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DRC warlord 'not scapegoat for all child soldiers'

14 October 2016, 09:44

The Hague - Former Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga should not have to pay reparations to all child soldiers conscripted into the country's brutal northeastern conflict, his lawyer told war crimes judges on Thursday.

"That would turn Thomas Lubanga into a scapegoat for the phenomenon of child soldiers in Ituri," lawyer Jean-Marie Biju-Duval said.

He was speaking on the second and final day of hearings at the International Criminal Court seeking to determine the reparations to be paid to support projects to help rehabilitate the victims.

Lubanga was found guilty in 2012 of abducting children - boys and girls - as young as 11 and press-ganging them into his Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) in the eastern Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He was jailed for 14 years in a sentence later upheld on appeal.

But the court also ruled that Lubanga is personally liable for reparations to his victims, who at the time of the crimes in 2002-2003 were all under the age of 15.

"Which child soldiers?" asked Lubanga's lawyer, saying it would be difficult to identify victims and risk reviving tensions in Ituri, which "since the late 1990s... like all of the eastern DRC had been overwhelmed by the phenomenon of child soldiers."

Traditional reconciliation ceremony

Experts say most of these former child fighters are "often forgotten, living the consequences of stigmatisation."

Lubanga, who is currently in a DRC jail has proposed through his lawyers to take part in a "traditional reconciliation ceremony".

Victims' representative Luc Walleyn said he was "pleased with this announcement as it seems to imply that Mr Lubanga is finally admitting the reality of recruitment of children under 15 years."

The reparations case was opened in 2012, but has bogged down as lawyers and experts have wrestled with the best way of ensuring that the victims - many of whom are now in their 30s and have children of their own - can be helped.

The Trust Fund for Victims, an independent body set up to help administer ICC reparations, is seeking approval from the court for a three-year plan of projects to help rehabilitate the victims.

It has set aside $1.1m to fund projects aimed at "reconciling the victims with their families and affected communities".

But the hearing heard earlier this week that more funds should be allocated to the victims and the programme stretched over five years.



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