Central African Republic

As I wrote in an article published last year, “the fate of children in armed conflict has formed a cornerstone of the ICC‘s early jurisprudence.” That article focused on the 1st case tried by the International Criminal Court — Prosecutor v. Lubanga, a case that ended Monday with the Appeals Chamber’s affirmance (available here) of Trial Chamber judgments convicting and sentencing a Congolese ex-militia leader for conscripting, enlisting, and using children under 15 to participate actively in hostilities.

The statement has a wider application, however. Child-soldiering crimes also were pursued, albeit unsuccessfully, in the next trial, Katanga and Ngudjolo. And a case set for trial next year, Ntaganda, involves not only those crimes, but also charges that the accused ex-leader was responsible for sexual abuse that his troops perpetrated against children under fifteen in the same militia. (New IntLawGrrls post on latter case here.)

reportThere is evidence that this focus will remain an ICC cornerstone, moreover. One example is the ongoing process, in which I am honored to take part, of preparing an ICC Office of the Prosecutor Policy Paper on Children. Another is the 64-page Report on Preliminary Examination Activities 2014, which the Office of the Prosecutor released Tuesday. The Report indicated that crimes against children form a part of the analysis in at least 4 of the 9 pending preliminary examinations, as follows:

Afghanistan: Still under examination are allegations that children have been recruited for and used in armed violence. (¶¶ 81, 89, 97) A doubling of casualties involving children is another stated concern. (¶ 83) Finally, there is the matter of harm done to girls:

‘A second potential case against the Taliban relates to attacks on girls’ education (i.e., female students, teachers and their schools). The Taliban allegedly target female students and girls’ schools pursuant to their policy that girls should stop attending school past puberty. The Office has received information on multiple alleged incidents of attacks against girls’ education, which have resulted in the destruction of school buildings, thereby depriving more than 3,000 girls from attending schools and in the poisoning of more than 1,200 female students and 21 teachers. While the attribution of specific incidents to the Taliban, and in particular the Taliban central leadership remains challenging, there is a reasonable basis to believe that the Taliban committed the war crime of intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to education, cultural objects, places of worship and similar institutions.’

¶ 87; see also ¶ 88. (David Bosco‘s just-published Foreign Policy article on a different aspect of the Afghanistan examination is here, while Ryan Goodman‘s Just Security post on same is here, and Ryan Vogel‘s Lawfare post is here.)

Colombia: The report reiterated a prior finding of “a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes under article 8 of the Statute have been committed … including … conscripting, enlisting and using children to participate actively in hostilities” in violation of Article 8(2)(e)(vii) of the ICC’s Rome Statute. (¶ 109)

Central African Republic: With respect to a matter that moved from preliminary examination to situation under investigation during the course of this year, Office reported a reasonable basis to believe that the same 3 war crimes — conscription, enlistment, and use — had been committed by Séléka, an armed group that staged a coup in the country in 2012, as well as by the opposition anti-balaka. (¶¶  204, 205)

Nigeria: Again, attacks against girls appear to be on examiners’ radar, as indicated by ¶  178:

‘The abduction by the group of over 200 girls from a government primary school in Chibok, Borno State on 14-15 April 2014 has drawn unprecedented international attention to the Boko Haram insurgency.’

As noted at ¶  187, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda condemned the abduction soon after it occurred, in a statement that, like others she has made recently (see here and here), underscores that the Office’s attention not just to child-soldiering, but also to the full range of crimes against children.

zaOfficials have taken a step toward making it easier for refugees of armed conflict to find refuge in the United States.

Accounts of the world’s too-many civil wars often include astronomical numbers of persons in flight: nearly half a million in Central African Republic, more than 2 million in Syria, and so on. Precious few such refugees have found safety in the United States – only 31 Syrians last year, though camps like Zaatari in Jordan (right) house hundreds of thousands. (photo credit)

This is due in part to 8 U.S.C. § 1182, which bars anyone deemed to have given material support to listed armed or terrorist groups. The list of such groups is extensive. So too the list of what U.S. officials have deemed acts of “material” support – by way of example, an act as unavoidable as “pay[ing] a toll or tax to a terror group to pass through opposition-occupied territory.” Some 3,000 persons already in the United States are said to fear ouster based on this bar, which has prevented untold others from entering the country.

But the list of proscribed acts was trimmed last Wednesday, when a joint notice was published in the Federal Register. The notice stated that the heads of the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and State had determined that the terms of Section 1182

‘bar certain aliens who do not pose a national security or public safety risk from admission to the United States and from obtaining immigration benefits or other status.’

Accordingly, the three Secretaries announced they would exercise their discretion to exempt from the statutory barrier persons “who provided limited material support to” a listed organization or one of its members. It defined “limited material support” as:

  • “certain routine commercial transactions or certain routine social transactions (i.e., in the satisfaction of certain well-established or verifiable family, social, or cultural obligations),”
  • “certain humanitarian assistance, or”
  • “substantial pressure that does not rise to the level of duress ….”

Among other caveats in the Secretaries’ Notice of determination, such acts must have been performed absent any intent to aid terrorist activity.

The notice is not explicit on the extent to which the new ease-up might apply to certain refugees mentioned on page 1 of this 2007 report; that is, children who, in time of civil war, were forced to provide an array of services to rebel or terrorist groups.

panzaToday Catherine Samba-Panza, a businesswoman turned politician, became President of the Central African Republic. The 1st woman head of state in that country, Samba-Panza joins 2 others in Africa: President Joyce Banda of Malawi and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia.

The 135-member National Transitional Council chose Samba-Panza in a runoff held because none of 8 original candidates obtained a majority in the 1st round of voting. The Council voted in the wake of the January 10 resignation of Michel Djotodia, who had seized power in March 2013 and ruled as President for just under a year. In that same time frame, Samba-Panza has served as mayor of Bangui, the capital. (credit for photo by Eric Feferberg/AFP)

The new President faces immense challenges. The Séléka rebellion that brought her predecessor to power eventually morphed into protracted armed violence, between former rebels in that Muslim-led faction and Christian, “anti-Balaka” militias. These armed groups are said to have recruited upwards of 6,000 child soldiers, notwithstanding the international ban on child-soldiering. A fifth of the population – nearly a million persons – has been displaced.

The new President, described as a politically neutral Christian, addressed these troubles in her election speech:

‘I call on my children, especially the anti-balaka, to put down their arms and stop all the fighting. The same goes for the ex-Seleka – they should not have fear. I don’t want to hear any more talk of murders and killings.’

Whether violence will abate in the Central African Republic – a situation-country of the International Criminal Court, to which thousands of U.N. Security Council-authorized international troops are now being deployed – remains to be seen.

Classroom-destroyed-300x225Percolating into global consciousness is the armed conflict that’s ravaged the Central African Republic this past year. Fighting began last December, and in March rebels entered the capital, Bangui, and ousted the President who’d ruled for 10 years, François Bozizé. A transitional government eventually was put into place. But that has not eased fighting. Just yesterday, fighting was reported in the capital following the assassination of a judge and his aide.

Estimates that “more than 1.6 million people need urgent humanitarian assistance” – nearly a third of the country’s entire population – prompted  Louise Arbour, President of the International Crisis Group and formerly the top U.N. human rights official, last week to urge the Security Council to “take decisive action.”

As in many conflicts, the months of violence have taken a severe toll on children. Underscoring this is the image with which Foreign Policy‘s Peter Bouckaert began a recent report:

‘In the schoolrooms of the northern Central African Republic (CAR), the blackboards still show dates from late March — when Seleka rebels seized power in the country and a nightmare began.’

The statement jibed with an October report by UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund:

‘Seven out of 10 primary school students in the Central African Republic (CAR) have not returned to school since the conflict started in December 2012 …’

Blocking the return of children and their teachers to school: attacks, destruction, and occupation by armed groups. (credit for photo by Save the Children) Many families remain in camps like those that drew attention because of a visit by Mia Farrow, the actor who serves as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. (See the child’s drawing that Farrow posted here.)

Among the many offenses that Fatou Bensouda, the International Criminal Court Prosecutor, denounced in an August statement was the recruitment of child soldiers – a crime that’s reportedly doubled in the last year.

And last week, concern focused on allegations of stepped-up killings of civilians, particularly children.

Much to be discussed during the Security Council’s scheduled consideration, later this month, of the crises in the country.