World court orders restart of Congo militiaman's trial

8th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

The International Criminal Court on Friday ordered the resumption of the war crimes trial of Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga, stalled since July, and reversed an order to free him.

"The decision to stay proceedings must be reversed," judge Sang-Hyun Song, president of the court's appeals chamber, said in The Hague.

Lubanga, 49, went on trial in January 2009 accused of using children under the age of 15 to fight for his militia during the five-year civil war in Democratic Republic of Congo which ended in 2003.

The ICC suspended his trial on July 8 after criticising chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo for abusing court processes and ignoring judges' orders.

Ocampo had been ordered to disclose to Lubanga's defence team the name of an "intermediary" used by prosecution investigators to find witnesses, which he refused to do.

On July 15, the court ordered that Lubanga be freed as his detention was "no longer fair" given the suspension of the trial. The execution of this ruling was delayed pending the outcome of the prosecutor's appeal against both decisions.

While the prosecutor's behaviour was wrong, said Song, the trial chamber's decision to stay the proceedings was "drastic".

"The trial chamber erred by resorting immediately to a stay of proceedings without first imposing sanctions and allowing such sanctions an opportunity to bring about the prosecution's compliance with its order."

Since the decision to release Lubanga was predicated on an incorrect decision, "so too the decision to release Mr Lubanga Dyilo must be reversed," said the judge.

Lubanga, who surrendered to the ICC in March 2006, has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His defence team accuses prosecutors of using false witnesses.

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.

© 2010 AFP

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