Monday, December 24, 2007
Accountability - perhaps. Deterrence - no.
The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court chose as his first case to bring charges against Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese militia leader, for the war crime of recruiting and using child soldiers. These charges were intended to demonstrate the seriousness of this crime and to deter others from continuing the practice – the Rome Statute commits the court to prosecute the perpetrators of international crimes in order to “contribute to the prevention of such crimes.” But the Lubanga trial is not the most salient fact on the ground in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Even as the prosecution moves forward (the trial is currently scheduled to begin on March 31, 2008), the British charity Save the Children reported that since the DRC government began a new military offensive, Congolese militias have been kidnapping increasing numbers of children and forcing them “to fight, carry ammunition, or become their sex slaves.” In light of the exigencies of combat situations, should supporters of the ICC even hope for its prosecutions to have any deterrent effect? And when abuses are so widespread, can the prosecution of a single militia leader have any impact on the public perception of impunity? At least in the short term, it seems that the most the ICC can hope for is individual accountability for Thomas Lubanga alone.