children

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.

It’s Halloween, a day when costumes conjure playfulness among children and adults alike. To celebrate, I’m reprinting below my post from October 31, 2010, available in the IntLawGrrls archives here. The donation link at bottom still works, so consider a contribution on behalf of the world’s children.

Often completing this ‘Grrl’s Halloween costume was the tote at left.
Many a year we Midwestern children would knock on doors to “Trick or Treat for UNICEF,” seeking donations to help the United Nations help children in need. For many of us, it was an early raising of awareness — an early invitation to consider how we might respond in our own small ways to the plight of others throughout the world.
Of great interest, therefore, was the news that the woman who founded the campaign has died at age 93, just a few days short of the 60th anniversary of her achievement.
As detailed in The New York Times‘ obituary, the idea came to Mary Emma Allison, a schoolteacher long concerned about social justice, while shopping in 1949 in Philadelphia. (credit for photo of Allison and her costume-clad children) Soon she and her husband had created a global movement, called “Pennies for UNICEF” in those days of less deflated economy. Enlisted in the effort have been cultural icons ranging from Casper, the Friendly Ghost (below), to Superman, the Man of Steel. Since its founding the campaign has raised more than $160 million.
No need for a collection box to contribute in Allison’s honor; anyone can click here to donate to UNICEF this Halloween.

un_members_flagsAs it does each year while the U.N. General Assembly’s meeting, the United Nations hosted a 5-day “Treaty Event” aimed at encouraging states to consent to be bound to a range of international conventions. (Previous posts here and here; photo credit) The big news was the boost this gave to the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty; as posted, it’s now set to enter into force on Christmas Eve. Also worth mentioning are joinders to other treaties related to peace, accountability, security, to children, and more generally to human rights. Selected joinders below; the complete record of Treaty Event activities is available here.

Peace, security, accountability

► 2010 Amendments on the crime of aggression to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: Latvia, Poland, and Spain ratified, bringing the total number of adherents to 18. Neither the United States nor any of the 5 permanent members of the U.N. Security Council is among them. As detailed in posts here and here, these amendments cannot take effect any earlier than 2017, and then only if 30 states have accepted and a further vote has been taken. This year and last, tweets from the Crime of Aggression project have named numerous other countries said to be working toward ratification: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, the Czech Republic, Finland, Georgia, Macedonia, New Zealand, Romania, and Switzerland. If all join, the amendments would be 1 shy of the minimum required.

► 2010 Amendment to Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: Latvia, Poland, and Spain likewise ratified this treaty, which would enumerate as crimes in non-international armed conflict certain acts now prohibited only with respect to international armed conflict. The total number of adherent now stands at 21. The treaty entered into force as to some states as early as 2012. Neither the United States nor any of the 5 permanent members of the U.N. Security Council has approved these amendments.

► 1984 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment: Eritrea acceded, bringing to 156 the total number of parties – among them, the United States and, indeed, all 5 permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

► 2006 International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance: Angola signed this treaty, which entered into force in 2010. It now has 94 signatories and 43 parties. Of the Security Council’s 5 permanent members, France is a state party, and the only state either to have signed nor ratified.

Treaties relating specifically to children

unicef_children► 2000 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict: Guinea-Bissau ratified this treaty, which entered into force in 2002. That brings to 157 the total number of parties; among them, both nonmember states of the United Nations, the Holy See and the State of Palestine. The United States and, indeed, all 5 permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are states parties to this treaty.

► 2011 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure: Andorra, Ireland, and Monaco joined this treaty, which allows children to file complaints with the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child. That brings the total number of states parties to 14. The treaty entered into force in April of this year. Neither the United States nor any of the 5 permanent members of the U.N. Security Council has either signed or ratified this treaty.

► 2000 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime: Eritrea acceded to this treaty, which entered into force in 2003. The treaty has 163 parties, including the United States and, indeed, all 5 permanent members of the Security Council.

Human Rights

dis► 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Guinea-Bissau ratified and Samoa signed this treaty, which entered into force in 2008. It now has 151 parties and 159 signatories. Four of the Security Council’s permanent members are states parties; the 5th, the United States has signed but not ratified. The U.S. Senate refused to give the requisite 2/3 approval in 2012, and just a few weeks ago, Republicans blocked a new effort to win the Senate’s advice and consent. (Prior posts)

► 2006 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Denmark acceded to this treaty, which allows individuals to file complaints with the U.N. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. That brings the total number of states parties to 85. The treaty entered into force in 2008. Of the Security Council’s 5 permanent members, France and Britain are states parties; the other 3 have neither signed nor ratified.