Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga sentenced to 14 years in prison for recruiting child soldiers

Thomas Lubanga – © Karel Prinsloo/AP

Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga, 51, was today sentenced to 14 years in prison by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

Back in March the ICC found him guilty of abducting boys and girls under the age of 15 in Congo’s eastern Ituri region between 2002 and 2003. He forced the boys to fight in his Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia and the girls were used as sex slaves. At the sentencing today Judge Adrian Fulford spoke about the need to protect children: ‘The vulnerability of children means they need to be afforded particular protection.’

During the Ituri conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, fighting broke out between two ethnic groups, Hema and Lendu. They fought over the gold-rich land in the east of the country and Lubanga, an ethnic Hema, led the UPC militia against the Lendu’s. As a result of the conflict almost 60,000 people died.

During that time a large scale war was taking place across the country and resulted in the deaths of over 5,000,000 people, mostly from murder, starvation and disease. The Ituri conflict was just a part of what was known as the ‘Second Congo War’ and the huge loss of life made it the deadliest conflict since World War Two.

Lubanga is the first person to be convicted and sentenced by the International Criminal Court since it was set up 10 years ago. Last month Liberia’s Charles Taylor was sentenced in The Hague for war crimes but in a case that was presided over by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

“Lubanga’s sentence is important not only for the victims who want justice done, but also as a warning to those who use child soldiers around the world,” Géraldine Mattioli-Zeltner of Human Rights Watch said.

The conflict in eastern DR Congo still continues and my next post will cover this in more depth and will also look at a man who dedicates his life to helping the survivors.