JOHANNESBURG — The International Criminal Court sentenced a Congolese warlord on Tuesday to 14 years in jail for using child soldiers, a punishment meant to bring justice for his victims, signal a warning to others, and act as a potential landmark in the struggle to protect children entangled in wars.
Thomas Lubanga was found guilty in March of recruiting, kidnapping, and abusing children in his Union of Congolese Patriots militia, sending them to kill and be killed during tribal fighting over land and resources in Congo’s northeast Ituri region in 2002-03.
Lubanga’s was the first guilty judgment passed down in the court’s decade-old existence; Tuesday’s announcement was the first time the tribunal sentenced a convicted war criminal.
Otherwise the mustachioed Lubanga, who cried when he was put on a plane from Congo to The Hague in 2006, is a small player among Congo’s many belligerents.
Lubanga’s case has increased pressure for the arrest of his infamous partner, renegade General Bosco Ntaganda of the Congo.
Once a militia leader in Ituri, Ntaganda became the number two leader in a tribal-based rebellion in 2006, when the ICC indicted both men for war crimes involving child soldiers.
In late 2008, when the rebels reached the outskirts of the eastern provincial capital of Goma, Congo’s government was forced to negotiate.
A 2009 peace deal saw Ntaganda wearing the stripes of a general as he integrated his fighters into the Congolese army. President Joseph Kabila dismissed calls for his arrest under the ICC warrant until recently, arguing that Ntaganda’s cooperation was essential to keeping the peace in Congo’s troubled east.