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Thomas Lubanga, former head of the Union of Congolese Patriots (Union des patriotes congolais [UPC]), a militia-turned-political party, walked out of Makala Prison this past Sunday in the company of his loved ones and fellow UPC members.
Freshly out of prison on Sunday, 15 March, Thomas Lubanga immediately attended mass at Notre Dame de Fatima Church in Kinshasa to celebrate his release. Second Vice President of the Senate John Tibasima was among the attendees.
Speaking for Lubanga, Papy Serge Mayamba, introduced as the former war chief’s lawyer, asserted that his client never committed any wrongdoing.
“He was deprived of his freedom due to a cultural misunderstanding which turned him into a guinea pig for the experimentation of a newly created institution, the ICC,” he said, before adding that Lubanga greeted his release with a spirit of forgiveness rather than one of revenge.
Lubanga was found guilty by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 14 March 2012 of “the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 years and using them to participate actively in hostilities.” On 10 July 2012, he was sentenced to a total of 14 years in prison. The verdict and sentence were confirmed by the Appeals Chamber in December 2014.
On 19 December 2015, Lubanga was ultimately transferred to Makala Prison in Kinshasa to serve out his sentence.
Enlistment of children under the age of 15
The judges concluded in their guilty verdict that “between 1 September 2002 and 13 August 2003, the armed wing of the UPC/FPLC [Forces patriotiques pour la libération du Congo) was responsible for the widespread recruitment of young people, including children under the age of 15, on an enforced as well as a ‘voluntary’ basis.”
On 19 March 2005, the former rebel leader was arrested and detained at the Kinshasa Penitentiary and Re-education Centre (Makala Prison). One year later, on 15 March 2006, he was transferred to the ICC Detention Centre.
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