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ICC upholds conviction of Congo rebel chief

The International Criminal Court has upheld Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga’s conviction for recruiting and using child soldiers, handing down its first-ever appeals verdict.

“The Appeals Chamber by majority confirms the conviction decision and rejects the appeal,” Erkki Kourula, presiding judge, said at The Hague-based court on Monday.

Thomas Lubanga was sentenced to 14 years in prison in March 2012 for recruiting and using child soldiers in 2002 and 2003, in a verdict hailed as a landmark in international justice and a deterrent that would resonate around the world.

Lubanga, 53, was the first suspect convicted by the international court, 10 years after its creation.

Lubanga’s Union of Congolese Patriots fought against militias from the Lendu ethnic group, including the Congolese Popular Army and the Patriotic Resistance Force in the Ituri region.

The conflict was part of a wider war in the Democratic Republic of Congo in which several million people are thought to have died.

Some Congolese were disappointed with Lubanga’s sentence, and wanted a harsh punishment such as the 50 years handed down in May 2012 by another court in The Hague to former Liberian president Charles Taylor for war crimes in Sierra Leone.

But Lubanga’s sentence was shortened because of his good behavior in the face of the prosecutor’s failure to disclose some evidence and giving misleading statements to the media, the presiding judge said.

The Hague-based court was set up to punish and discourage the world’s worst crimes through a new system of international justice, but its critics say it has moved too slowly and failed to put its most important suspects on trial.

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