Child soldiering & Colombia peace talks

fey‘[T]here seems to be agreement that the shape of a deal will require some form of conditional pardon or suspended sentence for the rank and file, many of whom were recruited as child soldiers.’

– Transitional justice expert Naomi Roht-Arriaza, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, in an IntLawGrrls post entitled “Colombian peace talks advance, but raise difficult justice issues.” Naomi recaps her own presentation last week to judges in Colombia, “on how comparative experiences can help inform the difficult choices the country will need to make in order to finalize a peace deal with the armed insurgents (FARC and ELN) and bring an end to over 50 years of armed conflict.” She then proceeds to discuss initiatives like the prosecutions under the Justice and Peace Law (sentencing in one expected tomorrow), and further to survey issues on the table as the country tries to bring insurgency to an end. (credit for photo (c) Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, courtesy of Watchlist)

Blanket amnesty is not likely on the table despite talk of “conditional pardon,” Naomi reports. This is in part because Colombian negotiators understand that this would not be looked on with favor by two crucial international bodies: the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, to which Colombia belongs by dint of its 1973 ratification of the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights, and the International Criminal Court, which in 2004 launched a preliminary investigation into actions on the territory of Colombia, an ICC state party.

Naomi’s implication that ICC monitoring since 2004 is shaping the form of eventual peace bears note. So too her indication that grappling with the past recruitment of children in Colombia – a phenomenon explored here and here – poses questions not unlike those voiced in my post yesterday.

‘Accounting for children in armed conflict’

monitoring_and_reportingMuch to ponder following “Accounting for Children Affected by Armed Conflicts,” a dialogue in which I was honored to take part on Friday, as part of International Law Weekend-NYC, the 92d annual meeting of the American Branch of the International Law Association.

Joining me on the panel were Mark A. Drumbl, Washington & Lee University Law Professor, and Jo Becker, Advocacy Director of the Children’s Rights Division for Human Rights Watch. (Both are authors of books published in 2012: Mark, Reimagining Child Soldiers in International Law & Policy, which I reviewed here, and Jo, Campaigning for Justice: Human Rights Advocacy in Practice.) Our able moderator was Jonathan Todres, the children’s rights expert who chairs the Section on Children and the Law of the Association of American Law Schools.

Before an audience of academics, practitioners, and students, we four explored a range of issues related to children in and affected by armed conflict. We began with questions related to child soldiering:

► Why do some treaties, like the 4th Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute, outlaw recruiting of children under 15? Why do others, most notably the 2000 Optional Protocol to the Children’s Rights Convention, set the age at 18? And what are the implications of setting either as the threshold age?

► How does the presence of children in the ranks affect armed forces – not only discipline and professionalism within such units, but also the rules of engagement for adult units that find themselves confronting children in combat?

► How ought children affected by armed conflict be reintegrated into their societies? How can laws and transitional justice programs take into account the youth and vulnerability, as well as the age and agency, of children?

► To what extent can international efforts change norms respecting children in armed conflict? And to what extent can newly established norms be implemented on the ground?

As might be expected, international criminal law was considered; in particular, child soldiering convictions in cases like Lubanga at the International Criminal Court (my casenote here), and Taylor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Also looked at were noncriminal mechanisms for prevention, protection, and accountability; for example, the processes of monitoring and reporting, and naming and shaming, developed by the U.N. Security Council and administered by the Special Representative to the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui. (Her annual report, which she presented before the U.N. General Assembly on October 17, is here.)

Those processes concentrate on 6 “grave violations” against children. One of the 6 – attacks on schools – is notable given the panel’s discussion of threats to education in times of armed conflict. Becker spoke of efforts to document military use of schools and to put an end to such use by urging armed forces to endorse guidelines banning the practice. Such a ban is needed, she said: such use endangers children and teachers not just by militarizing educations, but also by transforming the school buildings into legitimate military targets. (credit for © 2006 UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe, published by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, with the caption “Coats of students hang on the wall of a partially destroyed school in Kabul, where children attend as part of the ‘Back to School’ campaign launched by the Afghan government with UNICEF’s support to bring 1.7 million students back to school.”)

Ensuring safe and peaceable education could do much to improve the well-being of girls and boys – not to mention the societies that they one day will lead.

“Shari’a law & military ops” @ Siracusa

207“Shari’a Law and Military Operations” will be the subject of the NATO School/International Institute of Higher Studies in Criminal Sciences Seminar, to be held November 24-30, 2013. The site will be the headquarters of the Institute in Siracusa – a lovely city on Italy’s island of Sicily, about which I posted a while back.

nato_school_oberammergauThe November gathering will mark the 6th annual joint seminar on this subject. Organizers write that the seminar aims “to provide instruction to military officers, legal advisors, operational planners, political and policy advisors,” but is open to all interested persons. The faculty consists of “internationally pre-eminent scholars on Shari’a.” As detailed in the draft program, topics will include:

► Introduction to Shari’a law
► Islamic Criminal Justice System
► Islamic International Law & International Humanitarian Law
► Shari’a’s Limitations on Jihad & the Use of Force
► Shari’a and Contemporary Post-Conflict & Transitional Justice
► Women’s & Minorities’ Rights
► Operational Issues

Deadline for registering is October 25. Details here.