The age of child soldiers under the command of convicted Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga was at the center of the case’s final appeal hearings before the ICC this week.
Two witnesses testified for the defense regarding their ages and their relationship with Lubanga in 2002-2003 when they were his live-in bodyguards in the presidential guard.
The defense argues that the guards were not children and that he was unaware of minors in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) army.
Voter identity cards, documents and videos were presented in support of their testimonies.
The defense submitted that:
(i) The prosecution had breached its obligations by making no attempt to investigate or verify the ages of the child soldiers brought before the Court; and,
(ii) The prosecution had delayed disclosing important evidence, such as the list of FPLC soldiers and presidential guards.
It also stated that video evidence relied upon by the Chamber must be re-examined because soldiers who appear to look like children might in fact be adults, as was the case with the latest witnesses.
The defense further argued that Lubanga actively prevented the enlistment of minors and undertook demobilization proceedings.
The prosecution reiterated that Lubanga’s personal guards were children under the age of 15 years, pointing out inconsistencies in the evidence provided by the witnesses regarding their ages.
It also clarified various evidential credibility issues raised by the defense, stating that the Chamber done all it could to ensure that Lubanga’s rights were protected and that he was given a fair trial.
The Legal Representative for Victims expressed disappointment that the suffering of the victims were not considered and explained that most victims had been subject to inhumane conditions and forced to fight.
The defense, in response to claims made that the evidence to prove the age of the witnesses was insufficient, stated that the standard of proof being imposed on them was too high and that it was the prosecution’s duty to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.
Finally, Lubanga concluded the hearings by stating that he felt like a victim because of the length of the ICC proceedings against him and that he had always promoted peace, reconciliation and demobilization of minors.
In March 2012, Trial Chamber I convicted Lubanga of the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 years and using them to participate actively in hostilities in the DRC between in 2002-03.
In July of the same year, he was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment.
The defense has appealed the conviction, while both the defense and prosecution have appealed the sentence.
A judgment on the appeals is pending.