Twelve years ago today, a treaty aimed at removing anyone under 18 from combat entered into force – a milestone marked annually as Red Hand Day, also known as the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers. A significant commemoration has been taking place all this week at The Hague, where International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and her staff have sought confirmation of child-soldiering charges brought against Bosco Ntaganda, the Congolese ex-militia leader who surrendered 11 months ago, after years as an ICC fugitive. (credit for photo, from video clip of Bensouda delivering opening statement at Monday’s session)
Ntaganda had been charged back in 2006 along with a colleague: Thomas Lubanga, the former leader whose trial led to the 1st ICC verdict, a 2012 conviction for the crimes of conscripting and enlisting children under 15 and of using them to take active part in hostilities in a non-international armed conflict, the 2002-2003 civil war in Ituri, a region in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An ICC Trial Chamber ruled that the conduct occurred in violation of Article 8(2)(e)(vii) of the 1998 Rome Statute of the ICC.
At this week’s confirmation hearing, ICC Pre-Trial Chamber II – composed of Presiding Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova and Judges Hans-Peter Kaul and Cuno Tarfusser – has been considering the same charges against Ntaganda. The Prosecutor’s January 2014 submission to the chamber thus states (p. 5 ¶ 4):
‘… Bosco NTAGANDA is charged with the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities within the region of Ituri during the entire period of the charges.’
Most notably, prosecutors have lodged additional charges, charges not presented in Lubanga, of crimes committed against children while they were in Ntaganda’s militia. (An NGO statement on this development is here.) The same paragraph of the Prosecutor’s submission thus concludes:
‘He is also charged with rape and sexual slavery of child soldiers within his own group during this same geographic and temporal scope.’
The charges point toward a broader presentation of the ways that children are affected by armed conflict (an approach I discussed in this newly published article, “Children and the First Verdict of the International Criminal Court”; note that although I am honored to serve as the ICC Prosecutor’s Special Adviser on Children in and affected by Armed Conflict, I contribute this and all blog posts in my personal capacity).
The week-long confirmation hearing in Ntaganda is set to conclude tomorrow. Further information, including links to documents and webstreaming, available here.