Milestone Verdict on Child Soldiers: Will Kony Be Next?

March 14, 2012

Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanda Dyilo listens at the International Criminal Court. MARCEL ANTONISSE/AFP/Getty Images

Today, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced a historic decision, finding Thomas Lubanga Dyilo – the alleged founder of a vicious Congolese armed rebel group – guilty of war crimes for his use and abuse of child soldiers during the armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between 2002 and 2003.

Lubanga’s conviction sets a historic precedent for international justice and accountability for those who commit the most unspeakable of crimes. Crimes like rape. Torture. Enslavement. Crimes common among Lubanda’s Union of Congolese Patriots and its armed wing, the FPLC.

In 1998, after nearly a decade of mass atrocities in places like Rwanda, Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, and the DRC, the international community came together to establish the ICC as a “court of last resort” to punish perpetrators of these crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide.

The ICC is a vital mechanism to both insist that national authorities fulfill their domestic responsibilities to investigate and prosecute crimes – and to step in when they fail.

On March 17, 2006, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo was the first person to be arrested on an ICC arrest warrant for the use and abuse of children in armed conflict. While the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict by all sides of the armed conflict in the DRC continues, today’s verdict marks an important milestone that should give pause to those who think they can commit crimes with impunity.

ICC Fugitives

Today’s landmark decision, coupled with the recent spotlight on Joseph Kony, underscores the importance of the outstanding ICC arrest warrants for 11 other suspects of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide related to situations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda, the Sudan, and Libya.

Joseph Kony, Bosco Ntaganda, President Omar al-Bashir and other fugitives are often shielded by powerful supporters and states. The ongoing lack of justice means that most of these fugitives are free to commit more crimes, placing civilians in affected areas at great risk, and delaying justice for countless victims.

Which of the 11 fugitives still at large will be next to appear at the International Criminal Court? The 11 with outstanding ICC arrest warrants are:

  • Democratic Republic of Congo: Bosco Ntaganda, whom the ICC has charged with enlisting and conscripting children under 15. The Congolese government is shielding him following his integration into the national army.
  • Uganda: Accused Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony and LRA commanders Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo, and Dominic Ongwen continue to evade trial after being charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes. They and the fighters they lead continue to move between the Central African Republic, north-eastern DRC and South Sudan and commit crimes.
  • Sudan: President Omar al-Bashir has been charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the Darfur region. He has yet to be arrested despite regularly conducting state visits abroad. Sudanese officials Ahmad Harun and Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein and accused “Janjaweed” leader Ali Kushayb are also at large.
  • Libya: Saif al Islam Gaddafi and Abdullah al-Senussi are charged with crimes against humanity committed during the crackdown on protesters in Libya. Saif al-Islam was captured on November 19, 2011 but has not yet been surrendered to the ICC.

What needs to be done?

The UN has a critical role to play by providing political, diplomatic, and logistical support for efforts to arrest individuals named in ICC arrest warrants and to protect civilians in countries where the ICC is investigating crimes. However, elements of the UN often fail to play this important role.

As a notable example, the UN Mission in Sudan went so far as to provide a helicopter ride to Ahmed Haroun, despite his fugitive status from the ICC on charges crimes against humanity and war crimes for rape and murder in Darfur.

Take action with Amnesty now to ensure that the UN does its part to protect civilians by providing the necessary support in arresting the Lubangas and Konys of the world. The ICC fugitives must be held accountable for their crimes against our fellow men, women, and children.