On March 14 2012, the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, former commander of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo militia and president of the Union of Congolese Patriots, for his responsibility for the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children and using them to participate actively in hostilities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2002 and 2003. Congolese authorities referred the situation in the DRC to the ICC in 2004.
As the Court’s first conviction, this ruling is an historic and important step in providing justice and accountability for the Congolese people. The conviction is also significant for highlighting as an issue of paramount international concern the brutal practice of conscripting and using children to take a direct part in hostilities. These children are often sent to the front lines of combat or used as porters, guards, or sex slaves, and their conscription reverberates throughout entire communities. This conviction puts perpetrators and would-be perpetrators of unlawful child soldier recruitment and other atrocities on notice that they cannot expect their crimes to go unpunished.
Congolese institutions have a critical role to play in ending impunity in the DRC. The Congolese government has taken recent positive steps, such as the prosecution and conviction in national courts of several Congolese army officers for the mass rapes that took place in the town of Fizi on January 1, 2011. The United States continues to encourage the Congolese government to arrest other alleged human rights violators and abusers still at large.