Congo Warlord Convicted Of Recruiting Child Soldiers

Judges at a war crimes tribunal convicted Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga of snatching children from the street and turning them into killers. A sentencing hearing will now be scheduled. Lubanga faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In a landmark trial, the International Criminal Court has found a former Congolese rebel leader guilty of recruiting and using child soldiers. This is the first verdict in the Hague court's 10 year history.

(SOUNDBITE OF COURT ANNOUNCEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Chamber has reached its decision unanimously. Chamber concludes, and the prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt, that Mr. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo is guilty of the crimes of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 years into the FPLC.

MONTAGNE: The FPLC is the acronym for Thomas Lubanga's armed group, the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has been following the trial and joins us to talk about this verdict. Good morning.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What exactly does the verdict mean?

QUIST-ARCTON: It's very bad news for any warlord or any rebel leader, anybody who thinks that they can use children in combat, because Thomas Lubanga, who was arrested back in 2005, has now been found guilty of these war crimes, using children under the age of 15 - as young as we're told, 9 years old - as frontline fighters, as sex slaves and as bodyguards. So, others like Joseph Kony, the Ugandan rebel leader, who - video on him by invisible children went viral last week. They should know now that if they are caught and brought to the International Criminal Court, these are the sorts of - this is a sort of verdict, that they could face guilty and a long time in jail.

MONTAGNE: The trial is focused on child soldiers, although it doesn't, Ofeibea, really completely capture the horror that he perpetrated in his region of Africa.

QUIST-ARCTON: And that's what a lot of rights advocates are saying, that Thomas Lubanga in Eturi, a gold mining area of eastern Congo, during the brutal civil war in that part of Congo was partly responsible for the killing of up to 60,000 people. But then, other advocates say if you go too wide with these war crimes, if you don't focus on something specific, then perhaps the prosecution will lose. Whereas in this case, the three judges decide unanimously on a ruling of guilty.

MONTAGNE: Now, there is an appeal, but what at this point can his victims expect?

QUIST-ARCTON: Reparations from the International Criminal Court and satisfaction that - for what they have suffered. Children, as I said, as young as nine being forced to fight and to kill and to rape; that they have some future. But then you have others saying that 10 years it's taken the International Criminal Court and $900 million later to reach this first verdict, that countries, big hitters such as the U.S., haven't signed up to the International Criminal Court. So is this really worth it?

MONTAGNE: Well, there is, as you've suggested, criticism of the International Criminal Court, that it is not very effective. But is it worth it?

QUIST-ARCTON: Many people will tell you yes, that they have indicted people, such as the Sudanese president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, for war crimes; in Darfur, that Gadhafi's son, Saif al-Gadhafi, is wanted by the court. So that it means an end to impunity for those who sow havoc, war, conflict and death, and especially recruit children to fight.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton of the line from Dakar, in Senegal. Thanks very much, Ofeibea.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

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