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Scepticism in DR Congo after first convicted war crime in ICC

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- Lubanga is convicted, that’s good. But there are worse war criminals walking free, protected by the government. That makes it harder for us to trust in the legal system, comments Christian Sango from the Congolese organization CEDEJ – that works to strengthen young girls’ rights and opportunities – after the first conviction ever in the International Criminal Court, ICC.


Goma in Eastern Congo is one of the places where several war crime perpetrators are still living, having ordinary lives. Many of them have not yet been prosecuted. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.

Thomas Lubanga was one of the war lords fighting in the violent Ituri conflict in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. A reported number of 70 000 people lost their lives in the war that took place 2000-2003. This March Thomas Lubanga was convicted in the ICC for having recruited child soldiers to his armed group, Union of Congolese Patriots, UPC.

Prosecutes war crimes

The ICC was established in 1998, creating a way for the international community to be able to prosecute war crimes such as genocide and crimes against humanity. This is the first conviction ever in the ICC and it is internationally acknowledged as a mile stone in the fight against impunity after armed conflict. But at the same time the Lubanga case has been critizised for leaving out many of the crimes that the former war lord is suspected of.

- He is guilty of so many other atrocities, like sexual violence against women and abuse of kidnapped girls. But sure, the conviction is a signal, a warning to other criminals in DR Congo, says Aurelie Bitondo from the organization REFAMP.

No help for raped women

- For those of us who work with the victims, and to get the perpetrators prosecuted, this conviction is frustrating. I think of all the people who were killed in the war and the women who were raped. The women are alive today, but they have never gotten any help with health care or being payed damages. For them the conviction has little effect – many of them don’t even know about it, says Julienne Lusenge, who grew up in Ituri and now works for SOFEPADI.

Another leader still free

At the same time as Thomas Lubanga, Bosco Ntaganda – the leader of another armed group called National Congress for the Defence of the People, CNDP – was prosecuted. But Ntagandas case has not lead to any conviction. In an effort to stop the armed conflict in Eastern DR Congo, CNDP’s troups were merged with the Congolese forces, which suddenly made Ntaganda a commander of the national army. A fact that has upset many people.

- Ntaganda can visit restaurants, play tennis and lead a good life in Goma. He is protected by the government and President Kabila. To prosecute him is crucial for people to be able to trust  in the legal system. He has many lives on his concience, he was called ”The Terminator” during the war in Ituri, says Christian Sango.

Thomas Lubanga’s sentence will be announced within the next couple of weeks.

The International Criminal Court (for Rwanda) was first with defining rape during armed conflict as a crime against humanity. More on this in women and armed conflict.