Congo Warlord Thomas Lubanga Conviction at ICC is Worth the Hefty Price Tag


After many years of trial, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has finally come down with a verdict against the Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubanga, who is accused of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate in hostilities during the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) between September 1, 2002 and August 13, 2003. Trial Chamber I of the ICC decided unanimously that Lubanga is guilty, as a co-perpetrator, of the war crimes of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them in hostilities, pursuant to Articles 8(2)(e)(vii) and 25(3)(a) of the Rome Statute of the ICC. It is the first verdict issued by an ICC Trial Chamber a decade after the court was established by the statute.

A separate sentencing hearing is to be held pursuant to Article 76(2) of the statute, at which point the Chamber will decide applicable principles for reparation. The current verdict is to be translated into French, after which the defense has 30 days to appeal. It is not yet known whether the defense will appeal. The decision has been widely appraised by the international community, especially because it pertains to the prohibition against conscripting children and using them in hostilities – the first of such decision at an international forum – but questions remain about the efficiency of the Court itself. 

With a current total of 766 staff and an annual budget over $140 million, culminating in nearly a billion dollars a decade after the Court was established, it is fair to ask, is the money worth barely one completed trail? Many posit that if international justice is so expensive, then perhaps the money should be allocated to rehabilitating victims of war crimes and reconstructing affected areas, and leaving it to the discretion of individual states to punish their own war criminals. It seems unfair at face value to expend extraordinary sums of money to prosecute an individual whose actions have destroyed the lives of massive number of people, in this case children. However, inefficiency aside, can justice really be measured when it involves genocides, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, which is what the Court is mandated to handle?

The jurisdiction of the Court is limited to the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole, and since it has not yet been established that the Court is engaged in irresponsible spending and waste of resources, perhaps it is worth the bucks even if only one ruling has come down thus far. In fact, the ruling does not mean that only one case has been under investigation, as there are many pending and ongoing investigations. Additionally, many of the member states have not been exactly cooperative in arresting those for whom the court has standing warrants. Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan, for instance, constantly travels to ICC member states, though there is an obligation under the statute to arrest those for whom warrants have been issued.

Moreover, the Court’s pursuit of those who bear responsibility for the most serious crimes of international concern does not prohibit states from bringing other war criminals within their jurisdiction to justice. However, since many states have repeatedly failed to bring perpetuators to justice, it is important that the Court uses its jurisdiction to uphold the highest principles of international criminal law, such as the prohibition against conscripting and using children in hostilities and other crimes against humanity. The current ruling sends a clear message that the international community no longer condones the use of children in furtherance of crimes against humanity, and it is difficult to allocate a cost where the alternative is most likely impunity for war lords such as Lubanga.

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