Monday, January 26, 2009

The Trial of Thomas Lubanga

Today, the International Criminal Court at the Hague began the trial of Thomas Lubanga, the former leader of the Union des Patriotes Congolais (Union of Congolese Patriots or UPC), one of several militias responsible for gross human rights abuses during the 1999 to 2007 conflict in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The conflict claimed some 60,000 of the estimate 6 million lives lost during Congo’s decade-plus and multi-tiered civil war. Lubanga is charged with war crimes, while two other militia leaders from the conflict awaiting trial - Germain Katanga of the Forces de Résistance Patriotique d'Ituri (Patriotic Resistance Forces of Ituri or FRPI) and Mathieu Ngudjolo of the Front nationaliste et intégrationniste (Nationalist and Integrationist Front or FNI) - await trial for war crime as well as crimes against humanity. A fourth militia leader, Bosco Ntaganda, formerly chief of military operations for UPC and now head of a wing of the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (National Congress for the Defence of the People or CNDP) has also been indicted by the ICC for having "committed war crimes of enlistment and conscription of children under the age of 15" and using the children "to participate actively in hostilities in Ituri." A fourth militia leader, the FNI's Floribert Njabu, is currently in detention in Kinshasa.

As a recent Human Rights Watch release makes clear, the crimes of the military actors in Ituri were indeed ghastly and sickening, and I don’t know if I have ever reported on a more disturbing story, whether it be the aftermath of the war there or the complicity of international companies in helping to fuel the violence. As most of the world has been content to ignore the suffering of Africa in general and Congo in particular for far too long, hopefully Lubanga’s trial will point to a new day of accountability for the worst transgressors in the region and, ultimately, those abroad who assist them financially, materially or otherwise in their bloody business.

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