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World Criminal Court to Hear First Case

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VOA News - January 29, 2007 9:47 PM

In a historic decision, judges at the International Criminal Court are poised to begin hearing their first case. Judges found there was enough evidence against Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga to send him to trial for recruiting and using child soldiers to fight his war in the eastern Ituri region of the country. Lauren Comiteau reports from the court in The Hague.

Thomas Lubanga (r)in the International Criminal Court in The Hague
Thomas Lubanga (r)in the International Criminal Court in The Hague
Calling Thomas Lubanga's role essential and his alleged crimes serious and substantial, judges found there was sufficient evidence to make Lubanga the first person tried before the first permanent international court.

Presiding Judge Claude Jorda:

"Mr. Lubanga was at the very least aware that in the ordinary course of events the implementation of the common plan would result in the enlistment, conscription and use of children under the age of 15 in hostilities, that he accepted this," said Judge Claude Jorda.

By common plan, judges mean there was an agreement between Lubanga and other high ranking leaders in the military wing of his Union of Congolese Patriots to use minors to further their war effort. Judges say they systematically trained large numbers of children and sent them to battle. They also used them as body guards, spies, couriers and decoys during the brutal fighting between 2002 and 2003.

Monday's ruling comes after a hearing last autumn when prosecutors presented

Their preliminary evidence. At that time, they cited cases of children as young as 10 being grabbed off the street and sent to Lubanga's camps where they learned how to use guns and were given drugs to calm them down.

Thomas Lubanga, though, denied all charges against him and paints himself as a patriot. His lawyer, Jean Flamme , says it's a hard time for Lubanga who is isolated from all other prisoners except former Liberian President Charles Taylor who is also waiting to be tried in The Hague, but by a different court.

Flamme says he has not had the same amount of resources or time as prosecutors and that it will take him about a year to go to serious defense. But prosecutors say they are satisfied with Monday's decision and look forward to presenting their evidence at trial, which they hope will be later this year.


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