children

fBopening

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Experts gathered this week from around the world for a wide-ranging consultation on the International Criminal Court Office of the Prosecutor’s draft Policy on Children.

In her Opening Remarks to Monday’s consultation, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda explained:

“This Policy, once finalised and adopted, will guide my Office in our ongoing efforts to address international crimes against or affecting children under the Rome Statute, as well as our interaction with children during the course of our work.

“The Policy will further provide clarity and transparency on how we intend to methodologically undertake this crucial work.

“Additionally, it is my hope that this Policy will also serve as a useful guide for national authorities and other actors in their respective endeavours to address crimes against and affecting children, and in their interactions with children in judicial processes.”

Released last month, the draft Policy:

► Reaffirms an oft-repeated commitment of the Prosecutor. To be precise, the Policy reinforces her Office’s concern for “children with weapons” – that is, persons under fifteen who have been recruited or used in armed groups, often called “child soldiers.” But it also details the Office’s concern for what the Prosecutor called “children affected by the weapons” – that is, all persons who, before their 18th birthday, endured crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court.

► Adopts a child-sensitive approach to its dealings with children. That approach recognizes children as both vulnerable and capable, as both needy and resilient – often, at the same time. The Policy pledges sensitivity to these realities according to the regulatory framework of the Rome Statute system, and also according to principles drawn from international instruments, like the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty that enjoys near-universal ratification and is founding on 4 guiding principles:

  1. The child’s right to be treated without adverse discrimination;
  2. The right to life, survival, and development;
  3. The right to have the child’s best interests taken into account; and
  4. The child’s right to express views and have them considered.

The draft Policy on Children (available in full here) explicitly recognizes those principles and sets out the contours for respecting and ensuring them.

It thus enumerates crimes against and affecting children. Included are crimes of conscription and use, as well as child trafficking as enslavement and forcible transfer as genocide. Also included are crimes like persecution, if it targets children on the basis or age or birth, as well as attacks on schools.

The policy further details the approach of the Office with respect to children at all stages of the proceedings: preliminary examinations, investigations, prosecutions, sentencing, and reparations.

All these aspects received discussion at Monday’s consultation; some are reflected in tweets available at #EndCrimesAgainstChildren. The policy working group will be considered along with other public comments. The Office welcomes additional such comments, which should be sent via e-mail to OTPLegalAdvisorySection@icc-cpi.int no later than Friday, August 5, 2016. The Office anticipates final publication in October of this year.

It was an honor to take part in this consultation in my capacity as the Prosecutor’s Special Adviser on Children in & affected by Armed Conflict – and also to be accompanied at the consultation by one of my Georgia Law students, Chanel Chauvet. (We’re pictured below in front of a mural at the ICC’s new permanent premises.) A  rising 2L and Dean Rusk International Law Center Student Ambassador, Chanel just completed a weeklong Hague summer school on international humanitarian law.

chanel_dianeICC

draftpolicyIt is my great honor to note today’s release for public comment of the draft Policy on Children of the International Criminal Court Office of the Prosecutor.

Since my December 2012 appointment as Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s Special Adviser on Children in and affected by Armed Conflict, I’ve had the privilege of helping to convene consultations and taking part in the construction of this draft Policy. As part of that process, as noted on page 11 of the draft, we at the Dean Rusk International Law Center, University of Georgia School of Law, were honored in October 2014 to host the Prosecutor, members of her staff, and nearly 2 dozen other experts from academic, nongovernmental groups, and intergovernmental organizations. Our “Children & International Criminal Justice” conference featured a morning public plenary and Prosecutor’s keynote (pictured below), followed by an afternoon of closed-door breakout sessions. (Proceedings from that event, to appear in our Georgia Journal of International & Comparative Law, are nearing publication.)

Addressed in the draft Policy, which spans 37 pages, are:

► Overarching concerns, such as the nature of a child and childhood, the experiences of children in armed conflict and other contexts within the jurisdiction of the ICC, and how the Rome Statute of the ICC and other documents treat crimes against and affecting children; and

► Practical concerns, such as how the Office of the Prosecutor engages with children, in all aspects of its work, including preliminary examination, investigation, charging, prosecution, sentencing, reparations, and external relations.

As stated in the press release accompanying today’s publication:

In highlighting the importance of the Policy, Prosecutor Bensouda stated: “when I assumed 8_events2the role of Prosecutor in June 2012, one of the principal goals I set for the Office was to ensure that we pay particular attention not only to ‘children with arms’, but also ‘children affected by arms.’ This Policy demonstrates our firm commitment to closing the impunity gap for crimes against or affecting children, and adopting a child-sensitive approach in all aspects of our work bearing in mind their rights and best interests. It is also our hope that the Policy, once adopted, will serve as a useful guide to national authorities in their efforts to address crimes against children.”

The Office welcomes public comment on the draft. Such comments should be e-mailed to OTPLegalAdvisorySection@icc-cpi.int, no later than Friday, August 5, 2016.

Following revisions based on the comments, the Office of the Prosecutor expects to publish the final Policy on Children in November of this year.

barsMonday was quite a day for child rights in the United States.

It began in the morning, when the Supreme Court made clear in Montgomery v. Louisiana that its 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama, which had outlawed sentences of life without parole for persons who were under eighteen when they committed the crime of conviction, applied retroactively.

Writing for the 6-member majority in Montgomery, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy  stated that the 2012 decision in Miller

did more than require a sentencer to con­sider a juvenile offender’s youth before imposing life with­ out parole; it established that the penological justifications for life without parole collapse in light of ‘the distinctive attributes of youth.’ (p. 16)

As a result, he wrote, it established a “substantive rule of constitutional law,” the kind of rule that must apply even to persons whose cases otherwise would have been deemed final before the issuance of the 2012 decision.

according to Wall Street Journal reporter Jess Bravin, the decision granted “the possibility of freedom to as many as 2,500 inmates who otherwise would die in prison.”

Then, just 4 hours from midnight, the Washington Post published an op-ed in which President Barack Obama announced he had accepted recommendations in a new Department of Justice report; thus, inter alia, “banning solitary confinement for juveniles” in the federal prison system. The op-ed concluded on notes of promise:

In America, we believe in redemption. We believe, in the words of Pope Francis, that ‘every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.’

In that last sentence, notably, Obama quoted the September 2015 address to Congress in which Pope Francis called for abolition of the death penalty. The President’s op-ed continued:

We believe that when people make mistakes, they deserve the opportunity to remake their lives. And if we can give them the hope of a better future, and a way to get back on their feet, then we will leave our children with a country that is safer, stronger and worthy of our highest ideals.

A children’s day indeed.

Still, it must be noted that the solitary confinement ban applies only to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. The DOJ report wrote at page 66:

The Department of Justice prosecutes very few juveniles, and so the Bureau is only responsible for the custody of a very small number of juveniles. As of December 5, 2015, the Bureau was responsible for 71 juvenile inmates, of which 45 were serving a term of incarceration, and 26 were under the supervision of the U.S. Probation Office.

Many thousands are in state correctional systems, and thus not affected by Obama’s decision.

And there is much yet to be done of a preventive nature, to help children from entering the juvenile justice system at all.

kabuyaD3_17aug15A favorite aspect of my new position is becoming acquainted with Georgia Law’s vast global community.

Yesterday was a special treat: We at the law school’s Dean Rusk International Law Center received a visit from an alum who is doing great work back home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The alumnus is Mukendi Kabuya, who earned an LL.M. degree here in 2010. He’s now an attorney at Kinshasa’s Delt-August Law Firm, where his practice includes international investment, immigration, and business matters.

Last year, Mukendi co-founded a child-rights nonprofit modeled on the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program, where he used to work. CASA Democratic Republic of Congo is based in Kinshasa, but works throughout the country to provide in-court assistance to abused and neglected children – including children who have survived armed conflict and similar violence. This critical effort comes at a critical time: Congo’s juvenile justice system is very young. Before it was established, children found themselves relegated to the adult system.

While here, Mukendi, who is President of the Africa Chapter of the UGA Alumni Association, stopped by the university’s African Studies Institute. And he talked about his work and career with Georgia Law’s newest LL.M. students, who begin classes today. He’s pictured above talking with two just-enrolled students from Nigeria, Gladys Ashiru, at left, and Oluwakemi “Kemi” Kusemiju.

Looking forward to the next visit from this impressive alum.

mendezAll who care about children and international law will want to register for “Torture of Children Deprived of Liberty: Avenues for Advocacy,” “a global online briefing” to be hosted at 12 noon Eastern Standard Time next Tuesday, May 5, by the Anti-Torture Initiative of the D.C.-based Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law, American University Washington College of Law.

Panelists will include:

Juan E. Méndez, American University law professor, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, and author of the 2015 thematic report on children deprive of liberty, which will form the core of the discussion (credit for photo of Méndez delivering this report to the U.N. Human Rights Council last month)

Jo Becker, Advocacy Director, Children’s Rights Division, Human Rights Watch

Ian M. Kysel, Dash/Muse Fellow and Adjunct Professor of Law, Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute

► Dr. Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Vice Chairperson of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child and of the African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, as well as  a law professor at the University of Western Cape in South Africa, and Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia

Registration and further information here.

Reprinted in full, “No child should be made to suffer such horrors,” the statement issued today by International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in commemoration of the 13th anniversary of the entry into force of the 2000 Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict — a date known since then as the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers:

2bensoudaThousands of children around the world continue to be used as soldiers and affected by the horrors of war.  Instead of a childhood filled with tranquillity and joy, learning and play, children are far too often the primary victims of armed conflict, where they are trained and forced to kill, rape, pillage, and undertake hard physical labour.  Their traumatisation should weigh heavily on our collective conscience, and cannot be left unabated.

The daily reality for these children, boys and girls, is both appalling and traumatic. Thrust into battle zones, they must struggle to survive or perish, often through violent deaths; where they are forced to witness or commit unspeakable acts of violence against others, military or civilian, men, women or children, at times, even against their own families. They may be exposed and fall victim to horrific sexual violence.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) mandates the ICC Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute the crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity – crimes which shock the conscience of humanity.  The conscription, enlistment and use of child soldiers figure amongst the most reprehensible crimes under the Rome Statute.

There is no such thing in the Rome Statute as lawful conscription of children under the age of 15 into the armed forces or groups, or their enlistment irrespective of whether the child joins voluntarily or through compulsion. Those who recruit children or use them to take active part in hostilities are committing serious crimes and must be held accountable.

The law must be a cornerstone of protection for all children in war zones. On this International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, the world owes it to our children to renew its collective resolve to prevent and end impunity for these crimes.  This is not only a moral imperative and a legal duty under the Rome Statute, but necessary to ensure the success of future generations.  A crime against a child is an offence against all of humanity.

UntitledIt is the season of renewal, of anticipating the year to come. It is a time for revelry, but also for reflection. And reflection on this past year forces one to confront the grim reality of harms humans have wreaked upon other humans – on women, men, and children.

It is this last group of victims on which I have focused, in my service as International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda‘s Special Adviser on Children in and Affected by Armed Conflict. Bensouda’s office has worked this year to  prepare a Policy Paper on Children, and this year the ICC Appeals Chamber sustained the court’s first conviction, against a militia leader responsible for child-soldiering crimes. But this year also saw untold crimes against children – not only tragically quotidian crimes of domestic abuse, but also spectacular outrages like last week’s lethal attack on a school in Pakistan, and the several instances of girls’ abduction or enslavement by groups like ISIS and Boko Haram.

It is this last group of victims, moreover, that this year spurred digital artist Corinne Whitaker to publish “Cradle Song,” an online book featuring images and poetry that she created. (As I’ve posted, Whitaker is the longtime publisher of a monthly webzine, Digital Giraffe, as well as the sister of colleague Ed Gordon.)

“Cradle Song” features pages of images like the one above, juxtaposed with verse-form text. “How can I face a child / today / knowing what I know?” it begins, then continues with angry, taut descriptions of what she knows – of, that is, the awful ways that armed violence affects children. Her refrain of questions – among them, “Why doesn’t someone / anyone / care?” – reminds us that we do, we must, care. And in this time of renewal, we must resolve to act.

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.

kinderLEIDEN – Children, or kinder, has been the watchword these days in this Dutch city, where Leiden University’s been hosting a whirlwind of activities to mark the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. A film festival, moot court competition,* art exhibit, and commemoration by Princess Beatrice were just some of the events.

I was honored to take part in “25 years CRC,” a 2-day conference that brought to Leiden hundreds of children’s rights experts, from Auckland to Zagreb and many places in between. Plenary presentations included Corinne Dettmeijer-Vermuelen‘s fascinating comparison of U.S. and Dutch laws against online sexual exploitation of children. Then scholars and practitioners met in early a dozen parallel sessions, where they tackled an array of topics.

The session I chaired featured: Claire Achmad‘s outline of her Ph.D. dissertation, a children’s rights approach to regulation of international commercial surrogacy; Mies Grijn‘s anthropological account of child marriage practices in a village in Java, Indonesia; and Emily Waller‘s discussion of children, sexual violence-related stigmatization, and reparations. A common thread in these talks was the difficulty of drafting, adapting, and enforcing laws meant to be applied in societies marked by changes and cultural variations.

In a session on children and armed conflict, Olga Jurasz explored the treatment of children in cases before the International Criminal Court. Aurélie Roche-Mair followed suit, with an emphasis on the interrelation between the Children’s Convention and the Rome Statute of the ICC. Concluding was Gloria Atiba-Davies, head of the Gender and Children Unit in the ICC Office of the Prosecutor. Together, their presentations underscored the legal and practical challenges to achievement of the goal of ending wartime crimes against children – a goal to which ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda recommitted her office, in her October speech on “Children & International Criminal Justice,” and in a statement yesterday that marked the Convention’s anniversary. It’s a goal to be pursued as her office continues consultations with experts, in the course of developing its Policy Paper on Children.

* Congratulations to the Students of the Law Society of Ireland for winning 1st place at yesterday’s finals. And kudos to Leiden Professors Ton Liefaard and Julia Sloth-Nielsen for the vision and hard work that produced this amazing week.

bensouda6_28oct14This 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.’

bensouda4_28oct14Bensouda 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.

wkshop_28oct14The 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.