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African warlord will only spend eight years in prison for using child soldiers

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 11th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga was sentenced to 14 years in prison for his use of child soldiers in a long, ongoing conflict. Sentenced by the International Criminal Court, Lubanga's 14-year jail term was the court's first-ever sentencing. Lubanga, detained in The Hague since March 2006, will only spend have to spend eight years in prison as the court has already taken into account the time Lubanga has already spent behind bars.
 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Taking into account all the factors... the court sentences Mr. Lubanga to 14 years in prison," presiding Judge Adrian Fulford told The Hague-based court this week.

The 51-year-old Lubanga was convicted in March of war crimes, specifically for the use of child soldiers in his rebel army in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002-03. Lubanga's sentence marks the ICC's first since it started work a decade ago.

The judge considered a range of issues, but they also considered mitigating circumstances, as Lubanga had cooperated with the proceedings.

"So the prosecution did not get what they asked for," Alpha Sesay, the legal officer for International Justice at the Open Society Justice Initiative told Al Jazeera. "There was dissenting opinion though with one of the judges saying that the sentence disregards the arms so far during the conflict in the Ituri region."

The Hague-based court's former chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, had earlier called for a 30-year sentence against Lubanga, saying his crimes were "of the most serious concern for the international community.

"These children were told to kill and rape. That was the education [Lubanga] gave these children," Moreno-Ocampo said.

Prosecutors during the trial told how young girls served as sex-slaves, while boys were trained to fight.

Lubanga was found guilty of abducting children as young as 11 years old and forcing them to fight and commit atrocities in the DRC's northeastern gold-rich Ituri region.

When Lubanga's was convicted last March, Moreno-Ocampo said he would be ready to accept a lesser sentence of 20 years should Lubanga "sincerely apologize" and actively engage in helping "to prevent further crimes."

Lubanga pleaded not guilty and has maintained his innocence, saying at a June 13 hearing to discuss his sentence that the court's decision to find him guilty of war crimes hit him "like a bullet in the face.

"I am being presented as a warlord... but I never accepted or tolerated such enlistments taking place."

Lubanga is the founder of the Union of Congolese Patriots and commander of its military wing, the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo.

It is not yet known if Lubanga's attorneys will appeal his conviction, sentencing or both.

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