Name: Thomas Lubanga Dyilo
Nationality: Democratic Republic of Congo
Arrested: March 2005
Handed over to the International Criminal Court: March 2006
Charged with: War crimes of conscripting, enlisting, and using child soldiers in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Current Status: Standing trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.
Trial Start Date: January 26, 2008.

The trial of Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo at the International Criminal Court (ICC) began January 26, 2008. He stands accused of war crimes; specifically, he is accused of conscripting, enlisting, and using child soldiers in the conflict in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Despite intense interest in the ICC’s first-ever trial, many people are confused about the case. Questions range from why it has taken so long for the trial to start to whether Lubanga should have been set free.

The following overview looks at key events in Lubanga’s case to date, and why it has taken so long for his trial to start.

The International Criminal Court Investigation and Lubanga’s Arrest
ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo started his investigation into crimes in the DRC in June 2004. He issued a warrant for Lubanga’s arrest in January 2006 in connection with Lubanga’s alleged responsibility for the war crime of conscripting, enlisting, and using child soldiers under the age of 15 to further the war in the DRC’s Ituri district during 2002 and 2003.

Lubanga was arrested in March 2005 and transferred from the DRC to the ICC a year later, in March 2006. In January 2007, the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber I confirmed the charges against him, deciding enough evidence existed to justify a trial. Delays plagued the start of the trial, but it was eventually scheduled to begin on June 23, 2008. 

Ten days before the trial was supposed to start, the ICC’s Trial Chamber halted Lubanga’s trial because they were concerned his trial would not be fair. A fair trial requires that any person accused of a crime have access to “exculpatory information,” or information that might help prove his innocence. The prosecutor is required to disclose any exculpatory information he has collected, so that the accused person can properly prepare his defense.

In Lubanga’s case, the prosecutor had not disclosed all the exculpatory information. He had kept to himself more than 200 documents—some of which contained potentially exculpatory evidence—which had been collected with the help of other organizations, including the United Nations and nongovernment organizations. He had not shared these documents because he had entered into confidentiality agreements with these organizations under a special provision in the ICC’s founding document, the Rome Statute (Article 54(3)(e)). This provision is intended to facilitate the prosecutor’s investigation by encouraging third parties to provide information for the purpose of generating new evidence—evidence that may not be disclosed absent the third party’s consent. This need for confidentiality was in part due to security concerns of these organizations, which feared for the safety of people who had given the information if their identities were revealed in documents handed to Lubanga’s defense lawyers.

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