ICC awards DR Congo child soldiers $10m in damages

The fund will also provide medical and psychological treatment to victims. (Reuters)
Updated 16 December 2017
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ICC awards DR Congo child soldiers $10m in damages

THE HAGUE: International war crimes judges on Friday awarded $10 million in landmark reparations to “hundreds or thousands” of former child soldiers left brutalized and stigmatized after being conscripted into a ruthless Congolese militia.
Warlord Thomas Lubanga, 56, was jailed for 14 years after being convicted in 2012 at the International Criminal Court (ICC) of abducting boys and girls and press-ganging them into his Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) in the eastern Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo).
The judges said Friday that Lubanga, who is serving his sentence in a Congolese prison, was also liable for compensation to 425 victims, identified by the court. At the time of the crimes in 2002-2003, all were under 15.
They stressed, though, that it was difficult to determine the exact number of child soldiers drawn into Lubanga’s militia — many of whom were exploited as bodyguards or sex slaves — saying there were “hundreds or even thousands of additional victims.”
Each of the 425 named victims had suffered harm amounting to $8,000, giving a total of $3.4 million, presiding judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut said.
But in a surprise move, the judges then awarded a further $6.6 million to help any others who may now come forward.
The award is collective, and will be used in projects to help victims rebuild their lives and integrate back into society.
Local rights groups welcomed the award, saying it was a relief for victims, many of whom are now in their 30s with children of their own.
“What is important to us, is not the amount attached to this award... the main thing is that it has been recognized that there are victims in this case,” said Xavier Maki from the Justice Plus group.
The award, equivalent to €8.5 million, will be administered by the independent Trust Fund for Victims, which has already drawn up a three-year project to help Lubanga’s victims, and set aside €1 million for the case.
Fund director Pieter de Baan told AFP the $10 million award was a victory for the victims.
“It is really important that this is an acknowledgement that if harm is suffered on a mass scale by victims, you need to take it seriously, you need to recognize that and you need to put an amount to it,” he said.
But the fund, which is solely supported by donations from ICC member states, said it would be “challenging” to come up with the money, after the court also declared Lubanga penniless.
“We don’t have $10 million. We didn’t know what was coming, we had no idea. We have in our reserves €5.5 million,” he said, adding he would be appealing for more funds from ICC member-states.
The fund will assess the needs of each victim, and provide medical and psychological treatment. Other forms of help will include educational and vocational training.
The NGO Child Soldiers International, which works to stop children being used in conflicts, welcomed Friday’s award as the “recognition of the great suffering experienced by the children exploited and abused” by Lubanga.
They hoped it would “act as a catalyst in showing that those who recruit and exploit children in conflict will be held accountable for their crimes,” said program manager Sandra Olsson.
Ituri remains “a highly militarised province” and the use of child recruits remains prevalent, she warned, urging the authorities and international bodies “to ramp up” efforts to free children and prosecute abusers. Lubanga can appeal the decision, and his lawyers have argued he should not pay anything.
“Who are these victims that the court is going to compensate?” asked Pele Kaswara Tahigomu, a leading member of Lubanga’s party in Bunia, adding the ruling was “just another move against” Lubanga.
Lubanga’s is the ICC’s third reparations award. In March, judges awarded $250 each to 297 victims of another Congolese warlord, Germain Katanga.
And in August, the court ruled a Malian militants caused €2.7 million in damage when he destroyed several Timbuktu shrines in 2012.


Prince Charles visits UK site of nerve agent attack

Updated 11 min 59 sec ago
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Prince Charles visits UK site of nerve agent attack

  • Prince Charles and his wife Camilla visited Salisbury on Friday to support the city as it tries to recover from the impact of this year’s poison attack on a former Russian double agent and his daughter.
  • Visitor numbers have fallen since Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a bench in March.

SALISBURY: Prince Charles and his wife Camilla visited Salisbury on Friday to support the city as it tries to recover from the impact of this year’s poison attack on a former Russian double agent and his daughter.
They visited businesses and met local residents before attending a reception for those most closely involved in trying to restore the city’s tourist trade.
Visitor numbers have fallen since Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a bench in March.
They had been poisoned with a Cold War era nerve agent for which the government blamed Russia, plunging bilateral relations to a new low, although the Kremlin denied any involvement.
Charles and Camilla also held a private meeting with Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey who fell ill after coming into contact with the Novichok nerve agent after trying to help the Skripals.
For weeks, the predominant images coming from this elegant southern city were not those of England’s tallest cathedral spire but of police roadblocks and cordoned-off streets as investigators in hazchem suits swept the area.
Re-stimulating tourism in Salisbury has been a priority after visitor numbers fell some 20 percent. Nine businesses folded as a result of the incident, on top of a reduced footfall of up to 80 percent in the immediate vicinity of the poisoning.
Sergei Skripal, 66, was part of a spy swap between Russia and Britain in 2010 and had since made Salisbury his home. He was released from hospital last month after spending weeks in an induced coma.
Yulia Skripal, 33, left hospital in April and spoke last month to Reuters, outlining her desire to return to Russia in the future despite the poisoning.
“My life has been turned upside down,” she said.