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First ICC Case Goes to Trial

ICC judges confirm there is enough evidence for prosecutors to make a case against Lubanga.
By Katy Glassborow
Pre-trial judges at the International Criminal Court, ICC, have decided there is “sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe” that Thomas Lubanga Dyilo is responsible for charges brought by prosecutors, meaning his case will proceed to trial.

On January 29, a packed courtroom at the Hague-based ICC heard that Lubanga will become the first indictee to stand trial at the new court, charged with enlisting and conscripting children under 15 to fight in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC.

Just over a year ago, the pre-trial chamber issued a warrant of arrest for Lubanga, who was transferred from the DRC to the ICC’s detention facilities in The Hague in March 2006.

In August 2006, the chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo charged Lubanga with three counts of enlisting and conscripting children, and using them to fight in the military wing of the Union des Patriotes Congolais, UPC, in the Ituri region of DRC.

In November, the prosecution and defence presented their evidence in a confirmation of charges hearing to pre-trial judges, whose job was to determine whether there was enough incriminatory evidence to support the charges against Lubanga.

The presiding judge of the pre-trial chamber, Judge Claude Jorda, said that having heard both sides, a decision had been made that there was sufficient evidence for prosecutors to make a case that Lubanga is “criminally responsible as co-perpetrator” for these crimes.

A trial chamber will now be convened to hear the case, but no indication has been given as to when this is likely to begin, or the estimated length of the trial.

Lubanga’s defence attorney Jean Flamme said at a press briefing after the announcement that his team would need at least a year to build a robust case against the charges.

Maintaining his client’s innocence, Flamme told journalists that his small team has not received as much time, money and resources as the prosecutor, so will need a substantial amount of time to prepare.

He also mentioned his clients concern over his conditions of detention in The Hague; that he is “cut off from the other prisoners” at the International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia, so “is socially isolated”.

Flamme explained that the only contact Lubanga has with detainees is with the former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who is set to be tried before the Special Court for Sierra Leone in a courtroom set aside for the hearing in the ICC building.

“Normally it is a punishment to isolate prisoners, but there is no need to punish Mr Lubanga this way,” said Flamme.

Judge Jorda mentionned that the conflict was more international in nature than the prosecutor had described in the indictment against Lubanga, explaining that Uganda had been occupying the DRC, and weapons had been supplied by Rwanda.

The deputy prosecutor Fatou Bensouda would not be pressed on how these findings affected the prosecution case, but told the press conference that “we are confident of our evidence, and are looking forward to bringing justice to victims of the DRC”.

The legal representative of victims, Luc Walleyn, said that on behalf of the victims he represents, “this is an important decision, and the first time they have had their voices heard in an international court”.

Bensouda added that the participation of victims in the confirmation of charges hearing had brought a human face to the proceedings, and had a “good impact on the final outcome”.

Any party wanting to appeal this decision to proceed to trial has to request permission from the pre-trial chamber, and has under a week from the time the announcement was made to contact the judges with their request.

Flamme said that his team is “studying the possibilities of appeal”, but has not yet been able to read the entire judgement, which is more than 100 pages long.

Katy Glassborow is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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