On 11 October 2016, Child Soldiers International presented its submission to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to inform reparations proceedings in the case of The Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo.

Who is Mr Lubanga?

Mr. Lubanga in ICC court proceedings, © ICC-CPI.

In 2012 former Congolese armed group leader, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, was found guilty and sentenced by the ICC to 14 years’ imprisonment for the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 years, and using them to participate actively in hostilities.

Since 2012, experts have been working out how best to help the boys and girls he recruited, some of whom are now in their 30s.

In 2015 the ICC ruled that Mr Lubanga was personally liable for reparations and instructed the Trust Fund for Victims – an independent body set up to help administer ICC reparations – to present a plan for the implementation of reparations for the victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The reparations hearing

The public hearing included representatives from the Trust Fund for Victims, Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, Child Soldiers International, and legal representatives of victims, the Office of Public Counsel for Victims and the Defence. © ICC-CPI

The ICC invited States and specialist organisations to provide advice on projects which would serve as appropriate form of reparations for the victims of Mr Lubanga. Child Soldiers International was one of 15 organisations that made a written submission. 

On the strength of these submissions, Trial Chamber II of the ICC invited Child Soldiers International and Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice to speak at the public hearing on reparations, held on 11 and 13 October 2016.

Bringing the voices of former girl soldiers to the ICC

Child Soldiers International’s research team interviewing former girl soldiers in Bweremana, North Kivu, January 2016.

In January-February 2016, Child Soldiers International’s research team spent six weeks in Eastern DRC. During our time there, we interviewed 150 former girl soldiers about the difficulties they had faced since coming home, and what support would help them most.  

The girls told us about the horrific physical, sexual and emotional abuse they had endured. They told us that their families and communities often struggle to comprehend these experiences, and leave them isolated and excluded. Many spoke of the verbal abuse they still receive, years after returning home.

We heard from the girls about the activities that would help, including counselling; family mediation; and participation in social, cultural and religious activities in the community. The girls were unanimous in their greatest wish: to go back to school. Not only for the benefit of an education, but also to “be like other girls”, and gain social acceptance.

The girls told us that ‘to go to school’ is what they wished for above everything. Above: A former girl soldier with new classmates in Katogota, South Kivu, October 2016.

Our role in the reparations proceeding

Child Soldiers International’s legal counsel, James Mehigan, presenting our submission to the ICC.

Our submission to Trial Chamber II brought the voices of these girls to the ICC. Our legal counsel, James Mehigan of Garden Court Chambers, quoted the girls, speaking of the stigma they face, and advising that any reparation for former child soldiers must contribute to the forgiveness, acceptance and respect of their family and community. He passed on what the girls had told us: "their greatest wish is to go back to school (to) learn and regain the respect of their communities".

What next at the ICC?

Pictured in front of the ICC are Child Soldiers International’s legal counsel, James Mehigan and Director of Programmes, Isabelle Guitard.

On 21 October 2016, Trial Chamber II gave the go-ahead to the Trust Fund for Victims to develop a plan for symbolic collective reparations. This marks a very small step in the long journey towards redress for Mr Lubanga’s victims.

Child Soldiers International will continue to follow-up the reparations process before the ICC to ensure that our recommendations – the views of the girls - are taken into account as much as possible.

What's next for the girls?

Girls attending a literacy and numeracy class in Katogota, South Kivu, October 2016.

Meanwhile, Child Soldiers International is continuing to provide educational support to many of the former girl soldiers who participated in our research study, alongside other vulnerable girls.

Our team returned to eastern DRC in early October to visit them and assess their progress. Of all the girls whom we provided some form of education for, almost half reported that their life had improved. One girl in North Kivu, told us:

The people who didn’t respect me anymore [after having been with the armed group] are now starting to respect me. My life has changed.”

We are continuing to roll out this programme to as many vulnerable girls as possible. To contribute towards a better future for them, please consider supporting our appeal.

Download our oral briefing and written submission to the ICC.

Photo credit for banner image: © ICC-CPI