Reflections on Victims Participation in the Lubanga Judgment

By: Goldah Nekesa Matete*

On 14 March 2012, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo (“Lubanga”) was convicted of committing, as co-perpetrator, war crimes consisting of enlisting and conscripting of children under the age of 15 years into the Force patriotique pour la libération du Congo [Patriotic Force for the Liberation of Congo] (FPLC), and using them to participate actively in hostilities in the context of an armed conflict not of an international character from 1 September 2002 to 13 August 2003 punishable under article 8(2)(e)(vii) of the Rome Statute (”Statute”).[1] Trial Chamber 1 (“Trial Chamber”) of the International Criminal Court (“ICC) rendered the unanimous judgement with two judges issuing separate dissenting opinions on some issues.

Article 68 of the Statute makes provision for the protection of the victims and witnesses, and their participation in the proceedings, at the ICC. The Statute effectively grants the victims the locus standi to take an active part in the proceedings as individual legal persons.

In the Lubanga trial there were a total of 129 victim participants authorised by the Chamber, 34 of which were female and 95 were male.[2] The Chamber divided the victim participants into two groups, each one represented by a Common Legal Representative.[3] In addition the Chamber authorised the Office of Public Counsel for Victims (OPCV)[4] to represent four more victims.[5]The 129 victims participated in the proceedings by introducing evidence, questioning witnesses, and advancing written and oral submissions.[6]

Following the victims’ application for participation in the proceedings, the Trial Chamber issued a decision (Judge Blattman separately and partially dissenting)[7] allowing them to participate in the proceedings even though some did not have official documents of identification.[8]This decision was appealed before the Appeals Chamber, mainly concerning the issue of victims producing formal identification before being authorised to participate in the proceedings. The Appeals Chamber partially reversed the decision, holding that the applicants could prove their identity by way of a range of official and non-official documents, based on the situation in DRC Congo and potential difficulties in obtaining and producing official copies of identity.[9] The Appeals Chamber further held that:

(i) a victim is someone who experienced personal harm, individually or collectively with others, directly or indirectly, in a variety of different ways such as physical or mental injury, emotional suffering or economic loss;[10](ii)  participation by the victims must be in accordance to the provisions of Rule 89(1)[11] of the Rules; (iii) the applicants must demonstrate a link between the harm they suffered and the crimes faced by the accused;(iv) the applicants should demonstrate in written application that they are victims of these offences,[12] and that their personal interests were  affected.[13]

The Appeals Chamber also gave the victims’ the rights: to consult the record of the proceedings, including the index subject to confidentiality restrictions; to receive notification of all public filings and those confidential filings which concern them; to request the Chamber to use its broad powers to call all the materials it considers relevant for the determination of the truth; to participate in public hearing;  to file written submissions, and a right for anonymous victims to participate in the proceedings.[14]

The Chamber granted all 129 applicants the right to participate in the proceeding. All the applicants claimed to have suffered harm, either as a result of, the crime of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 into the FPLC, or their use to participate actively in the hostilities, and others as a result of sexual violence,[15]torture and other forms of inhuman treatment which are not subject of the charges against Lubanga.[16]

Most of the victims were former child soldiers, although some are parents, or relatives of former child soldiers, and one is a school.[17] Some children were also granted rights to participate directly without an adult or legal guardian representing them.[18]Most of the victims in this case were provided with protective measures, in particular, anonymity, because of their vulnerable position living in areas of ongoing conflict.[19]Out of the total 129 victims, only 23 have been disclosed to the parties in the proceedings.[20] The Chamber also granted some victims dual status of victim and witness,[21]ruling that dual status persons do not accrue rights above and beyond those who are solely victims or witnesses.[22] The four victims represented by the OPVC were dual status victims; three gave evidence as witnesses during the trial on behalf of the School.[23] These three witnesses were provided in-court protective measures that included voice and face distortion and pseudonyms.



The Rules of Procedure and Evidence (“Rules”) of the ICC provide for a definition of victims as ‘natural persons who have suffered harm as a result of the commission of any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court.”[24]Victims may include organizations or institutions that have sustained direct harm to any of their property which is dedicated to religion, education, art or science or charitable purposes and to their historic monuments, hospitals and other places and objects for humanitarian purposes.”[25]

The definition provided by the Statute restricts the of ‘victims’ to only those that have suffered harm as a result of the crimes charged; there must be a causal connection between the alleged crimes and the harmful results.[26]However the Chamber in its judgement relied on principle 8 of the “Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Lawas adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly Resolution 60/147, to propoundabroad definition of the meaning of “victim.” The adopted definition reads as follows: “[s]omeone who experienced personal harm, individually or collectively with others, directly or indirectly, in a variety of different ways such as physical or mental injury or emotional suffering or economic loss.” Inthe same vein, the Chamber gave rights to former child soldiers, parents, a school, relatives and legal guardians.[27]It is instructive to note that the Chamber treated the child soldiers as victims and not participants in the crime at this point, and persons who suffered under the hands of the victims were not considered victims within the set out definition of the Trial Chamber.[28]

This chosen definition broadens the characterization of victims to include those who were not directly harmed but suffered the damage as third parties. It has been argued elsewhere[29] that this is a correct approach in light of the huge collateral impact of international crimes on third persons and their immense emotional and psychological suffering. However, such a broad approach requires a comprehensive strategy to limit the number of indirect victim participants. Some scholars like Stefanie Bock suggest that indirect victim participants should in addition demonstrate the personal relationship between themselves and the direct victim, as well as provide evidence demonstrating the extend of emotional or physical harm they have suffered.[30]

It appears that the prosecution focused on the definition provided for in the Rules in charging Lubanga, hence the focus on the crime of enlisting and conscription of child soldiers, and entirely leaving out sexual offences crimes, which had a great number of victims who suffered as a consequence of the crime of enlisting and conscription of children under the age of 15 into FPLC.[31] It is indeed worth noting that the Chamber exercised its discretionary powers in allowing persons to participate in the proceedings as victims, and even then, it failed to confine itself to the strict definition of victims resulting in the broad range of person who participated as victim participants.[32]

During the Confirmation of Charges hearing, the Pre-Trial Chamber in assessing the application for victim participation did so, on a prima facie basis in consideration of the provisions provided in the Rules,[33] and not on the known legal threshold of “beyond reasonable doubt”which requires a high standard of proof. This is because, at the time of confirmation of charges hearing, it is not clear whether the alleged crimes have actually been committed by the accused or not, since the standard applied to refer a case to the Trial Chamber is on a prima facie basis.[34]

Some of the witnesses (witness P-0007, P-0008, P-0011 and P-0298) who were granted permission to participate in the proceedings,[35] as the information at that time, was sufficient to establish on a prima facie basis that they were victims,[36] lost their right to participate in the proceedings when the majority of the judges sitting on the case came to the conclusion that they were not reliable and they did not give accurate information to the Chamber.[37] Similarly the Chamber withdrew the right of P-0298 to participate in the proceedings while he had initially been permitted to as an indirect victim based on the information that his son had been recruited as a child soldier.[38] The Chamber withdrew his right to participate in the proceedings after hearing evidence that his son had in fact not been recruited as a child soldier. The Chamber, in my view, failed to correctly distinguish the roles played by dual status victim witnesses, thereby, incorrectly withdrawing the right to participate in the proceedings of these victims by assessing their victim status on a “beyond reasonable doubt” standard.

Rightly so, the Chamber’s decision to grant a person rights to participate in the proceedings at the Pre Trial phase should not be final. If the Chamber in its further investigation concludes that its prima facie assessment was incorrect, it should discharge and or appropriately amend any earlier order as to the participation, to the extent necessary.[39] This approach strikes a balance between unnecessarily restricting victims’ admission to the proceedings and the defence interest not to be unduly laboured with participants who are not victims strictly speaking.[40]

However Judge Elizabeth Odio Benito was of a different opinion as regards taking away the right to participate of victims whose testimony as witnesses was contradictory. [41] She states with regards to the victim witnesses who testified, “[t]hat […] the contradictions and weaknesses of these two individuals as witnesses in the proceedings should not affect their status as victims with the right to participate in the trial proceedings.”[42] Judge Odio Benito was of the opinion that with respect to the dual status victim witnesses, and based on the fact that different standards of proof are adopted (i.e. in the case of witness testimony, the standard is beyond reasonable doubt to establish whether an accused is guilty or not whereas in the case of a victim, a prima facie standard is adopted) it is incorrect to adopt the beyond reasonable doubt standard in determining whether a victim should continue exercising their right to participate in the proceedings or not based on their testimony as witnesses.[43]She also points that it is unfair to impose upon individuals with dual status a higher threshold as regards their victim status, while all other victims participating in the proceedings have not been subject to thorough examination by the parties and the Chambers.[44]It is on this basis that she concludes that the inconsistencies in the victim witnesses’ testimony do not necessarily mean that their evidence as to being victims should not be relied upon.

In light of an examination of the Statute, Rules, Regulation, academic works and case law one can conclude that the first judgement of the ICC is not entirely satisfactory vis-a-vis the protection of the interests of victims and victim witnesses. Indeed it would seem the court failed to develop watertight jurisprudence to safeguard the rights of victims and in particular, victim child soldiers.

I submit that the first error made by the Bench sitting on this case was that it failed to critically examine and analyse most issues at the Trial stage and instead relied heavily and sometimes almost entirely on the Confirmation of Charges Decision. This led to subsequent mistakes in the final decision. For instance, protection regimes adopted for victims were not addressed again at all at the trial stage and the Trial Chamber adopted in toto the position which was taken by the Pre Trial Chamber ruling out an independent legal and factual analysis on the same.

The Chamber’s choice to disregard the sexual violence crimes merely because they were not included by the prosecution in the charges against the accused was a disservice to the victims of the crimes of which Mr. Lubanga was found guilty. I agree with Judge Odio Benito’s dissenting opinion that sexual violence and enslavement are illegal acts and are directly caused by the illegal crime of enlisting, conscription and the use of children under the age of 15 years. The ICC’s constitutive and procedural regime establishes a high standard for the protection of victims and witnesses and for the Court to give anything less than the high standards is impermissible. It would seem, from the said decision, that the court developed jurisprudence that limited its powers to punish crime and especially sexual crime that was proven beyond reasonable doubt to be committed, but where the prosecution in a most astounding error failed to include in its charges. Should the Court turn its back on clear and evident crimes committed that fall within its jurisdiction merely because the said crimes were not incorporated into the charges against an accused(s) person(s)? Certainly not. It is instructive at this stage to note that many countries around the world have criminal jurisdictions in their municipal laws that allow a court to punish lesser offences even when they were not incorporate in the charges but the same were proved during trial. The Trial Chamber could have incorporated this approach in this respect, since the Legal Representatives of Victims, severally raised the issue of sexual crimes during trial, and the Defence had a chance to provide rebuttal evidence. Should one argue that this would be prejudicial to the accused, then; an accuseds’ rights should not defeat justice and truth at any time or else it will be a sad day for justice, and especially to the victims who suffered the heinous crimes.

The Chamber is the custodian of the law and the interest of all parties involved in a trial. However, it does look like the Chamber was more aligned to protecting the rights of the accused as opposed to balancing the rights of all parties; it’s based on this that the Chamber treated victim witnesses as witnesses hence the taking away the rights of some of them to participate in the proceedings. As discussed above, I agree entirely with the sentiments put forth by Judge Benito regarding this issue and add that, fair trial should be that and nothing else, to apply different standard to a party in a trial is in itself a violation of the principle of fair trial.

One of my greatest concerns is the failure of the Chamber to offer a legal definition of active participation. The adopted ‘case by case’ approach shows that the Chamber did not simply want to engage in a conclusive discussion hence they opted to leave the definition open. This case was mainly focused on the concept of active participation, and not having a definition at the end of the judgement is unsatisfactory. The Chamber had a chance to set down a legal definition that would have gone into setting down the Courts jurisprudence on the same, but instead it opted to leave it for the future. The failure to have a definition in essence means none of the questions have been comprehensively answered, and in particular, whether child soldiers engaging in hostilities makes them active participant or not. It is understandable to protect them and categorise them under victims, but in so doing a comprehensive definition as well as an approach for future cases should have been made.

It is however very encouraging to note that the Trial Chamber sought and resolved to inculcate Victim Participation in the trial. I also applaud the Chambers for ensuring that the victims got a chance to participate actively in the Trial, and they had a chance to express their needs and interests to the Court.  A lot needs to be improved especially with respect to the numerous delays due to putting together relevant regimes for victim participation and the overall conduct of the trial. Since the law is a living instrument, then I have reason to be optimistic that jurisprudence in the afore-discussed paper shall develop towards a more appropriate system that will encourage victim participation in a more effective manner.



* Holds a Masters of Laws, (LL.M) degree in International Crime and Justice from UNICRI, a United Nations institute in Turin, Italy; a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Moi University, Kenya, and a Post Graduate Diploma in Law from the Kenya School of Law. Goldah is also an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya. She currently works and resides in The Hague and can be reached at,

[1]Information retrievable on the International Criminal Court website at, last visited 14 April 2013.

[2]Prosecutor v Thomas Lubanga Dyilo,Decision on Victims’ Participation, 18 January 2008, (“18 January 2008 Victims’ Participation Decision”), para. 32.

[3]Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Trial Judgement (“Lubanga Trial Judgement’’), 14 March 2012, para. 14; Kai Ambos, ‘The first Judgement of the International Criminal Court; A Comprehensive Analysis of the Legal Issues, (2012) (“Kai Ambos”).

[4]See more information on the OPCV at:; The manual at last visited on the 15 June 2013; Paolina Massida and Sarah pellet, “Role and Mandate of the Office of the Public Counsel for the Victims” in Carsten Stahn and Goran Sluiter (eds), The Emerging Practice of the International Criminal Court (Nijhoff, Leiden, 2009) 690; Regulation 80(2) of the Regulations of the Court;  Regulation 81 of the Regulation of the Court on the support role of the OPCV to the Legal Representatives for victims.

[5]Lubanga Trial Judgement, para. 32.

[6]This was done by the leave of the Chambers, Lubanga Trial Judgement, para.13.

[7] 18 January 2008 Victims’ Participation Decison, para. 32.

[8]18 January 2008 Victims’ Participation Decision,para. 14.

[9]Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo,Judgement on the Appeals of the prosecutor and The Defence against the trial Chamber 1’s Decision on Victim Participation of 18 January 2008, ( “11 July 2008 Appeals Decision on Victim Participation”) 11 July 2008, para.

[10]Lubanga Trial Judgement, para. 14; The Trial Chamber , based on the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, Resolution 60/147, 16 December 2006, Principle 8.

[11] The Chamber in exercising its discretion, can reject the victims’ application to participate in the proceedings, or limit them to specific issues, or allow the application and give them rights including, to make opening and closing statements. In case where the application is rejected, a fresh application can be made following the same procedure by the victim; Rule 89(3).

[12]Lubanga Trial Judgement, para, 14.

[13]Lubanga Trial Judgement, para.14.

[14]Lubanga Trial Judgement, para. 14.

[15]30 victims (18 female and 12 male) referred to acts of sexual violence which they either suffered or witnessed; Lubanga Trial Judgement fn 54.

[16]Lubanga was only charged for the crime of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15. Sexual offences were not prosecuted and neither were torture and other forms of inhuman treatment charged.

[17]Lubanga Trial Judgement, para. 17.

[18]Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Corrigendum to Decision on the applications by victims to participate in the proceedings, 13 January 2009, paras 67-72.

[19]Lubanga Trial Judgement,para. 18.

[20]Lubanga Trial Judgemtn, para. 18.

[21]18 January 2008 Victim Participation Decision, paras 132-134.

[22]Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Decision on Certain Practicalities Regarding Individuals who have the Dual Status of Witness and Victims, 5 June 2008, para. 52.

[23]Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Decision on the Request by Victims a/0225/06 and a/229/06 and a/270/07 to Express Their Views and Concerns in Person and to Present evidence during the Trial, 9 July 2009 (Public Document), paras 39-40; Lubanga Trial Judgement, para. 21.

[24]Rule 85(a).

[25]Rule 85(b).

[26]Kai Ambos.

[27]Prosecutor v Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Redacted Version of Decision on “Indirect victims” ,Trial Chamber 1, 8 April 2009, para.52.

[28]Lubanga Trial Judgement , para.14.

[29]See Kai Ambos, p.2.

[30] Stefanie Bock, das Opfer Vordem International en Strafgerichtshof (Ducker &Humblot, Berlin, (2010) pp 446-      447.

[31]Lubanga Trial Judgement, para.16; See also note 15 above.

[32]Lubanga Trial Judgement, para.16.

[33]Lubanga Trial Judgement, para.15.

[34] Situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Decision on the Application for the participation in the Proceedings, January 2006, paras 97-98; Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Decision on the Confirmation of Charges, 29 January 2007, (“Lubanga Confirmation Decision”), paras 1,15.

[35]Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Decision on the Application of victims to participate in the proceedings, 15 December 2008.(“ 15 December Decision on Victim Participation”)

[36] In accordance to, Rule 85 of the Rules.

[37]Lubanga Trial Judgement, para, 484.

[38]Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo,Decision on the supplementary information relevant to the application of 21 victims, 21 July 2009, (“21 July Decision”) para.39.

[39]See for Example, Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, (“Lubanga Trial Judgement”), para485.

[40] See also Kai Ambos, p. 15.

[41]Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Separate and Dissenting Opinion of Judge Odio Benito (hereinafter Judge Benito’s Dissenting Opinion attached to the Judgement, (“Judge Benito’s Dissent”) para.25.

[42]Judge Benito’s Dissent, paras 25-26.

[43]Judge Benito’s Dissent, para. 26.

[44]Judge Benito’s Dissent, para.35.