Tribunal: International Criminal Court (ICC)
Who: Thomas Lubanga Dyilo
What Crimes: Enlisting, conscripting, and using child soldiers under the age of 15 actively in hostilities
Between 1994 and 2003, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was embroiled in a complex conflict fueled by foreign armies and local militias. This war led to the loss of some five million lives. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo served as one of the many militia leaders. He was the president of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), a militia group that claimed to represent the interests of the Hema ethnic group in the Ituri region of northeastern DRC. The Hema have been implicated in many serious abuses including ethnic massacres, torture, rape, and the use of child soldiers.
Specifically, the military wing of the UPC, under Lubanga’s leadership, was known to recruit young people, regardless of age, in schools and in villages. Some of these recruitment efforts were coercive, including abductions. This meant that children under 15 years old were recruited — in violation of international law — whether or not this was specifically intended. The children were sent to training camps where they were beaten, whipped, imprisoned, and inadequately fed. Young female recruits were raped. The children were encouraged to smoke cannabis and drink alcohol and were frequently intoxicated.
The ICC initially charged Lubanga with thirty-three crimes. After the evidence was analyzed, the strongest body of admissible evidence allowed the ICC to charge Lubanga for the war crimes of conscripting, enlisting, and using child soldiers under the age of 15 actively in hostilities.