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Page last updated at 15:03 GMT, Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Congo war crimes trial 'unfair'

Thomas Lubanga at the ICC, 26 Jan 2009 (image courtesy of the ICC)
Thomas Lubanga insists he was trying to bring peace to the Ituri region

The war crimes trial against former Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga is "prejudicial", his lawyer has told day two of the case at The Hague.

She claimed the prosecution's use of anonymous witnesses and secrecy clauses for the International Criminal Court (ICC) trial would hamper the defence.

Mr Lubanga, 48, denies using hundreds of child soldiers in DR Congo's five-year conflict, which ended in 2003.

The case is the first to come before the ICC.

Mr Lubanga was the leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) and its armed wing at the time of the alleged crimes in 2002-2003, and still has strong support among his Hema community in Ituri.

'Political trial'

Defence counsel Catherine Mabille told the court: "How can we have a fair trial under [these] conditions?

"There has been a wholesale abuse of the rules by the office of the prosecutor. The [situation] is prejudicial and detrimental to the defence."

THOMAS LUBANGA
Thomas Lubanga in 2003

Leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots, an ethnic Hema militia

Accused of recruiting children under 15 as soldiers
Arrested in Kinshasa in March 2005
Held by the ICC at The Hague since 2006
Born in 1960, has a degree in psychology

She complained that the majority of alleged victims represented at the trial are anonymous and many prosecution witnesses will testify behind closed doors.

Claiming the defence and the public had been excluded from about half of pre-trial hearings, Ms Mabille also said this prevented her client from defending himself adequately.

"If we do things this way, international criminal justice will become very secretive," Ms Mabille told the three presiding judges, according to the AFP news agency.

Her colleague Jean-Marie Biju-Duval said the trial was political and that government forces had recruited child soldiers.

"The prosecution has chosen to spare those who bear the highest responsibility and rather focus on somebody there is a desire to eliminate for political reasons," he said.

Mr Lubanga insists he was trying to bring peace to Ituri, a region in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo wracked by years of conflict between rival groups seeking to control its vast mineral wealth.

Seeking a sentence of up to 30 years, prosecutors say child soldiers enlisted for Mr Lubanga's Hema militia were used to kill members of the rival Lendu ethnic group, or as his bodyguards.

Children were allegedly abducted on their way to school or to sports fields and young girls were taken as sexual slaves by militia commanders as soon as they reached puberty.

The UN says more than 30,000 children were recruited during the fighting, which saw some 60,000 people lose their lives.

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