International Law

ICC Minor Victory Against Use of Child Soldiers

Imagine that Union of Congolese Patriots (UCP) warlord Thomas Lubanga visited your family's home one day. Chances are that if you had a young daughter, she would be taken by force and used by Lubanga's rebel group as a sex slave. If you had a young son, he would be conscripted to fight as a child soldier with Lubanga.

For crimes such as these, the International Criminal Court (ICC) handed out three prison sentences to Mr. Lubanga. However, the sentences for each crime run concurrently and he receives credit for time served. In just eight short years, Mr. Lubanga will be free as a middle-aged man rather than spending the remainder of his life behind bars. Under the circumstances, this human rights victory is a minor one because the punishment is lenient given the seriousness of the offenses committed.

It is also noteworthy that Mr. Lubanga was not prosecuted for other human rights violations, including torture, rape, and genocide allegedly committed by the rebels. Perhaps the prosecution felt that there was insufficient evidence to charge Mr. Lubanga for these crimes.   

Sadly, the human rights violations continue even with Mr. Lubanga incarcerated. Tens of thousands have been killed, while hundreds of thousands have become refugees, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Many are victims of Mr. Lubanga's former UCP comrade-in-arms, Bosco Ntaganda, who leads the rebel group M23.

Called "The Terminator," Mr. Ntaganda is also wanted by the ICC for human rights violations. It is time for international pressure to be applied to cut off Rwanda's support of M23 and bring Mr. Ntaganda to justice. One can only hope that such justice does not result in Mr. Ntaganda also becoming a free man after a few years of incarceration. Neither the rule of law nor human rights victims are served when atrocities are punished with light sentences. Such sentencing is neither proportional to the crimes committed nor an adequate deterrent to others contemplating human rights violations. 

The crimes of these perpetrators scar their victims emotionally and sometimes also physically for life, and are a life sentence imposed on the victims for innocently being in the wrong place and the wrong time.  The punishment for the perpetrators should at a minimum match the sentences imposed upon the victims.

Recommended Reading

DR Congo warlord Thomas Lubanga sentenced to 14 years, BBC News (July 10, 2012)

ICC Sentences Congolese Warlord to 14 Years in Prison, Voice of America (July 10, 2012)

Congolese Warlord Sentenced By Court In The Hague, NPR (July 10, 2012)

Congolese warlord jailed for 14 years over child soldiers, UK Telegraph (July 10, 2012)

DR Congo rebels 'advance on Goma', BBC News (July 9, 2012)