The value of a lost childhood

War crimes judges award compensation to child soldiers who served under DRC warlord

International war crimes judges awarded $10-million (R133-million) in landmark reparations to hundreds or thousands of former child soldiers conscripted into a Congolese militia and left brutalised by the horrific experience.

Warlord Thomas Lubanga, 56, was jailed for 14 years after being convicted in 2012 at the International Criminal Court (ICC) of abducting boys and girls and press-ganging them into his Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) in the eastern Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The judges said Lubanga was also liable for compensation due to 425 victims, identified by the court, and who at the time of the crimes in 2002-03 were all under 15.

But they stressed that “hundreds or even thousands of additional victims” suffered at the hands of Lubanga’s militia.

Each of the 425 named victims had suffered harm amounting to $8 000 (R107 000) each, for a total of $3.4-million (R45-million), presiding judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut said.

The judges then awarded a further $6.6-million to help others who may now come forward. The award is collective, and will be used in projects to help the victims. The question of how to calculate the value of a lost childhood, which descended into a fog of violence, bloodshed and chaos, had bedevilled the courts.

With the passage of time, many of the victims are now in their 30s and have children of their own.

“How do you calculate a lost youth? What is it worth? A million, half a million, five thousand euros, a thousand euros?” lawyer Luc Walleyn asked the tribunal in The Hague during hearings last year.

Many of the girls forced into the militia’s ranks became sex slaves and returned home with babies.

Yesterday’s award will be administered by the independent Trust Fund for Victims. It has put forward a three-year plan for projects to help the victims, including medical and psychological treatment, schooling and vocational training.

But it would have to lean heavily on member states of the ICC to help fund yesterday’s award, director Pieter de Baan said. Lubanga has been deemed to be penniless.

The nongovernmental organisation Child Soldiers International, which works to stop children being used in conflicts, said girls they interviewed in DR Congo, had recounted “indescribable hardships, loneliness and terror – including daily threats of death”.

Being able to finish their schooling was “the most ardent wish of the girls, and the most powerful factor in promoting their social acceptance,” the group said in a court submission.

“The main issue for these girls was the stigmatisation and rejection when they came back home,” Child Soldiers International project manager Sandra Olsson said.

She argued that a public apology by Lubanga, who has never admitted any responsibility, would go a long way towards their reintegration.

Lubanga, who is serving his sentence in the DR Congo, can appeal against the decision. And his lawyer, Jean-Marie Biju-Duval, had argued last year that his client should not pay anything.

Any payouts risked reviving tensions in Ituri, which has been “overwhelmed by the phenomenon of child soldiers”, Biju-Duval said.

Lubanga’s is the third reparations case to be decided at the ICC. – AFP

Leave a Reply