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Prosecutors urge conviction of Congo war lord in children case
THE HAGUE — Prosecutors began wrapping up the International Criminal Court’s landmark first trial Thursday by urging judges to convict a Congolese warlord of recruiting hundreds of child soldiers and sending them to fight and kill in his country’s brutal conflict.
Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told judges that evidence in the trial that began in January 2009 gave voice to children that militia leader Thomas Lubanga had “transformed into killers; those girls that Mr. Lubanga offered to his commanders as sexual slaves.”
Ms. Bensouda said the armed wing of Mr. Lubanga's Union of Congolese Patriots political party trained hundreds of children in 20 camps scattered across the Ituri region of eastern Congo in 2002 and 2003.
“They were used to fight in conflicts. They were used to kill, rape and pillage,” she added.
Actress Angelina Jolie, who is a good will ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, was among dozens of people who watched proceedings from the court’s public gallery. She made no comment to reporters.
Mr. Lubanga’s defense attorneys are expected to tell judges on Friday that the prosecution evidence is flawed by false witness testimony and that Mr. Lubanga in fact tried to liberate child soldiers, not recruit them.
Mr. Lubanga’s trial has been hailed as a significant step in the development of international law. It was the first international case to focus exclusively on child soldiers and the opening trial at the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal.
However, it also was overshadowed by delays and by friction between prosecutors and judges.
The trial was put on hold in June 2008 - just 10 days before it was scheduled to start - when judges ruled that Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo had not given lawyers evidence that could have helped Mr. Lubanga.
Mr. Moreno-Ocampo refused to turn over some 200 documents because they came from organizations, like the United Nations, on the condition they not be disclosed to others.
Judges said the confidentiality agreements meant, “the trial process has been ruptured to such a degree that it is now impossible to piece together the constituent elements of a fair trial.”
Mr. Moreno-Ocampo eventually got consent from all the organizations and disclosed the material to defense attorneys, allowing the trial to get under way.
But judges halted it in July 2010 and ordered Mr. Lubanga released from custody when prosecutors defied a court order to reveal the identity of an intermediary who had helped prosecutors contact witnesses.
Prosecutors appealed the decision and Mr. Lubanga remained in his cell, but the incident underscored simmering tensions between prosecutors and the judges over disclosure of sensitive evidence.
By Brahma Chellaney
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