DR Congo

DRC/ICC: use of child soldiers abuse

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Children cannot consent to their own exploitation, making the use of children in warfare "particularly abusive," an expert witness told the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the trial of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo which resumed last Thursday. Lubanga is accused of enlisting child soldiers into his militia - the Union of Congolese Patriots - during Congo's Ituri conflict.

Children have an "underdeveloped notion of death," Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, told the court's judges. "The lack of the concept of death makes them fearless in battle."

Coomaraswamy testified that many child soldiers she has met joined armed forces because it was the only way they could escape abuse at home. Other children were indirectly coerced into becoming soldiers.

Her testimony also touched on the multiple roles played by girls who are recruited to fight, including combat, scouting, portering and sexual slavery.

The prosecution wrapped up its case against Lubanga last July, and the defence is shortly to begin presenting exculpatory evidence over the coming months, with some 30 witnesses expected to testify.

The prosecution case was presented over 22 weeks and 30 witnesses took the stand. Nearly all prosecution witnesses were granted protective measures, including voice and facial distortion and the use of pseudonyms. A psychologist sat in during the proceedings to support and monitor witnesses.

Lubanga and his defence team were able to see all of the witnesses as they gave their testimony, but some required further special measures to avoid direct eye contact with the accused.