After 10 years, the international war crimes court at The Hague issued its first ruling Wednesday, convicting a Congolese warlord of deploying child soldiers during the Democratic Republic of Congo’s long bloody conflict. The International Criminal Court (ICC) charged Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, 51, with three counts of war crimes. Now he faces the possibility of life in prison.
“The chamber concludes that the prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt that Mr. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo is guilty of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 years,” ICC Presiding Judge Adrian Fulford said as he read the judgment issued by the three-judge panel, Reuters reports. Lubanga “was essential to a common plan to conscript and enlist girls and boys below the age of 15.”
Lubanga may appeal the conviction within 30 days. The court said Lubanga forced children into camps in the Ituri region of Africa where they were placed under harsh training regimes and brutally punished, according to Reuters. Girls were used as domestic workers and often raped or subjected to sexual violence by soldiers and army commanders.
Accused along with Lubanga, but not detained or tried by the ICC, was an army general in the east of the Congo. He continues to serve in the Congolese army.
The ICC faces political challenges in its mandate to prosecute violators of international law. Only the United Nations Security Council may order prosecutions and refer accused criminals to the court. Advocates are hopeful Lubanga’s conviction will lend momentum to other prosecutions and spur Security Council members to act on more recent accusations of war crimes such as those leveled against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who has cracked down on protestors.