[JURIST] Former Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga [ICC materials; JURIST news archive] pleaded not guilty on Monday in the historic first trial of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. Lubanga, founder of the militant Union of Patriotic Congolese [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], is charged [JURIST report] with enlisting child soldiers under 15 years old and using them to facilitate violence and human rights abuses in the Ituri district [HRW backgrounder] between September 2002 and August 2003. The trial is anticipated to last several months [ICC press release] and will include 34 witnesses on behalf of the prosecution, many of whom are former child soldiers. Also present at the trial are 93 victims that can apply for reparations.
The trial was scheduled to begin in June 2008, but the ICC imposed an indefinite stay [JURIST report] out of fear that prosecutorial misconduct could deny Lubanga a fair trial. The court accused the prosecution of using confidentiality agreements to withhold possible exonerating evidence. In November 2008, the ICC lifted the suspension [JURIST report] after prosecutors in the case agreed to share the undisclosed evidence with the court. Lubanga became the first war crimes defendant to appear before the ICC after he was taken into custody [JURIST reports] in March 2006. Lubanga's long-delayed trial [JURIST report] is scheduled to be the ICC's first since its creation in 2002.