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Preventing the Use of Child Soldiers: the Role of the International Criminal Court

Author: Shelly Whitman
Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Botswana

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Introduction

"We have reached a point in history that is characterized by internal conflict and violence. Atrocities are committed on a daily basis against innocent civilians in alarmingly violent and cruel manners. At the same time, we are also witnessing a new era in international law and criminal responsibility. One can only hope that the International Criminal Court (ICC) can effectively punish those responsible for gross violations of human rights and thereby deter future would be criminals of this nature.


One of the most disturbing aspects of present day conflict is the use and abuse of children as
soldiers in armed conflict. For many parts of the world, the future is extremely bleak when analysed in the context of the use of child soldiers. There are obvious and disturbing consequences for the future of a country that employs children as soldiers – a violent society, adults that face serious psychosocial trauma, the breakdown of families, even further spread of HIV and STDs, young adults that have no formal education or skills training, and unemployment.


It is estimated that there are 300,000 child soldiers utilised in more than 30 countries worldwide either as combatants or as auxiliaries. [1] Approximately 120,000 of these child soldiers are found within Africa. [2]


Criminal responsibility must be sought for the use of child soldiers. The International Criminal
Court has presented the world with an opportunity to have those responsible for the use of child soldiers to be held responsible. The Rome Statute, adopted in 1998, has made it a war crime for governments and rebel or opposition groups to recruit children under the age of 15 or to use them in national, regional and international conflicts. [3] The merits and de-merits of such a provision shall be discussed further on in the paper.


The thrust of this paper is to analyse the use of child soldiers in two particular conflicts - Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – and to assess the role of the
International Criminal Court in efforts to halt the use of child soldiers. Can the ICC deter the use of child soldiers by armed groups via prosecution of those leaders responsible for their use in armed conflict? The DRC and Sierra Leone have been chosen due to the many similarities in the two conflicts and also due to their extensive use of children as soldiers. Additionally, it has recently been stated by the Prosecutor for the ICC, Mr. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, that the DRC may be the first case for the ICC to investigate and try. Sierra Leone has its own UN Special Court dealing with the war crimes committed in their conflict and the use of child soldiers as a war crime is also a crime being dealt with by that court.


This paper shall not go into great detail about the conflicts in Sierra Leone and the DRC. Rather it shall analyse the issue of child soldiers in the context of both conflicts. In addition, the paper shall highlight the international legal instruments that are applicable to the use of child soldiers.


Finally, the paper shall attempt to suggest how the ICC can contribute meaningfully to the halt of the use of child soldiers in armed conflict.

Source: Child Soldiers Initiative

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