A Step Forward for International Justice ; Inaugural Trial for a Permanent War Crimes Court Is Latest Move to Rein in World's Worst Criminals

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As court appearances go, it was short - particularly considering the gravity of the defendant's alleged crimes. On Monday, Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga stood before the International Criminal Court for 30 minutes. He wore a dark suit and yellow tie, and gave his occupation as "politician."

Still, for the cause of international justice, this exchange may have been a big step. Mr. Lubanga is the first suspect to stand trial before The Hague-based permanent war crimes tribunal. Four years after its creation, the ICC is finally in business.

The ICC is controversial in the US, and some other big war crimes trials have struggled of late. But overall, the advent of the ICC may be emblematic of the world's increasing efforts to try and bring the worst tyrants to the dock.

"There's no reversing the momentum at this point in time," says Louis Aucoin, a professor at the Institute for Human Security at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

According to the ICC, Lubanga was the founder and leader of one of the most dangerous militias in Congo's lawless northeastern district of Ituri. Militia violence in that region has caused tens of thousands of casualties in recent years.

He will be charged with recruiting children under the age of 15 for service as soldiers, and perhaps with other crimes, said ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

The ICC has issued warrants for the arrest of alleged war criminals from Uganda, but Lubanga is the first suspect to be captured and transferred to ICC custody. That's a major step for the tribunal, said Mr. Moreno-Ocampo this week.

"For 100 years, a permanent international tribunal was a dream. This dream is becoming reality," Moreno-Ocampo said.

To be sure, the news about other war tribunals hasn't been good in recent weeks.

At The Hague, last week's death of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic ended his trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavie prematurely, after four tumultuous years.

Victims of the violence unleashed by Milosevic may now feel cheated of justice. The late Serbian strongman's supporters may remain unconvinced of his guilt.

In Iraq, Saddam Hussein has proved an adept fulminator as he tries to turn his trial into a referendum on the US, not his brutal regime. …