‘Accounting for children in armed conflict’

monitoring_and_reportingMuch to ponder following “Accounting for Children Affected by Armed Conflicts,” a dialogue in which I was honored to take part on Friday, as part of International Law Weekend-NYC, the 92d annual meeting of the American Branch of the International Law Association.

Joining me on the panel were Mark A. Drumbl, Washington & Lee University Law Professor, and Jo Becker, Advocacy Director of the Children’s Rights Division for Human Rights Watch. (Both are authors of books published in 2012: Mark, Reimagining Child Soldiers in International Law & Policy, which I reviewed here, and Jo, Campaigning for Justice: Human Rights Advocacy in Practice.) Our able moderator was Jonathan Todres, the children’s rights expert who chairs the Section on Children and the Law of the Association of American Law Schools.

Before an audience of academics, practitioners, and students, we four explored a range of issues related to children in and affected by armed conflict. We began with questions related to child soldiering:

► Why do some treaties, like the 4th Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute, outlaw recruiting of children under 15? Why do others, most notably the 2000 Optional Protocol to the Children’s Rights Convention, set the age at 18? And what are the implications of setting either as the threshold age?

► How does the presence of children in the ranks affect armed forces – not only discipline and professionalism within such units, but also the rules of engagement for adult units that find themselves confronting children in combat?

► How ought children affected by armed conflict be reintegrated into their societies? How can laws and transitional justice programs take into account the youth and vulnerability, as well as the age and agency, of children?

► To what extent can international efforts change norms respecting children in armed conflict? And to what extent can newly established norms be implemented on the ground?

As might be expected, international criminal law was considered; in particular, child soldiering convictions in cases like Lubanga at the International Criminal Court (my casenote here), and Taylor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Also looked at were noncriminal mechanisms for prevention, protection, and accountability; for example, the processes of monitoring and reporting, and naming and shaming, developed by the U.N. Security Council and administered by the Special Representative to the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui. (Her annual report, which she presented before the U.N. General Assembly on October 17, is here.)

Those processes concentrate on 6 “grave violations” against children. One of the 6 – attacks on schools – is notable given the panel’s discussion of threats to education in times of armed conflict. Becker spoke of efforts to document military use of schools and to put an end to such use by urging armed forces to endorse guidelines banning the practice. Such a ban is needed, she said: such use endangers children and teachers not just by militarizing educations, but also by transforming the school buildings into legitimate military targets. (credit for © 2006 UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe, published by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, with the caption “Coats of students hang on the wall of a partially destroyed school in Kabul, where children attend as part of the ‘Back to School’ campaign launched by the Afghan government with UNICEF’s support to bring 1.7 million students back to school.”)

Ensuring safe and peaceable education could do much to improve the well-being of girls and boys – not to mention the societies that they one day will lead.

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