AUGUST 31, 2010: Victims Say Lubanga Release Would Put Their Lives at Risk

Victims Say Lubanga Release Would Put Their Lives at Risk

SOURCE: Lubanga Trial Website

By Wairagala Wakabi

Victims participating in war crimes accused Thomas Lubanga's trial have told appeals judges that releasing the former Congolese rebel leader would put their lives at risk.

In a filing to the appeals chamber, a legal representative of the victims argued that the trial chamber presided over by Judge Adrian Fulford erred when it halted the proceedings in the trial on July 8, 2010, and then ordered Mr. Lubanga's release a week later.

"As has been the case since the beginning of the proceedings, there is always a risk that Mr. Thomas Lubanga can evade the jurisdiction of the court, especially since he has now become aware of all the evidence against him," said Paolina Massidda, the Principal Counsel of the Office of the Public Counsel for Victims at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Ms. Massidda added in the August 23, 2010 filing that since Mr. Lubanga now knows the identity of all witnesses, and given that the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is still unstable, his release could "now more than before seriously endanger the safety of victims and witnesses involved in the case."

The prosecution has appealed both the stay of proceedings and the release order issued by trial judges. Mr. Lubanga, who faces charges of conscripting, enlisting, and using child soldiers in armed conflict, will remain in ICC custody until appeals judges make a ruling. The appeals chamber has allowed victims to take part in both appeals.

Ms. Massidda contends that trial judges ordered Mr. Lubanga's unconditional release without taking into consideration or assessing the risks that the release could lead to. She said those risks included the accused escaping the jurisdiction of the ICC, that he may obstruct or jeopardize the conduct of proceedings before the court, and that the safety of witnesses and victims could be endangered.

Moreover, Ms. Massidda stated that Mr. Lubanga's release could cause a disturbance to public order, particularly in the Ituri region of DRC and also jeopardize ongoing and future investigations by the Office of The Prosecutor (OTP) at the ICC. "Such risks and dangers, taken together, justify undoubtedly the continued detention of Mr. Thomas Lubanga in custody, most importantly given the temporary nature of the stay of proceedings ordered," concluded Ms. Massidda.

According to the OTP, Mr. Lubanga was the head of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) rebel group, whose armed militia used children under the age of 15 years in inter-ethnic fighting in the Ituri province. Mr. Lubanga has denied the charges that he is alleged to have committed during 2002 and 2003. He has denied having had control over the UPC's armed militia and claimed that he actually strived to demobilize child soldiers from the group.

Mr. Lubanga's defense has also asserted that intermediaries of the OTP bribed and coached prosecution witnesses, including all the individuals who testified that they were former child soldiers in the UPC. The subject of the role intermediaries played in identifying witnesses has been so central that judges directed some of these intermediaries should take the witness stand.

Indeed, it was after the OTP failed to honor an order to disclose the identity of an intermediary, who goes by the court-given number of 143, that trial judges stayed the proceedings. The defense had said it needed to know the identity of this intermediary in order to continue with the questioning of a different intermediary, who at the time was under cross-examination.

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