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International Criminal Court lays first charge against Congo militia leader

[JURIST] Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday formally charged [ICC press release; indictment, PDF] Thomas Lubanga [Trial Watch backgrounder], founder of the militant Union of Patriotic Congolese [Global Security backgrounder], accusing him of enlisting child soldiers [BBC report] in the violence-plagued Ituri district [HRW backgrounder]. Lubanga is the first war crimes suspect to be charged at the ICC since it opened in 2002. Though Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] has criticized the court for not charging Lubanga with murder, torture and rape, ICC deputy prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the ICC began with the conscripting child soldier charges [ICC press release; ICC materials] only because the evidence was already available.

Pressure to arrest warlords in the mineral-rich Ituri district increased with the February 2005 murder of nine UN peacekeepers [PBS report]; a month authorities arrested Lubanga for human rights violations [JURIST report]. Congolese officials sent Lubanga to The Hague [JURIST report] in March, making him the first prisoner of the tribunal. Lubanga confirmed his identity but refused to hear the charges against him when he first appeared before the court in March [JURIST report]. BBC News has more.

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