Arusha, December 2, 2014 (FH) – Human rights groups have welcomed Monday’s International Criminal Court confirmation of a 14-year jail sentence for former Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga for the war crimes of conscripting child soldiers and using them to fight.  At the same time, they urged the ICC Prosecutor to take note of criticisms of her evidence.

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“As the conflict in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) persists, this judicial decision reconfirms that the perpetrators of international crimes must be brought to justice,” said the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

On Monday, the ICC Appeals Chamber dismissed appeals by both Lubanga and the Prosecutor (who wanted a longer sentence) against the Trial Chamber’s decisions.

On March 14, 2012, an ICC Trial Chamber found Lubanga, the first person to be tried before this international court, guilty of enlisting child soldiers under 15 and using them to fight in the eastern Congolese district of Ituri in 2002 and 2003. On July 12, 2012, it handed down a 14-year sentence.

This is now confirmed. However, one of the five Appeals judges said she would have overturned both the conviction and sentence on the grounds of weak and vague evidence from the Prosecution, particularly in relation to establishing the age of child soldiers.

“The trial and confirmation of Lubanga’s judgment have contributed greatly to sensitizing public opinion on the fate of children forced to fight war and the importance of rendering them justice,” said FIDH and its member organizations.

“Nevertheless we regret that the Appeals judges, like the Trial Court judges, did not take up the Prosecutor’s request to consider sexual violence against girl soldiers under 15 as an aggravating factor in the determination of the sentence, saying the Prosecutor had not brought enough solid evidence concerning Lubanga’s responsibility,” FIDH continued. “We hope that the Prosecutor’s new policy on investigations and prosecutions of sexual and sexist crime perpetrators will respond to certain challenges raised by this first trial. “

And the FIDH had further criticism of the Prosecutor. “Despite the confirmation of the conviction by a majority of the ICC Appeals judges, the dissenting opinions, in particular of Judge Usacka, underline the necessity for solid strategies and policies on investigation and prosecution, and the importance of respecting the right of the Accused to a fair trial.”

Redress, an organization representing victims and torture survivors, reacted similarly. It welcomed the Lubanga Appeals judgment, saying it was “a step towards justice for victims in the DRC”.

But Redress also said that it “urges the Prosecutor to reflect on the evidentiary issues raised during the proceedings, in order to ensure that in future the strongest possible cases are brought to trial. The Lubanga trial was at risk of ending prematurely on two occasions, as a result of a variety of issues concerning insufficient evidence and problems with witnesses. That kind of result would have been catastrophic for victims”.

Redress also urged the ICC to now focus on the issue of reparations for victims, especially child soldiers.