Former child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have finally found reprieve for their suffering during the deadly Congolese civil war after the International Criminal Court (ICC) awarded them $10 million in damages on Friday.
Most of the child soldiers had been forcibly recruited into the militia by the Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga, who is now serving jail time in the DRC after he was convicted by the ICC in 2012.
In its ruling on Friday, the Hague-based court found the 56-year-old warlord guilty of abducting and forcing young boys and girls to join his militant group, the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), which slaughtered thousands of civilians in the mineral-rich Ituri region in Eastern DRC.
The court consequently ordered Lubanga to pay a fine of $10 million to the ex-child soldiers and their relatives. But since the imprisoned guerrilla leader is not in a position to pay the full amount, the judges ordered that part of the payment be drawn from the court’s Trust Fund for Victims, while the rest will be paid by the Congolese government.
Lubanga’s financial situation will, however, remain under scrutiny for the remainder of his 14-year jail term to see if he can contribute something to the compensation.
Rehabilitating the Victims
The international war crimes court also ordered that the money is used to finance psychological support and job training programs for the 427 victims identified during the trial, according to Reuters.
Each former child soldier will get $8,000, giving a total of $3.4 million for the 427 victims, while the remaining $6.6 million will be set aside for possible awards in the future.
“Further evidence established the existence of hundreds or even thousands of additional victims affected by Mr Lubanga’s crimes,” the court noted.
Local activists and civil rights groups have lauded the award as a reprieve for the hundreds of victims, most of whom are now young parents, saying that it recognizes the heinous crimes committed by Lubanga and his group.
“It is really important that this is an acknowledgement that if harm is suffered on a mass scale by victims, you need to take it seriously, you need to recognize that and you need to put an amount to it,” the Director of the Trust Fund for Victims Pieter de Baan told AFP in an interview.
Friday’s compensation is the second reparation award by the International Criminal Court to the victims of the Congolese civil war. In March this year, the court awarded $1,000,000 in damages to 297 victims of another Congolese warlord, Germain Katanga.