ICC suspends DR Congo ex-militia chief's trial

8th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

The International Criminal Court on Thursday suspended Congolese militia chief Thomas Lubanga's trial and rapped prosecutors for abusing court processes and ignoring judges' orders.

"The prosecutor has elected to act unilaterally in the present circumstances and he declines to be 'checked' by the (trial) chamber," said the judgment suspending Lubanga's trail which started in January 2009.

"In these overall circumstances, it is necessary to stay these proceedings as an abuse of the process of the court."

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo's office responded: "We will appeal in the coming days."

The court said that as long as the prosecutor refused to implement judges' orders, "the fair trial of the accused is no longer possible and justice cannot be done".

Lubanga, 49, is charged with war crimes for using children under the age of 15 to fight for his militia during the 1997-2002 civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The judgment said the judges had ordered the prosecutor to disclose to Lubanga's defence team the name of an "intermediary", but he had refused.

"No criminal court can operate on the basis that whenever it makes an order in a particular area, it is for the prosecutor to elect whether or not to implement it," said the judgment.

"He cannot be allowed to continue with this prosecution if he seeks to reserve to himself the right to avoid the court's orders whenever he decides that they are inconsistent with his interpretation of his other obligations.

The court will hear submissions next Thursday on Lubanga's continued detention. He had surrendered to the ICC in March 2006.

The defence claims that false evidence had been fabricated with the assistance of intermediaries used by the prosecutor to find witnesses, and that individuals were paid to give false testimony.

"We are satisfied with the chamber's decision that the prosecutor cannot hold himself above the judges," Lubanga's lawyer Catherine Mabille told AFP Thursday.

Lubanga's trial, the ICC's first, was initially to have started in June 2008 but was stalled when the court ruled that prosecutors had wrongly withheld evidence that was potentially favourable to his defence.

Prosecutors allege that Lubanga's militia abducted children as young as 11 from their homes, schools and football fields and took them to military training camps where they were beaten and drugged. The girls among them were used as sex slaves.

The child soldiers were allegedly deployed in combat between September 2002 and August 2003.

Lubanga is accused of being driven by a desire to maintain and expand his control over the Congo's eastern Ituri region, one of the world's most lucrative gold-mining areas, where rights groups say inter-ethnic fighting has claimed 60,000 lives over the last decade.

© 2010 AFP

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