[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] held a hearing [press release] Thursday to determine whether there was enough evidence to proceed to trial in the case [ICC materials] against a Congolese militia leader. Thomas Lubanga [Trial Watch backgrounder; JURIST news archive], founder of the militant Union of Patriotic Congolese [Global Security backgrounder], was formally charged [ICC press release; indictment, PDF] with 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. Prosecutors hope to draw attention [press release] to the widespread practice in Africa and other parts of the world of recruiting child soldiers; the UN reports that approximately 300,000 children are soldiers in conflicts around the world. The pre-trial hearing is expected to last three weeks after which judges have 60 days to decide whether to proceed with a full trial.
Pressure to arrest warlords in the mineral-rich Ituri district increased with the February 2005 murder of nine UN peacekeepers [PBS report]; a month later 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. Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] has criticized the court [press release] for not charging Lubanga with murder, torture and rape although it acknowledged that "the hearing to confirm these important charges marks a milestone for the victims in Ituri." If convicted, Lubanga would face a maximum life sentence. AP has more.