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Congo: Thomas Lubanga found guilty of using child soldiers

Thomas Lubanga's guilty verdict is a first step towards justice in Congo and elsewhere.
Congo thomas lubanga icc 2012 3 14Enlarge
Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga sits in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, on Aug. 25, 2011. (Michael Kooren/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — It's taken a decade and more than a billion dollars but at last the International Criminal Court has handed down a verdict to an accused war criminal.

Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese warlord from the eastern Ituri region, was found guilty of recruiting and using child soldiers. Lubanga commanded an ethnic Hema milita which launched murderous attacks on Lendu communities in the early 2000s as neighboring Uganda and Rwanda backed rival proxies in the mineral-rich region.

More from GlobalPost: ICC finds Thomas Lubanga guilty of using child soldiers

Human Rights Watch, whose researchers have documented many of the atrocities committed by Lubanga and others over the years, greeted the verdict as "a victory for the thousands of children forced to fight in Congo’s brutal wars" and said it was "a warning to rights abusers" worldwide.

It is an important first step towards achieving some kind of justice for the years of fighting and horrific abuses in eastern Congo, a place where conflict continues in some parts even today. But there is much still to be done.

One man — Bosco Ntaganda — epitomizes the terrible pragmatism at play in Congo: he was Lubanga's deputy and is also wanted by the ICC but far from being in the dock he is a serving general in the Congolese army. He roams freely around the town of Goma and has even played a commanding role in joint military operations with the UN peacekeeping mission.

Wednesday's verdict will be a relief for outgoing Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and is a vindication of the ICC which has faced criticism for failing to conclude trials, up to now. It must be hoped other verdicts will swiftly follow.

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