Delivering its first sentence, the International Criminal Court jailed Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo for 14 years on Tuesday for recruiting child soldiers.
The Hague-based court was set up a decade ago to punish and discourage the world’s worst crimes through a system of international justice, but its critics say it has moved too slowly and failed to put its most important suspects on trial.
Lubanga was found guilty in March of abducting boys and girls under the age of 15 and forcing them to fight in a war in the east of Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002 and 2003. At least 60,000 people are thought to have been killed.
“The trial and sentence handed down today sends a strong message to those who recruit and use children during times of war,” said Anneke van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch.
But taking into account the six years Lubanga spent in detention during the trial, Lubanga’s sentence has only eight years to run. He could get parole earlier.
Critics of the International Criminal Court questioned how big an achievement it could claim from sentencing Lubanga.
“If you’d said at the beginning, this court would finish one trial in 10 years, and that would be for a secondary offence like using child soldiers, people would have said they won’t waste their money on it,” said William Schabas, a law professor at Middlesex University.
Some Congolese were also disappointed in Lubanga’s sentence, which compares to the 50 years handed down in May by another court in The Hague to former Liberian president Charles Taylor for war crimes in Sierra Leone.
“We had hoped he would stay in prison for life in order to ease the minds of the victims,” said Emmanuel Folo, a human rights lawyer in Ituri.
Presiding judge Adrian Fulford criticised the ICC’s founding prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, for his conduct of Lubanga’s case. Ocampo recently completed his term.
Lubanga’s sentence was shortened because of his good behaviour in the face of the prosecutor’s failure to disclose some evidence and giving misleading statements to the media, Fulford said.