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Saturday 20 September  
Children from Thomas Lubanga's militias
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Bunia, Congo (Kinshasa)
Bunia, Congo (Kinshasa)

After Lubanga: a continued need for justice

Published on : 15 March 2012 - 2:53pm | By RNW Africa Desk (Photo: AFP)
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In Bunia, the capital of Ituri in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Thomas Lubanga's ICC trial verdict of guilt still worked to divide peoples' opinions. The locals are, however,  united by a lack of enthusiasm for the court proceedings.

By Melanie Gouby, Bunia

Seen as a trial for the international community rather than for the local population, the conviction of Thomas Lubanga at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on Wednesday seems far away from the daily concerns of the people in Bunia.

The trial's slow pace and far off location contributed to the general disinterest. But the specific charges made against Lubanga, as well as the vision of the conflict as presented by the prosecution, gave the impression that the trial did not truly reflect the actual events as experienced by those most closely involved.

No trial broadcast
Since the ICC did not organise a live broadcast of the hearing in Bunia, few people were able to follow the issued verdict. "Everyone expected that there would be a broadcast, so we were disappointed that we could not follow it live," says Gloria, a law student. "It's as if they thought we did not care."

ICC's communications team in Ituri defended themselves by saying there was no budget for a broadcast. But many locals question the worth of a trial and verdict that is not properly communicated to them.

"People wanted to more clearly see what Lubanga was really being blamed for. Especially since the international opinion as expressed through the charges against him did not fully reflect the reality that the people lived through here," says Jean-Paul Lonema, a human rights activist.

Criminal or patriot?
The verdict, for those who did know him, was also not unanimously approved. Some are happy that Lubanga was found guilty, even if the charges against him appeared insufficient.

Others regard the verdict as simply unfair. "Thomas is not guilty," asserts Joseph, a 72-year-old farmer. "He defended the interests of the state, that is to say the public interest. There were Ugandans here who were stealing our weapons and gold."

Prosecution criticised
While opinions remain clearly divided, all interviewees agreed that the verdict was at least somewhat discredited by the methods of the prosecution who used intermediaries to find witnesses whose authenticity could then be challenged.

Similarly, the trial does not seem to have satisfied the expectations in regards to redress and reconciliation.

The trial, which began in January 2009, focused solely on the recruitment of child soldiers to the ranks of the armed wing of Lubanga's militia, the UPC. Many wish that other criminal charges had been laid against Lubanga.

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Murder and rape not covered
"The real crime committed in Ituri, was not the recruitment of children, it was murder and rape. If the court could render a decision on these issues, it would have had a more positive impact on reconciliation and peace in the region," said Jean-Paul Lonema. 

However, the verdict could still have a positive influence on the behaviour of armed groups which are still present in eastern DRC, according to many human rights activists. "We can only rejoice that he is condemned for using children. This may act as an example to other warlords," said Emile Dhehana, coordinator of PRADE, a local NGO working to reintegrate former child soldiers.

Criminals still in the community
Whether hero or executioner, Lubanga still divides opinion. Meanwhile the fighters who committed rape and murder still live among the communities, and new abuses have been committed by other armed groups since the conflict ended.

Nearly ten years after the war that ravaged Ituri between 2002 and 2003, many inhabitants of Bunia still crave more justice.

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