War crimes court to rule on warlord's release

The International Criminal Court will rule on Friday whether to release accused Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga, after his lawyers argued the trial, the court’s first, violated his rights.

In July, judges halted Lubanga’s trial and ordered his release after ruling that a fair process was no longer possible because the prosecution was refusing to hand over information to the defence.

The world’s first permanent war crimes court said the prosecution had failed to adhere to court orders to identify an intermediary, who had helped to put prosecutors in contact with prospective witnesses, to Lubanga’s defence.

The prosecution appealed, arguing that if it identified “intermediary 143” before protective measures were in place, the man’s safety would be at risk and that halting the trial was “excessive and disproportionate”.

The stand-off was the latest procedural dispute at the ICC, where disclosure of material by the prosecution has been a thorny issue in the Lubanga case. Disputes over evidence had previously delayed the trial’s start.

Rival Lendu tribe
Lubanga, an ethnic Hema, is accused of enlisting and conscripting children under 15 to his Union of Congolese Patroits (UPC) to kill members of the rival Lendu tribe in a 1998-2003 war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He has pleaded not guilty, saying he was a politician, not a warlord.

The defence has accused certain intermediaries of coercing witnesses into saying they were former child soldiers in the UPC and has sought to examine them in court.

The first child soldier called as a witness last year appeared very nervous when he gave his first testimony under the glare of Lubanga and said he had been told what to say by a humanitarian aid group.

The boy reappeared two weeks later, saying he really had been a child soldier, was aged about 11 when forced into the UPC, was trained to use weapons and participated in several battles.

The prosecution has argued against revealing the identity of the intermediaries, stressing there is a risk that witnesses could be killed in the DRC for giving evidence.

“You can be killed, or one can be killed if the Hema community considers you to be a traitor,” Sara Criscitelli for the prosecution told the court in July.

The court will rule on whether to release Lubanga on Friday.

Lubanga became the first person to be tried by the ICC in 2009. The ICC is also trying other accused Congolese warlords for crimes committed during the bitter fighting in the resource-rich country.—Reuters



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