Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga was found guilty by International Criminal Court of recruiting and deploying child soldiers.
Prosecutors found Mr. Lubanga, 51 years old, guilty of the war crimes of conscripting and enlisting children by force under the age of 15 into the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo.
The warlord reportedly use the children to fight in a brutal five-year ethnic conflict in the Ituri region of eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which ended in 2003.
Reports say an estimated 60,000 people were killed in the violence, part of wider bloodshed in central Africa.
Mr. Lubanga faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The ICC’s ruling is hailed by United Nations officials as an important step in the fight against impunity.
The verdict is the first ever to be issued by the ICC, the first permanent international court set up to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression, since it was set up a decade ago.
The verdict was hailed by senior UN officials as a victory for the protection of children in conflict and a major milestone in the fight against impunity.
“Today, impunity ends for Thomas Lubanga and those who recruit and use children in armed conflict.” -Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy
She says in this age of global media, today’s verdict will reach warlords and commanders across the world and serve as a strong deterrent and reminder.
UN reports that that tens of thousands of children are still victims of these grave violations in at least 15 armed conflicts around the world.
UN Goodwill Ambassador and Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie was among those who attended the reading of the verdict. The Hollywood actress said the verdict is an important moment for the Court, the DRC and the rule of law.
“Perhaps today’s verdict of guilty provides some measure of comfort for the victims of Mr. Lubanga’s actions.” -Ms. Jolie
She adds that the veridct sends a strong message against the use of child soldiers.
A separate sentencing hearing for Mr. Lubanga Dyilo will be held at a date to be announced.
The ICC, which is based in The Hague, is the first permanent international court set up to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. The DRC is one of seven situations under investigation by the Court, along with Central African Republic (CAR), Cote d’Ivoire, the Darfur region of western Sudan, Libya, Uganda and Kenya.
Around the same time, an ongoing joint United Nations – Democratic Republic of the Congo military offensive prompted an important Rwandan rebel leader to surrender.
Lieutenant Colonel Idrissa Muradadi and three of his bodyguards turned themselves in last Friday, according the the United Nations. Lt. Col. Muradadi was formerly commander of the Forces democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR), active since 1994 mainly in eastern DRC.
It is hoped his surrender will have a demoralizing effect on other rebels in the area. The Congolese Government has been targeting the FDLR and several other armed groups. The UN has been providing logistical support to the DRC military.
The recruitment and use of children in armed conflict by foreign and Congolese armed groups continue to this day in the north-east and east of the DRC. The Congolese national army has also used child soldiers.