The International Criminal Court in the Hague has issued the first ruling in its 10-year history, convicting Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga of enlisting child soldiers. The verdict is being hailed as a landmark in the court’s history. Even actress/ humanitarian activist Angelina Jolie was on hand for the ruling.
Lubanga was the head of the Union of Congolese Patriots’ military during a five-year conflict that ended in 2003, after an estimated 60,000 were killed. He reportedly kidnapped children as young as 11 away from their villages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Ituri region. According to the Guardian newspaper, girls were made into sex slaves, while boys were beaten, drugged and made to be soldiers. Lubanga, 51, showed no emotion as the judges’ unanimous decision was read out. He faces the prospect of life in prison.
The ruling also comes amid international accusations that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is guilty of crimes against humanity, as the brutal crackdown on government opposition and civilian dissenters continues in that country. But the court has struggled to assert any authority in regions outside Africa. Since it was created in 2002, the ICC hasn’t opened any investigations outside of the continent. And, although backed by 120 countries, neither China or the U.S. have signed on to the court’s mandate.
The hope is that further progress can now be made on more high-profile cases, such as that of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, who faces charges of crimes against humanity.