at risk in Congo that there may be justice for horrific
crimes that they have endured," he said.
Lubanga has denied that he enlisted
and conscripted children under the age of 15 to kill members of the Lendu
ethnic group during the 1998-2003 war.
Like many observers, Dicker
agreed the Lubanga trial is a test of the credibility of the world's first
permanent war crimes tribunal.
"I think it is essential for
the credibility and legitimacy of this new permanent international criminal
court that the trial is well-managed by the judges and that it is scrupulously
fair so that Mr. Lubanga has every opportunity to mount a vigorous and
effective defense to the serious charges that he's facing," Dicker said.
The Lubanga trial comes a
few days after Rwanda arrested another Congolese militia leader, Laurent Nkunda
of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP).
Dicker hoped Nkunda will
suffer the same fate as Lubanga.
"The prosecutor of the
International Criminal Court has announced that he is beginning an
investigation of serious crimes committed in North Kivu, and I would expect
that Mr. Nkunda could be a target of such an investigation," he said.
Bosco Ntaganda, the man who
led the mutiny against Nkunda prior to his arrest by Rwanda was once Lubanga's
military commander and charged along with Lubanga for war crimes.
Dicker said Ntaganda should
be arrested by either Rwandan or Congolese forces and surrendered to the ICC to
be tried along with Lubanga.
"I wouldn't be surprised
that Bosco Ntaganda would be trying to position himself as an indispensible
player in North Kivu and eastern Congo so as to bolster protection against
arrest for trial at the International Criminal Court. However he postures and
whatever steps he takes, however, he is still the focus of an arrest warrant
and needs to be arrested by Congolese government forces or Rwandan forces and
turned over for trial," Dicker said.
He described the opposition
of administration of former U.S. President George Bush's opposition to the ICC
from 2002 through 2005 as a low point in U.S. diplomacy when it came to
Dicker said he expects the
new Obama administration would be supportive of the ICC.