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February 02, 2009

More problems for the International Criminal Court

The first trial to be held at the International Criminal Court seems to be going from bad to worse.

Last Monday, the trial of Thomas Lubanga opened as scheduled. The alleged warlord denied using children under 15 as soldiers in the armed wing of his Union of Congolese Patriots political party in 2002-03.

By Tuesday, the prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, had wandered off to the World Economic Forum in Davos. Not only was this a grave discourtesy to defence lawyers -- they had listened to his opening speech so he should have listened to theirs -- but it also meant he was not on hand when his first witness withdrew the evidence on Wednesday afternoon that the witness had given on Wednesday morning.

Judging from the available transcripts, no witnesses seem to have been called since then. The first witness did not continue giving evidence on Thursday and no other witnesses were called that day. Friday's transcript is not on the court's website.

This morning, the court announced that today's hearing "has been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances". This may be nothing more sinister than the effects of bad weather, but if that were the case then the court should have said so.

Finding out what has been going on is made much more difficult by the court's decision to launch a new website today. Previous links do not work and each page takes several minutes to load. But this page appears to carry the latest transcripts of the Lubanaga hearings.

Meanwhile, Mr Moreno-Ocampo has been telling The Times that he is considering whether he has jurisdiction to investigate alleged war crimes in Gaza. That would only be possible if Gaza were a state, which it is clearly not. Mr Moreno-Ocampo should spend less time looking for cheap headlines and devote what skills he has to the one case he has managed to bring to trial after more than five years in the job.

Posted at February 2, 2009 12:12 PM