In this guest post from the International Justice Monitor, Wairagala Wakabi reports on the appeal of the ICC’s first convict, Thomas Lubanga, for early release from his 14-year sentence for child soldier war crimes.
Convicted Congolese political leader Thomas Lubanga has pleaded with International Criminal Court (ICC) judges to grant him early release, promising to promote reconciliation and announcing plans to do doctoral studies into the psycho-sociological determinants of conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Mr. Lubanga made the appeal before a panel of judges that will determine whether his 14-year prison sentence can be reduced. He states that throughout the 12 years he has been in detention, first in the DRC and then at the ICC, his thoughts have been with the people of the Ituri district, with whom he said he endured a painful history, beginning with a massacre in 1999.
“I offer my sincere apologies for all victims for the suffering they endured. I share their pain and I assure them that I hold them in deep respect. I sincerely hope that I can be of service to all that have suffered and at an appropriate time I am ready and willing to dedicate my efforts to them if I am released,” he said.
Mr. Lubanga, 54, said his actions as the head of the Union of Congolese Patriots and its armed wing, the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), in 2002 and 2003 were aimed at lessening the “suffering of the community” and he regretted that they were not sufficient to end ethnic conflict at the time.
However, in their submissions, the prosecution and legal representatives of victims opposed Mr. Lubanga’s release, faulting him for lack of cooperation with the court and a negative attitude towards victims. The prosecution also claimed he was interfering with witnesses in the upcoming trial of Bosco Ntaganda who served as the FPLC’s deputy chief of staff.
Mr. Lubanga was the first person to be tried and convicted by the court since its founding in 2002. He was convicted for the recruitment, enlistment, and use of children under 15 years-old in an armed conflict. Article 110 of the court’s founding law, the Rome Statute, provides for a sentence review when a convicted person has served two-thirds of his sentence. As of July 16, 2015, Mr. Lubanga had served two-thirds of his sentence, which makes him potentially eligible for early release.
According to the prosecution, Mr. Lubanga faces “serious allegations” of witness interference in the case against Ntaganda, whose trial on 18 counts opens on September 2. Mr. Lubanga’s alleged involvement in the purported scheme of witness interference included disseminating confidential information.
The defense said judges trying Mr. Ntaganda had determined that they had insufficient information to charge Mr. Lubanga in relation to those allegations. The prosecution was merely parading rumors “to sow doubt in minds of certain people as if this idea that if there is smoke there must be fire must be agreed to by the bench,” countered defense lawyer Jean-Marie Biju-Duval.
Defense lawyer Catherine Mabille added that judges had determined earlier this week that it was not necessary to order monitoring of Mr. Lubanga’s telephone calls with the individuals in question.
Mr. Lubanga himself stated that at no point in time did he have inappropriate contact with anyone and said he was ready to cooperate with the prosecution to shed light on the contacts he had with the three prosecution witnesses.
Victims’ lawyer Luc Walleyn said Mr. Lubanga’s early release should be predicated on a change of attitude regarding crimes committed and efforts to assist victims. Accordingly, Mr. Lubanga needed to accept that children were enlisted in FPLC, show remorse, and show respect for young people who fought with his group rather than refer to them as “liars and crooks.” He asked Mr. Lubanga to support the reparations programme in Ituri.
Like the prosecution, the victims’ lawyer said there were fears among victims that Mr. Lubanga’s return to Ituri could provoke negative reactions and may lead to renewed armed conflict.
The prosecution said Mr. Lubanga did not qualify for early release because he had not cooperated with the court, was completely indifferent to victims during the trial and after, and because he failed to show dissociation from the crimes he was convicted of, as evidenced in allegations of witness interference in the Ntaganda case.
The prosecution’s Meritxell Regue also said there was no guarantee that, if released, Mr. Lubanga would not return to Ituri. If he returned to Ituri, particularly at this stage, she said, there was risk of significant social instability in the region. This was because there were a large number of demobilized FPLC soldiers, several illegal guns, and Mr. Lubanga was still a powerful figure with political influence among the Hema ethnic group.
Mr. Lubanga maintained that he did not intend to return to Ituri but planned to pursue doctoral studies at Kisangani University, located 800kms away, in order to understand psycho-sociological determinants of conflicts, including by isolating stereotypes and prejudices that contributed to inter-tribal conflicts. He hoped his study would help Ituri and other parts of the DRC to deal with the related issues that caused conflict.
And he reiterated that he needed to be back to his family. “Everyone who knows me knows I have no bank account, no wealth, no ability to help my family,” said Mr. Lubanga. “But people who know me know I am ready to give my family everything else… myself, my time, and my endeavors.”
A decision on the sentence reduction will be announced in due course.