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ICC finds Congolese warlord guilty in its first verdict

By Faith Karimi, CNN
updated 1:45 PM EDT, Wed March 14, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The International Criminal Court finds a warlord guilty of conscripting and enlisting children
  • Thomas Lubanga is the court's first arrest and conviction
  • Lubanga remains in custody pending sentencing

(CNN) -- The International Criminal Court on Wednesday found a Congolese warlord guilty of turning children into killers, marking the war crimes tribunal's first verdict in its decade of operation.

Judges convicted Thomas Lubanga of conscripting and enlisting children under age 15 and using them to participate in "hostilities" during a civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

He will remain in custody pending sentencing.

The verdict marks a milestone for the international court that targets war crimes worldwide. It is the first verdict issued by the Netherlands-based court, which has 14 other cases, three of which are in trial stage.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the verdict.

"Mr. Lubanga's conviction for the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 is an important step forward in realizing the international community's commitment to ensuring that perpetrators of crimes against children in situations of armed conflict are brought to justice," he said.

Angelina Jolie welcomes warlord verdict

Lubanga surrendered in 2006, and his trial started three years later. His was the court's first trial and its first verdict since it was established in 2002 to address crimes of international concern, including genocide and war crimes.

His trial also marks the first time a suspect has faced an international tribunal based solely on charges involving the use of child soldiers, the court said.

"Today's verdict will give pause to those around the world who commit the horrific crime of using and abusing children both on and off the battlefield," said Michael Bochenek, director of Amnesty International's law and policy program.

Prosecutors said Lubanga led a rebel force that recruited child soldiers to take part in a bloody conflict. The violence occurred in 2002 and 2003 in the mineral-rich eastern part of the nation.

Lubanga coordinated the recruiting of child soldiers and forced some of them to serve in militia roles, including as his bodyguards, the court said.

Those testifying against him included former child soldiers, who told the court that he recruited them to kill, rape and rob.

"This case represents a huge step in the struggle against these serious crimes against children," Luis Moreno Ocampo, the court's top prosecutor, said in a statement posted on its website. "Child conscription destroys the lives and futures of thousands of children around the world. This case will contribute to exposing the problem and in stopping these criminal practices."

Lubanga is one of more than a dozen people sought by the international court, including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Joseph Kony, the fugitive Ugandan leader of the Lord's Resistance Army.

Lubanga's guilty verdict sets a precedent for others accused of similar crimes, including Kony, who became an Internet sensation last week after the release of a video detailing brutality by his rebel army.

Kony is accused of using children to kill and mutilate his foes across four African nations, including Uganda and Congo.

CNN's Bharati Naik contribued to this report.

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