IBA welcomes conclusion of ICC’s first trial; despite procedural hurdles, the Lubanga case is a symbolic achievement for the ICC

The International Bar Association (IBA) today welcomed the verdict in the case of the first suspect to be tried before the International Criminal Court (ICC), Thomas Lubanga Dyilo.  Calling the judgment a symbolic achievement for the ICC, the IBA says that though hampered by several procedural challenges, the Lubanga case attests to the integrity of ICC proceedings and has made a significant contribution to international justice.

On 14 March 2012, judges of ICC Trial Chamber I concluded that Mr Lubanga was guilty of conscripting, enlisting and using child soldiers younger than 15 years of age in hostilities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during 2002 and 2003. The verdict marks the end of a lengthy process which began in 2005 with Mr Lubanga’s arrest in the DRC, subsequent surrender in 2006 to the ICC and a protracted trial which was twice halted for prosecutorial breaches. In total, Thomas Lubanga has spent six years in ICC custody despite provisions in the Rome Statute, the Court’s founding legal instrument, stipulating his right to be tried without delay.

As the ICC’s first trial, the Lubanga case has major significance. The trial is noteworthy for:

  • Bringing timely global attention to the misuse of children in combat;
  • Allowing victims to participate for the first time in international proceedings;
  • A significant number of witnesses protected by the Court’s protection scheme;
  • Radical steps taken by judges – including staying proceedings when necessary – to ensure that the trial was fair; and
  • Judicial rulings of key provisions of the Rome Statute on procedural and substantive law providing important guiding principles for other cases before the Court.

Reminiscent of the Tadic case, the first before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the Lubanga case dealt with complex and novel legal issues, some of which threatened to derail proceedings.

Richard Goldstone, Honorary President of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute and former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda commented: ‘The Lubanga case is a major achievement for the International Criminal Court. Like all first trials, it was no stranger to procedural challenges and uncertainties as the prosecutor and judges grappled with novel issues, such as victims’ participation. Many of them had no precedent at the ad hoc tribunals. It is a tribute to their efforts, and the fortitude of the defence, that despite major setbacks, every effort was made to ensure that the trial was fair and justice done. Undoubtedly, future international trials will benefit from the jurisprudential foundations and the lessons learnt from the Lubanga case’.

Despite its achievements, the Lubanga case persisted amid a plethora of problems. Disappointed by the limited charges, victims’ representatives in the case, unsuccessfully petitioned judges to recharacterise the charges to reflect the sexual violence experienced by girl soldiers in particular. The defence complained that the case was manifestly unfair as the prosecution struggled with their obligation to disclose evidentiary material without jeopardizing the security of its witnesses and confidential information. Arguing that prosecutorial misconduct had resulted in an abuse of process, the defence ultimately requested that judges halt the trial permanently on the basis of non-disclosure and prosecutorial over-reliance on intermediaries who allegedly coerced witnesses to falsify testimony.

In their verdict, the judges took note of the challenging procedural history of the case but emphasised that they were satisfied of Mr Lubanga’s guilt based on the evidence.
Dr Mark Ellis, IBA Executive Director says ‘It is highly symbolic that the verdict in the International Criminal Court’s first case has been delivered during a year when the international community reflects on the Court’s 10 years of operation. The Lubanga case reflects the complexity of international criminal trials that must meet the high expectations of victims and the international community, while also ensuring fairness to the accused. Despite procedural challenges during the trial, the Lubanga verdict underscores the significant contribution the ICC has made to international justice.’

The ICC judgement and a summary of the decision are available to download via the IBA website, click here or paste the below link into a browser, www.ibanet.org/Human_Rights_Institute/ICC_Outreach_Monitoring/Case_watch.aspx


For additional information please contact:
Lorraine Smith van Lin
Programme Manager (ICC)
International Bar Association

IBA ICC Programme
Carnegieplein 2, 2517 KJ
The Hague
The Netherlands

Tel: +31 70 302 2859
Tel: + 49 283 766 4050
Mobile: +31 6110 79860

Louise Ball
Human Rights Institute
Communications Administrator
International Bar Association

4th Floor, 10 St Bride Street,
London EC4 4AD

Main Office: +44 (0)20 7842 0090
Fax: +44 (0)20 7842 0091

E-mail: louise.ball@int-bar.org
Website: www.ibanet.org

 Notes for the Editor

Background to the case
The case against Mr Thomas Lubanga Dyilo is the first to be tried before the International Criminal Court (ICC). Mr Lubanga is allegedly the founder and former President of Congolese political party the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC) and Commander-in-Chief of its military wing, the Forces Patriotiques Pour la Libération du Congo (FPLC), between September 2002 and late 2003.

The FPLC played a key role in the Ituri conflict in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) during this time. The conflict was the result of tensions between two ethnic groups in the region – the Hema and the Lendu – during which an estimated 60,000 people were killed and half a million displaced. The UPC and FPLC purported to represent the Hema ethnic group during the conflict.

The Prosecutor of the ICC requested an arrest warrant against Mr Lubanga on 12 January 2006 for offences relating to the use of child soldiers, which was approved by Pre-Trial Chamber I on 10 February the same year. Mr Lubanga was surrendered to the ICC by the DRC authorities a month later and made his initial appearance before the Court on 20 March 2006.

The Pre-Trial Chamber in January 2007 confirmed the charges of war crimes against Mr Lubanga of enlisting and recruiting children under 15 years of age and using them to participate actively in hostilities. The case was subsequently referred to the Trial Chamber, during which Mr Lubanga is represented at trial by French lawyer Catherine Mabille.

As the Lubanga case was the first to be tried by the International Criminal Court, the Chambers faced numerous hurdles, notably a series of delays, the trial which was twice halted for prosecutorial breaches. The closing statements of the prosecution, defence and victims’ legal representatives took place on 25 and 26 August 2011.

In releasing the verdict on the Lubanga case on 14 March 2012, the Court ends six years of proceedings which have brought significant awareness to the issues of child-soldiers, disclosure, participation of victims, and equality of arms among others and is likely to act as a deterrent to potential perpetrators of such crimes.

As part of its mandate, the IBA ICC Programme has extensively followed the Lubanga trial since Mr Lubanga was first surrendered to the Court in March 2006. The significant legal and procedural developments in the case since that time have been documented in IBA ICC Programme reports covering a broad range of issues.

To read the verdict of the Lubanga case and for additional information on IBA coverage of the trial click here, or cut and paste the link below: /Human_Rights_Institute/ICC_Outreach_Monitoring/Case_watch.aspx

 About the International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court (ICC) Programme

Through a grant-funded project, the IBA maintains an office in The Hague which manages the International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court Programme. This office follows the work and proceedings of the ICC, focusing primarily on the fair trial rights of the accused and the manner in which the Rome Statute and other legal documents of the Court are implemented and encourages the legal community to engage with the work of the Court.