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Conviction of former Congolese rebel leader "pivotal victory": UNICEF

(Xinhua)

14:40, March 15, 2012

UNITED NATIONS, March 14 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations Children' s Fund (UNICEF) on Wednesday applauded the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the conviction of Thomas Lubanga of war crimes in recruiting children into his armed movement in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

"This is a pivotal victory for the protection of children in conflict," said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake in a UNICEF press release. "The conviction of Thomas Lubanga by the ICC sends a clear message to all armed groups that enslave and brutalize children: Impunity will not be tolerated."

As a result of the landmark ruling, Lubanga is the first warlord to face international justice for using children as weapons of war.

"The exploitation of children by armed groups does more than violate their rights; it robs them of their childhood," said Lake in the press release. "UNICEF is heartened that ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo emphasized the plight of children recruited or used by armed forces or armed groups in his successful prosecution. "

Lubanga, former president of the Unions des Patriotes Congolaise, was found guilty of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them as active participants in the conflict in the DRC in 2002 and 2003.

Thousands of children, some as young as seven, were recruited and used as fighters, as well as other roles such as porters, cooks and sex slaves, by all sides.

In the press release, UNICEF noted that the recruitment and use of children in hostilities is a war crime and noted they have " repeatedly called for the prosecution of those who commit this crime."

"Tens of thousands of children are still victims of these grave violations in at least 15 armed conflicts around the world," said UNICEF. "UNICEF will continue efforts to rescue these children and rehabilitate them."

UNICEF has been working in several countries, including in the DRC, to aid children stuck in conflict, and build education and skills training in communities and especially for women and girls.

Since 2005, at least 35,000 children have been released or escaped from armed forces or armed groups in the DRC alone and have received support from UNICEF and partners to reintegrate into their communities and families, said the press release.

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