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The world’s first permanent war crimes court opened nearly a decade ago, promising accountability for brutal tyrants, justice for victims and swift trials for perpetrators.
Tomorrow, the International Criminal Court will hand down its first ever verdict, a ruling in the case of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, who was detained six years ago and faces two war crimes charges.
Lubanga’s case may be a milestone, but he is a low-ranking player. The court has yet to go after key individuals responsible for the crimes against humanity and genocide included in its mandate.
Courts are judged by the cases they take on and the legal precedents they set. Lubanga’s verdict is years later than planned. The court’s slow progress is a source of disappointment in countries where crimes still go unpunished.
“The prosecutor is woefully behind schedule. We are all relieved we got to this point,” said William A Schabas, professor of international law at Middlesex University.
“But the big legal judgements of the kind we had at the Yugoslav and Rwanda, Sierra Leone tribunals we are still waiting for from the ICC right now. The ICC has not yet done that,” he said referring to the temporary UN courts that preceded the ICC.
Prosecutors accused Lubanga, 51, of conscripting child soldiers, under the age of 15, to fight for Congolese rebel forces during a five-year war that killed tens of thousands of people.
With the backing of 120 countries, the International Criminal Court has launched investigations in seven conflict regions, all of them African, since it opened in The Hague, Netherlands, in 2003.
The court’s jurisdiction is limited to nations that ratified its statute, or so-called referrals, when governments or the UN Security Council authorises it to intervene, such as in Libya last year.
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