Looks can be deceiving. Thankfully justice is blind (or at least ought to be)
The first thing that struck me about the images of Thomas Lubanga coming out of the International Criminal Court at The Hague this morning was the same thing that caught my attention with Charles Taylor as his sentence was being delivered: the high-quality tailoring of his suit.
Lubanga's attire, much like Mr Taylor’s, doesn’t send my brain subliminal messages that he’s a convicted former warlord (although I'm not exactly sure how they should be dressed). And neither does his placid (almost poker-face) expression as he listened to the delivery of his prison sentence. However, as I've learned (often the hard way) looks can be deceiving and you can't judge a book by his cover (or a man by his suit).
Thankfully the judges sitting at the world’s permanent court designed to try anyone suspected of having committed genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity, weren’t duped by Lubanga’s appearance as they sentenced him to 14 years imprisonment.
As the Guardian reports, Thomas Lubanga was found guilty in March of abducting boys and girls under the age of 15 and forcing them to fight in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's eastern Ituri region in 2002-2003.
The Washington Post’s write up of Lubanga’s sentencing describes it as a “watershed moment for the 10-year-old tribunal and a potential landmark in the struggle to protect children during wartime.”
I would agree that it’s a watershed moment for the ICC as Lubanga’s conviction is the first sentence in the Court’s ten-year history. But I wonder if the fact that it’s taken ten years to deliver justice sends the right signal to the perpetrators of the worst crimes – taking place even today.
From 1994 until its inception, Amnesty fought long and hard for the establishment of the International Criminal Court – a court which would bring to justice anyone who committed war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. Many a cheer was raised from Amnesty’s quarters when it was created, despite the doubters and sceptics from many quarters. So it’s heartening to see it performing according to its original mission.
However, given that it took the ICC six years to take the Lubanga case from arrest to sentencing, I’m slightly concerned that other suspected warlords wanted by the ICC aren’t overly bothered by the ICC’s threat of arrest.
Take Bosco Ntaganda (aka The Terminator) for example. The ICC issued Ntaganda an arrest warrant in May 2008 for war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of fifteen and using them to participate actively in hostilities (sound familiar??!). Tragically he’s yet to be arrested and instead, as is reported today soldiers loyal to Ntaganda continue to wreak havoc in eastern DRC (Lubanga’s old stomping ground).
The ICC has to send a clear message to all suspected warlords that they will be brought to justice sooner rather than later. This can only really be achieved if governments around the world do all they can to support a strong ICC and to enforce existing arrest warrants. At the moment there are several outstanding ICC warrants: President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan is one of the most notorious. Then there’s Joseph Kony, along with others.
Yes, the sentencing of Lubanga is to be celebrated as it sends a signal that no-one can evade justice. But it’s now essential that it doesn’t take another ten years before the ICC is able to bring more suspected warlords to justice.
No one should be allowed to escape the weight of justice no matter who you are. Or how well you’re dressed.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.