In the name of the world

Thomas Lubanga always wanted to go down in history, say companions. But this is hardly how the former Congolese militia leader imagined his appearance in the world's spotlight. Since Monday, he is the first defendant to be tried by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda accused the ex-commander at the start of the trial of recruiting children under the age of 15 as soldiers between September 2002 and August 2003. For these war crimes, the prosecution wants up to 30 years in prison. The 48-year-old Lubanga rejected all accusations. His defense attorney said he pleaded innocent. During the trial, which is expected to last several months, the prosecution intends to prove its allegations with about 1.Support 670 documents and call 34 witnesses, including several former child soldiers. Judges awarded victim status to 93 people. The verdict will be handed down by three judges: Briton Adrian Fulford, Costa Rican Elisabeth Odio Benito and Bolivian Rene Blattmann.

"Not a big fish"

Lubanga is "not a big fish," human rights organizations complain. He is one of many warlords (warlords) in the Central African Congo, and the prosecution has also been criticized as meager. Lubanga is responsible for far worse crimes, they say. But the fact that the historic trial is taking place at all is widely welcomed.For a long time, the criminal proceedings hung by a thread. Last year, judges initially ordered Lubanga's release because the defense did not have all of the documents in the indictment. Only after months of negotiations was the way clear. The tough and painstaking preparations show the great problems of this first world court for the punishment of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo does not have a large investigative apparatus at his disposal. Laboriously, his collaborators in the conflict zones collect testimonies and evidence – and depend on the cooperation of often recalcitrant authorities and international organizations.

Working on a political minefield

The court also operates in a political minefield. On the one hand, the international community wants to convict those responsible for the worst crimes, but on the other hand, it also wants to preserve international peace. This dilemma is particularly evident in the case of Darfur. Chief prosecutor Moreno Ocampo sought arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in July 2008.But even the United Nations warned that a trial of al-Bashir for genocide in Darfur would only further fuel the conflict. The judges have not yet granted the request for an arrest warrant. But even if they do, it is doubtful that Al-Bashir will ever enter the cells of the prison in the Hague seaside resort of Scheveningen.Prosecutor Moreno Ocampo has no police force of his own and is dependent on the help of the respective countries for searches and arrests. "States need to support us much more effectively through concrete arrest actions," says German criminal court judge Hans-Peter Kaul. 'Fine political speeches are not enough'."If arrest warrants against the alleged worst criminals cannot be executed, the court runs the risk of becoming a "paper tiger," he warns.

A pawn in the game right from the start

Even before its foundation, the World Court was a plaything of political interests. Sixty years ago, the international community had already emphasized its firm intention to ensure justice and, above all, to hold those politically responsible for the worst crimes accountable. But the establishment of an independent body was unthinkable during the Cold War.It was not until 1998 that the "Rome Statutes" were adopted for this purpose. 108 states have so far ratified this basic treaty for the criminal court. For years, the USA were declared opponents – for fear that American citizens could also be prosecuted. Early signals indicate that the new U.S. President Barack Obama will take a different position. With U.S. support, the court could be strengthened and better implement the "equal justice for all" principle.If the amption that "you hang the little guys and let the big guys go" is not disproved, credibility is at stake, Judge Kaul warns. A start has been made: With the former Vice President of Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, a "big fish" is already behind bars. Judges are currently considering whether the evidence against Bemba is sufficient for a trial for crimes against humanity. Soon the World Court could hold its second trial.

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