DRC warlord conviction hailed
The Hague - Rights groups on Wednesday hailed the conviction of Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga before the International Criminal Court for conscripting child soldiers.
"It's a very strong message against those who commit these crimes, it's a sign that impunity does not exist any longer," Human Rights Watch's international justice officer Geraldine Mattioli told AFP.
"It shows that these type of crimes will not be tolerated anymore. It is a very important decision for the victims," added Sunil Pal of the non-government group Coalition for the International Criminal Court.
Lubanga, 51, was found guilty of enlisting child soldiers to fight for his militia in a gold-rich region during the bloody four-year war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which ended in 2003.
Prosecutors told the court that militia under Lubanga's control abducted and conscripted children as young as 11 from their homes, schools and football fields to serve as soldiers, and that young girls were used as sex slaves.
First transferred to The Hague in 2006, Lubanga the alleged founder of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) and chief commander of its military wing, went on trial in January 2009. He had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Alpha Sesay, international legal officer at the Open Society's Justice Initiative, said the ruling would send a strong message to others who used child soldiers in their army, including Uganda's Joseph Kony.
Since earlier this month, Kony, leader of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, has been the subject of an intense online campaign to bring him to The Hague, where he faces war crimes and crimes against humanity charges.
"This judgment will have an effect in Ituri [in the DRC]. It will have the same effect in Uganda," Sesay said.