Amsterdam : Former Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo Monday pleaded not guilty before an international tribunal to charges of recruiting child soldiers for war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague began Monday, with prosecutors saying Lubanga was responsible for the development and operation of an entire child soldier infrastructure during the bloody Congolese civil war between 1998 and 2003.
ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo in his opening statement said the former leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) in the Democratic Republic of Congo and his militia had trained and used hundreds of young children “to kill, pillage and rape”.
The children, he added, “still suffer the consequences”. Lubanga’s men, Moreno-Ocampo said, had abducted thousands of children between the ages of 9 and 15 from all over the country and sent them to one of their 10 training camps.
There, he said, the children were forced to fight in the civil war and kill people, including, at times, their own friends or fellow child soldiers.
The children were ordered to always shoot people in the middle of their foreheads, said Moreno-Ocampo, quoting several child witnesses who had told the prosecution how they were brutally beaten on a continuous basis. Children who tried to escape were beaten to death, often in front of other child soldiers.
Girls who refused to have sex with militias were killed by fellow child soldiers, who would be beaten themselves, sometimes to death, if they refused to kill the girls, the prosecutor said.
Lubanga, 48, dressed in a sharp, dark navy blue suit with a red tie, sat apparently unmoved on his bench, listening attentively to the charges.
He is the first suspect to be brought for trial before the court, which is the world’s first permanent tribunal authorised to deal with serious war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Lubanga was arrested in the Congolese capital Kinshasa in 2005. He has been in the custody of the ICC since March 2006. He faces six charges in total of recruiting and using children in conflict.
The hearing was expected to continue throughout the day.