Thomas Lubanga: From prison to PhD?

Like Thomas Lubanga at the ICC
Monday, August 31, 2015 - 13:02

By Niklas Jakobsson

In a post for Justice Hub last week, Mark Kersten explored whether perpetrators or alleged perpetrators of mass atrocities should pursue PhDs, specifically in relation to the case against Thomas Lubanga. After presenting his arguments for and against, Mark concluded that the "pursuit of higher education may leave a bitter taste in the mouths of some. But given all of the options and the ever-present risk of war criminals returning to their old habits, encouraging them to pursue an education may be a least-worst option."

The topic of what perpetrators or alleged perpetrators get up to in terms of academia is not discussed widely. It might be something which needs a bit more attention. In a blog post for Opinio Juris, Kevin Jon Heller made his points very clear in relation to what Mark Kersten wrote: "once an international criminal has served his sentence, he should be treated no differently than any other citizen".

Although Kevin arguably makes a solid point, Barrie Sander throws an interesting spin on the argument:

“Kevin, when you state, 'once an international criminal has served his sentence, he should be treated no differently than any other citizen', do you believe this in the absolute? To take one example: should previously convicted child sex offenders be allowed to work in schools after their release from prison? In other words, are there not some limits that we can legitimately place on convicted criminals based on their prior conduct as a reasonable precaution for the protection of society?”

An interesting discussion also took place on Justice Hub’s social media platforms. The Facebook community was divided between people who support the idea of perpetrators or alleged perpetrators pursing PhDs and those who don’t.

The people not supporting Lubanga’s intention to pursue a doctorate raise the issue of victims and the suffering brought upon them by the perpetrator.

The ongoing discussion raises a few interesting points, some which should definitely be looked into more thoroughly. Although the arguments related to rehabilitation and being treated as any other individual can stand their own ground, one should consider if they should be taken as absolutes.

Although I don’t have a very strong view either way, I find it important to recognise and listen to both points of view. In relation to international crimes, it is yet another aspect that hasn’t been discussed anywhere near enough for a ‘conclusion’ to be drawn or to favour the opinion of either camp. But, as with most other international justice and accountability issues, it’s clear that it’s a topic which divides people.


  • Do you think perpetrators or alleged perpetrators of mass atrocities should be treated as any other person once they've served their sentence?
  • To what extent should you weigh in victims' opinions in these considerations?

Lead image: Thomas Lubanga at the ICC (Photo: Jerry Lampen/ANP)

The Weekly Hubble features the most popular or controversial international justice story of the past week and reactions on social media to the news. 

Kevin Jon Heller

I just want to make readers understand what I am arguing. My point is about the law -- that once a convicted defendant has served his sentence, he should not be subjected to any more state-sanctioned punishment. At that point, unless trials mean nothing, his debt to the international community has been paid and he should be free to pursue his life the best he can. That does not mean that private organizations (such as employers) and perhaps even public ones (such as state-run universities) cannot take his past into account when allocating scarce resources (such as jobs or PhD fellowships). So on that point I do not disagree with Barrie or Mark. But, that said, I would hope a university would give someone like Lubanga a chance, if they were convinced of his sincerity. As I said in my post, he could add a great deal to our knowledge of how ethnic violence is generated. He's welcome to do a PhD with me at SOAS...

Monday, August 31, 2015 - 14:00