JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The International Criminal Court in the Hague found former Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga guilty Wednesday of using children as soldiers, the first verdict in the panel's 10-year history. He could face life imprisonment.
After a three-year trial, the court convicted Lubanga of recruiting boys and girls as soldiers during a civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002 and 2003.
The verdict was seen as a major breakthrough in forcing warlords and politicians to be accountable for atrocities and crimes against humanity, sending a message that international justice eventually would catch up with them.
Three victims gave evidence during the trial, while others participated indirectly, such as by making submissions to the court. The evidence said girls forcibly recruited by Lubanga were used as sex slaves, while videos aired in court showed Lubanga surrounded by child combatants.
The verdict sent a clear message that recruiting and using children as combatants or sex slaves is a crime against humanity. Tens of thousands of children continue to be used in wars across the continent, according to humanitarian agencies.
The defendant claimed he had discouraged the use of children in combat, an assertion rejected by the court.
Other African leaders or warlords indicted by the court include Joseph Kony, of the Lords Resistance Army, whose activities in Uganda were highlighted in a video that got about 70 million views last week. He is thought to be hiding in the Central African Republic.