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International Criminal Court: First Trial on Use of Child Soldiers

(Feb. 3, 2009) The trial of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo at the International Criminal Court (ICC), the first trial in the ICC's history, began on January 26, 2009. Lubanga Dyilo is accused of recruiting children under the age of 15 to be soldiers. This is the first time an international body has had the full participation of the victims of the crimes under consideration, in this case child combatants. In addition to 93 identified victims, the lead prosecutor in the case, Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, will present voluminous documentation, including a video said to show the defendant in training camps with soldiers who are under the age of 15 and a sample of the 1,671 documents compiled in the case. The trial will be held in The Hague, in the ICC's Trial Chamber I, before Judge Adrian Fulford of the United Kingdom, Judge Elisabeth Odio Benito of Costa Rica, and Judge René Blattmann of Bolivia. (First-Ever Trial at International Criminal Court, on Use of Child Soldiers, Opens, UN NEWS CENTRE, Jan. 26, 2009, available at; Press Release, ICC, Opening of the First Trial of the Court on Monday 26 January 2009: For the First Time in the History of International Law the Victims Will Fully Participate in the Proceedings (Jan. 23, 2009), available at

Lubanga Dyilo, who entered a plea of not guilty, is founder and leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots, which operated in the Ituri region, in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, also known as Congo-Kinshasa). Advocacy groups estimate that about 3,000 children are still in military groups there. The defendant is charged with conscripting children to be soldiers and using them in hostilities in the DRC in 2002 and 2003, among other war crimes. (UN NEWS CENTRE, supra.)

The ICC was established by the Rome Statute of 1998 and has jurisdiction to try individuals charged with war crimes committed since July 2002. These cases can be initiated by the U.N. Security Council, the ICC Prosecutor, or a State Party; if the country in which the crimes took place is unwilling or for some reason unable to investigate and prosecute, the ICC may take up the case. (Id.)

After a trial that may last several months, the ICC will issue is decision publicly. The parties then have the right to appeal to the ICC's Appeal Chamber. (Press Release, supra.)