Just-ended trial of congolese warlord blasted for sloppy handling (39558)

Jul. 10 (GIN) -During some of the deadliest years of the inter-ethnic wars in Africa’s eastern Congo, rebel leader Thomas Lubanga went door to door, taking children as young as 10 and sending them to the battlefield, to carry guns, shoot and kill as part of his Union of Congolese Patriots rebel militia.

Lubanga’s FPLC was one of six militia groups which fought for control of the gold-rich Ituri region until 2003. It was a local conflict within the wider DR Congo war, which left an estimated five million people dead – mostly from hunger and disease.

Seven years after his arrest by U.N. peacekeepers, Lubanga, 51,was sentenced this week to 14 years in prison for war crimes in the first conviction by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Taking into account time in custody, Lubanga, of the eastern Congo, will now serve a further eight years. He plans an appeal.

But the ruling against the eastern Congolese fighter was hardly a sweet victory for the prosecution. ICC Judge Adrian Fulford let the prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, have an earful – accusing him of errors, failing to submit evidence to support his claims and allowing his staff to give misleading statement to the press, according to a BBC reporter at the trial.

He also criticized the way Moreno-Ocampo used witnesses and even praised the former warlord for his conduct and cooperation throughout the trial, according to press at the court.

Back in the Congo, a mother, Charlotte Ayogo, wondered about the amount of attention paid to one person. While the international community was focused on Lubanga, she said in a BBC press interview, children in her neighborhood were dying because they had no access to clean water.

Mike Davis, of the human rights organization Global Witness, had faint praise for the ruling, calling it an “important development” but “a rather low sentence in relation to the crimes that he committed”.

Judge Fulford said of his decision. “The crimes of conscripting and enlisting children under 15 and using them in hostilities are undoubtedly very serious crimes… The vulnerability of children means that they need special protection beyond what would apply to the general population.”

Congo’s Information Minister Lambert Mende said he thought the sentence was not harsh enough but added “it is a punishment and I believe that it will haunt him for the rest of his life.”