Congolese Accused of Recruiting Child Soldiers Ordered Set Free
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Judges at the International Criminal Court on Wednesday ordered the release of the court's first defendant, a Congolese warlord charged with the coercive recruitment of thousands of child soldiers, saying he could not receive a fair trial due to withheld evidence.
The judges cited prosecutors' refusal to share certain documents that tended to exculpate the defendant, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo. He will remain in custody pending a ruling on an appeal that prosecutors were expected to file.
In a telephone interview from The Hague, where the court is based, chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said the dispute involved documents that his office had obtained from the United Nations under a confidentiality agreement.
Some of the information in the papers could be considered to exonerate the defendant, Moreno-Ocampo said, such as a promise by Lubanga to demobilize. The prosecutor's office asked U.N. officials to consent to disclose the documents, but they declined, he said, citing security concerns.
"The judges said we cannot proceed, so now we are working on a proposal with the United Nations that would make certain documents available under certain conditions," he said.
His office expressed confidence that the problem would be cleared up and that the trial would begin in September. "There will be justice for Lubanga's victims," Moreno-Ocampo pledged.
The court was set up by treaty to try people accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and other extreme offenses, with 106 countries taking part. The United States is not part of the court, citing concerns that its powers would become politicized and be used unfairly against its citizens.
Lubanga, founder and leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots, was the first suspect to be arrested and turned over to the court, on March 17, 2006, after an arrest warrant was issued at the request of Moreno-Ocampo.
Since the court began operating, the prosecutor has launched probes in four countries -- Uganda, Congo, the Central African Republic and Sudan. Twelve arrest warrants have been issued; four people have been detained.