UNICEF today applauded the International Criminal Court’s conviction of Thomas Lubanga of war crimes for recruiting children into his armed movement in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
As a result of today’s landmark ruling, Lubanga is the first warlord to face international justice for using children as weapons of war.
“This is a pivotal victory for the protection of children in conflict,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. “The conviction of Thomas Lubanga by the International Criminal Court sends a clear message to all armed groups that enslave and brutalize children: Impunity will not be tolerated.”
Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, the former president of the Unions des Patriotes Congolaise, was found guilty of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them as active participants in the conflict in the DRC in 2002 and 2003. Thousands of children, some as young as seven, were recruited and used as fighters, as well as other roles such as porters, cooks and sex slaves, by all sides.
UNICEF noted that the recruitment and use of children in hostilities is a war crime. Often it is the most vulnerable children who are exploited—orphans, and children who have been separated from their families and communities because of violence. UNICEF has repeatedly called for the prosecution of those who commit this crime.
“The exploitation of children by armed groups does more than violate their rights; it robs them of their childhood,” said Lake. “UNICEF is heartened that ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo emphasized the plight of children recruited or used by armed forces or armed groups in his successful prosecution.”
Tens of thousands of children are still victims of these grave violations in at least 15 armed conflicts around the world. UNICEF will continue efforts to rescue these children and rehabilitate them.
UNICEF has been working intensively in several countries, including in the DRC, to help children caught up in conflict—building education and skills training in communities, especially for women and girls. Since 2005, at least 35,000 children have been released or escaped from armed forces or armed groups in the DRC alone and have received support from UNICEF and partners to reintegrate into their communities and families.