International Criminal Court to rule on whether to halt first trial, release alleged warlord

By Mike Corder, AP
Friday, October 8, 2010

Int’l court to rule on halting first trial

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The International Criminal Court is announcing Friday whether it will halt the court’s first trial and release the defendant, an alleged Congolese warlord.

Aborting the case against Thomas Lubanga, who is charged with using child soldiers in a brutal conflict in eastern Congo in 2002-2003, would be a serious blow to prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo.

The judges criticized Moreno Ocampo’s refusal earlier this year to disclose to Lubanga’s lawyers the identity of an intermediary used by investigators to work with witnesses. In July, they halted the case and ordered Lubanga freed.

Prosecutors quickly appealed, blocking Lubanga’s release, and have since revealed the identity.

But an appellate court must decide Friday whether Moreno Ocampo’s initial defiance of instructions from the bench was preventing Lubanga getting a fair trial.

Presiding Judge Adrian Fulford wrote in July that Moreno Ocampo “revealed that he does not consider that he is bound to comply with judicial decisions that relate to a fundamental aspect of trial proceedings.”

In a stinging written order, Fulford added that Moreno Ocampo’s actions amounted to “a profound, unacceptable and unjustified intrusion into the role of the judiciary.”

Lubanga, 49, is charged with recruiting and sending child soldiers into deadly battles in eastern Congo’s Ituri region. He denies the allegations and insists he was a politician and peacemaker, not a warlord.

His trial has been troubled almost from its start in January 2009. Prosecutors tussled with judges over the admissibility of evidence gathered in confidence from U.N. personnel and nongovernment volunteers in the battlefield, who believed disclosure of their identities could jeopardize their lives or work.

The court is the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal, designed to end impunity for the most serious perpetrators of atrocities in conflicts around the world.

It started work in 2002 and so far has launched cases only in Africa. Its highest profile indictment is against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is charged with genocide in the Darfur conflict. Al-Bashir has vowed never to surrender to the court, and the court lacks its own police force to arrest suspects.

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