IBA hails start of ICC’s first trial as landmark development in international law

The International Bar Association (IBA) today hailed the start of the first ever trial before the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a landmark event in the development of international law. The trial of Mr Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, a Congolese national charged with the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of fifteen and using them to participate in hostilities, finally commenced today at the world’s permanent international criminal court in The Hague, after numerous delays which lead to a stay of proceedings in June 2008. Today’s trial date was the third attempt by the ICC judges to try Mr Lubanga who has been in ICC custody since March 2006.

Mark Ellis, IBA Executive Director, commented: ‘The 26th of January 2009 will stand as an historic day for international law. The start of the first ICC trial marks a major step towards realising the vision of a group of nations that, more than ten years ago, signed the Rome Statute establishing the world’s first permanent international court. It signalled to the international community that impunity for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity will not be tolerated and that victims will see justice done according to the highest standards of international law’.

The Lubanga trial will also mark another ‘first’ in international criminal proceedings. Ninety-three victims have thus far been granted the right to participate in the case, the first time at an international level that victims will be allowed an independent voice in the courtroom. The IBA welcomes the approach adopted by the trial judges in implementing a system which allows victims’ legal representatives to participate without unduly delaying the trial. Given the length of Mr Lubanga's pre-trial detention the IBA considers it important for the trial to be conducted expeditiously and with full respect for the rights of the defendant.

The Lubanga trial is also expected to bring increased public attention to the phenomenon of child soldiers, a pervasive feature of conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and other parts of the world. While noting the progress made by the ICC Registry in carrying out outreach programmes in the DRC leading up to the trial, the IBA continues to urge the ICC to ensure that the information about the trial is properly disseminated to the affected communities as well as to the general public. Justice Richard Goldstone, Co-Chair of the IBA’s Human Rights Institute and former Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, said: ‘Starting today outreach to affected communities and public information to the wider public have taken on new urgency if the ICC is to ensure that justice is not only done but also seen to be done. The potential impact of this moment in the continuing fight against impunity is enormous and the Court must not lose this opportunity to make its work known and understood by the public.’

Click here to watch live stream video of the court proceedings.

ENDS

For further information please contact:

Romana St. Matthew - Daniel
International Bar Association
Press Office
10th Floor
1 Stephen Street
London W1T 1AT
United Kingdom

Direct Line: +44 (0)20 7691 6837
Main Office: +44 (0)20 7691 6868
Mobile: +44 (0)7940 731915
Fax: +44 (0)20 7691 6544

E-mail: romana.daniel@int-bar.org
Website: www.ibanet.org

Notes to the Editor

Background

Thomas Lubanga Dyilo is allegedly the founder and former President of Congolese political party the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC) and was allegedly the 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.

Thomas Lubanga Dyilo came under ICC investigation following a referral by the DRC government in March 2004, inviting the ICC to exercise jurisdiction over events there. An arrest warrant for Mr Lubanga was issued by the Pre-Trial Chamber in February 2006 for offences relating to the use of child soldiers. The DRC authorities surrendered Mr Lubanga to the ICC in March 2006 and he made his initial appearance before the Court shortly thereafter.

The charges against Thomas Lubanga were confirmed by the Pre-Trial Chamber in January 2007 and the case subsequently referred to the Trial Chamber.

In June 2008 the Trial Chamber suspended the proceedings against Mr Lubanga, judging that it was impossible to hold a fair trial as the Prosecutor had not disclosed a large amount of potentially exculpatory evidence. The stay was lifted in November 2008 following complete disclosure of the evidence to the Trial Chamber. The Chamber proposed that the trial commence on 26 September 2009.

Thomas Lubanga Dyilo is now being tried for the following charges of war crimes:

  • Conscripting children into armed groups;
  • Enlisting children into armed groups; 
  • Using children to participate actively in hostilities.

In line with Article 68(3) of the Rome Statute, which affords an opportunity for victims to directly participate in proceedings, the Trial Chamber has granted 93 alleged victims the right to take part in the trial. This is significant in that it marks the first instance in international proceedings that victims are able to play a direct role. These persons will be able to tender evidence and to question witnesses throughout the course of the trial.

Thomas Lubanga will be represented at trial by French lawyer Catherine Mabille.

For additional information, please consult the IBA website at: /Human_Rights_Institute/ICC_Outreach_Monitoring/ICC_DRC_Lubanga.aspx

Or contact:

Lorraine Smith IBA Programme Manager (ICC)
International Bar Association
ICC Monitoring and Outreach Programme
Peace Palace
Carnegieplein 2
2517 KJ The Hague
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 (0)70 302 2859
Fax: +44 (0)207 691 6544
Email: lorraine.smith@int-bar.org
Website: www.ibanet.org