Lubanga's conviction 'is historic moment'
Washington - The United States on Wednesday hailed as "a historic moment" the conviction by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of Congolese militia boss Thomas Lubanga on war crimes charges.
"It is an historic moment and an important step in providing justice and accountability to the Congolese people," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters.
The Hague-based ICC found Lubanga, 51, guilty of enlisting child soldiers into his militia and using them to fight in a gold-rich region during the bloody four-year war in the Democratic Republic of Congo which ended in 2003.
Rights groups hailed the tribunal's decision, saying it sent a strong message to other warlords around the world who forced children to fight, including fugitive Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony.
"As this decision illustrates, the international community is united in its determination to end the repugnant practice of using child soldiers," said Tommy Vietor, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council.
"Today's decision is a reminder that those who prey upon children, forcing them to become soldiers and sex slaves, are committing a despicable crime for which they will be held accountable," he said.
First transferred to The Hague in 2006, 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.
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.
Lubanga will be sentenced at a later stage, the court said. He faces up to 30 years in jail or, if judges decide the crimes were exceptionally grave, life in prison.