This silver anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child seems a fitting day to report on the “Children & International Criminal Justice,” the conference that brought to Athens, Georgia, more than 2 dozen experts from as far away as Doha, Kinshasa, and The Hague.
The experts met on October 28 at my home institution, the University of Georgia School of Law, to discuss, in a plenary session and in workshops, the experiences of children during armed violence, as well as the treatment of children and children’s issues by international criminal justice mechanisms. (Prior post) The conference served as one of several consultations being undertaken by the International Criminal Court Office of the Prosecutor as part of its preparation of a Policy Paper on Children – a process I am honored to assist as ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda‘s Special Adviser on Children in and affected by Armed Conflict.
A centerpiece of the day was the keynote speech delivered by Prosecutor Bensouda (above). She began with a quote from a renowned humanitarian:
The Great Nelson Mandela once said: ‘We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.’
Bensouda then urged the assembly, which included hundreds of professors and students, members of her staff, and representatives of nongovernmental organizations and U.N. agencies:
We must indeed pool our efforts, expertise and energies to advance the rights of children and to shield them from harm in times of conflict.
She detailed the efforts of her Office on behalf of children – including the successful prosecution of former Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo on child-soldiering charges, as well as the current prosecution of his erstwhile co-accused, Bosco Ntaganda, on additional charges of sexual violence against children in his militia. Conviction in the latter case, Bensouda said, would
represent an important, pioneering clarification of the protection international humanitarian law offers to children and the victims of sexual violence in situations of armed conflict.
The Prosecutor underscored her Office’s commitment to the Children’s Convention’s 4 “guiding principles” when she said:
We are also committed of respecting the rights of children with whom we interact in the course of our investigative and prosecutorial work, including their right to be heard and to have their best interests treated as a primary consideration.
The transcript of her remarks as delivered is available here; the full speech is scheduled for publication next year, in Volume 43, issue 3, of the Georgia Journal of International & Comparative Law.
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