Lawyers wrap up court’s first trial

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — With Angelina Jolie watching from the public gallery, International Criminal Court prosecutors wrapped up their landmark first trial Thursday with an emotional plea to judges to deliver justice to the world.

Benjamin Ferencz, an American lawyer who was a U.S. prosecutor at the post-World War II Nuremberg trials of Nazi commanders, rounded off the prosecution’s case against Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga, who is charged with recruiting child soldiers and sending them to kill and be killed in his country’s brutal civil conflict.

“Seizing and training young people to hate and kill presumed adversaries undermines the legal and moral firmament of human society,” the 91-year-old American international law expert told the three-judge panel at The Hague. “Let the voice and the verdict of this esteemed global court now speak for the awakened conscience of the world.”

Jolie, a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said she was honored to watch Ferencz in action and witness the end of the trial.

“It is quite striking to have a prosecutor from Nuremburg here today,” she said. “You see his clarity, his wisdom, his strength and his compassion for this situation which he has witnessed over the years and now he’s here to plead on behalf of these children in particular.”

Jolie called the end of the trial, “an extraordinary moment for international justice but more than that for children of the world.”

Earlier, Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told judges that evidence in the trial that began in January 2009 gave voice to children that Lubanga had “transformed into killers; those girls Mr. Lubanga offered to his commanders as sexual slaves.”

Bensouda said the armed wing of Lubanga’s Union of Congolese Patriots political party trained hundreds of children in 20 camps scattered across the Ituri region of eastern Congo in 2002-2003.

“They were used to fight in conflicts. They were used to kill, rape and pillage,” she added.

Lubanga’s defense lawyers are expected to tell judges on Friday the prosecution evidence was flawed by false witness testimony and Lubanga, in fact, tried to liberate child soldiers, not recruit them.

Lubanga’s trial has been hailed as a significant step in the development of international law. It was the first international case to focus exclusively on child soldiers and was the opening trial at the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal.

However, the trial was also overshadowed by delays and by friction between prosecutors and judges.

The trial was put on hold in June 2008 — just 10 days before it was scheduled to start — when judges ruled Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo had not given lawyers evidence that could have helped Lubanga. He refused to turn over some 200 documents because they came from organizations including the U.N. on condition they not be disclosed to others.

Moreno-Ocampo eventually got consent from all the organizations to disclose the material, allowing the trial to start.

But judges halted it in July 2010 and ordered Lubanga released when prosecutors defied a court order to reveal the identity of an intermediary who had helped prosecutors.

Prosecutors appealed and Lubanga remained in his cell, but the incident underscored simmering tensions between prosecutors and judges.

Faced with the prospect of the case collapsing, prosecutors revealed the identity of their intermediary to the defense and the trial resumed.

The tensions resurfaced Thursday when Presiding Judge Adrian Fulford refused to let Moreno-Ocampo answer a question addressed to one of his team of lawyers.

“Mr. Ocampo, can we please have some order,” Fulford said. When Moreno-Ocampo tried again to answer, Fulford sternly told the prosecutor: “Mr. Ocampo, not at the moment.”

Lubanga was arrested in March 2006, the first suspect to come into the custody of the International Criminal Court, which became operational in 2002.

The court has since issued indictments in high profile flashpoints such as the Darfur conflict in Sudan and the Gadhafi regime’s brutal but unsuccessful campaign to stamp out dissent.

While welcoming the groundbreaking child soldier charges, human rights groups have criticized prosecutors for the narrow scope of the trial, saying they should also have charged Lubanga for numerous rapes that victims say members of his militia perpetrated in a region notorious for widespread sexual violence.

Others, however, have applauded the likely deterrent effect of the trial.

The U.N. special envoy for children in armed conflicts, Radhika Coomaraswamy, said leaders in conflict zones have often asked her about the ICC and the Lubanga prosecution.

“I found that fear of the ICC a healthy development in international law,” Coomaraswamy told the Associated Press. “Nobody can measure how many children have been saved because of deterrence. That’s not something you can measure, but hopefully that will be the case.”

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