By EMILY ALLEN
PUBLISHED: 07:18 EST, 10 July 2012 | UPDATED: 08:11 EST, 10 July 2012
- Thomas Lubunga is first person to be convicted by the International Criminal Court’s war crimes tribunal
- He recruited children as young as 11, training boys and forcing them to fight
- Prosecutors asked for a 30 years sentence but were willing to cut it if he offered a ‘genuine apology’
A Congolese warlord has become the first person to be jailed at a special war-crimes tribunal after being found guilty of training child soldiers and forcing them to fight.
Thomas Lubunga was jailed for 14 years for abducting children, some as young as 11, and sending them to fight in his Union of Congolese Patriots (UCP) militia in Congo’s eastern Ituri region in 2002 and 2003.
The 51-year-old is the first person to be convicted by the International Criminal Court, sitting in The Hague, Netherlands, with presiding Judge Adrian Fulford saying the sentence reflected the need to protect children in wartime.
Jailed: Warlord Thomas Lubunga clasps his hands at the court in The Hague, Netherlands, as he waits for his sentence to be handed down today after being found guilty of training child soldiers and forcing them to fight
‘The vulnerability of children means they need to be afforded particular protection,’ he said at the sentencing hearing.
Prosecutors had asked for a 30-year sentence, but said they would be willing to cut it to 20 years if Lubanga offered a ‘genuine apology’ to victims of his crimes.
Lubunga, convicted in March, abducted children, training boys in military training camps and forcing them to fight, while girls allegedly served as sex slaves.
He led the UCP, an ethnic Hema militia, active in the war which began as a struggle over control of the gold-rich land in the Ituri region and its main town of Bunia, in 1999.
It turned into an inter-ethnic war displacing hundreds of thousands of people and leaving thousands dead.
Shocking: A child soldier practices with a machine gun in an ethnic Hema militia camp, in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2003 and right, Lubunga showed now emotion as the sentence was read out today
Rights activists hailed the case as a milestone in efforts to prosecute the widespread use of child soldiers in conflicts around the world.
Lubanga, wearing a grey suit and tie, showed no emotion as Fulford read out the sentence. He can appeal his conviction and sentence.
Fulford said that time Lubanga has served in pretrial detention since March 2006, following his arrest in 2005, would be deducted from the sentence.
It was not immediately clear where Lubanga would be jailed. The court has no prison cells for holding convicted war criminals, but has deals with seven countries to jail them – Denmark, Serbia, Mali, Austria, Finland, Britain and Belgium.
In court: Lubunga, 51, became the first person to be convicted by the International Criminal Court, sitting in The Hague, Netherlands, and has been jailed for 14 years for training child soldiers to fight on the frontline
Fulford gave Lubanga three sentences of 13, 12 and 14 years each, respectively for conscripting, enlisting and using child soldiers but the sentences are to be served concurrently.
Conscripting involves abducting children and pressing them into military service while enlisting them can be voluntary.
Franck Mulenda, a legal representative for 140 victims in the case, welcomed the sentence.
‘It is very important. It consoles the victims,’ he said outside court. He said he is now waiting for the court to order reparations for former child soldiers, ‘so they can get back their education and their place in society.’
More young soldiers pictured leaving a militia training camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo in June 2003
Fulford criticiced former chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo for not bringing charges of sexual violence against Lubanga or presenting evidence of such crimes at a sentencing hearing last month.
Rights activists say Lubanga’s militia was responsible for widespread rape in Ituri.
He also praised Lubanga for being ‘respectful and cooperative’ throughout the case despite it twice being held up by prosecutors defying court orders linked to identifying witnesses.