News / Africa

Justice Eludes Children in Armed Conflict

A young boy leads the hard-line Islamist al-Shabab fighters as they conduct military exercise in northern Mogadishu's Suqaholaha neighborhood, Somalia (File Photo)
A young boy leads the hard-line Islamist al-Shabab fighters as they conduct military exercise in northern Mogadishu's Suqaholaha neighborhood, Somalia (File Photo)
Lisa Schlein

Millions of children are victims of armed conflict. Many are killed, maimed, raped and psychologically traumatized for their whole lives. Many children are recruited to fight for governments and rebel groups. They are forced to commit atrocities and are often prosecuted for these crimes. A United Nations Study, called Children and Justice During and in the Aftermath of Armed Conflict, examines how children caught in wars can seek justice for the violations they have suffered and examines the extent to which children should be held accountable for crimes they have committed. A panel of experts met at U.N. offices in Geneva to discuss these issues.

Fear

The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina broke out in 1992. The siege of the capital, Sarajevo, lasted nearly four years. Almost 10,000 people were killed, including 1,500 children.

The U.N. Ambassador from Bosnia, Emina Keco-Isakovic, is haunted by these memories.  She relives the anguish experienced by her son during this period.  

“When the cannon firing was starting over the city, it was really every evening," she said. "My 10-year-old son asked me whether he would have died that night. And, every night I answered ‘no, no, you shall not die,’ I said and touched him and held him while he was falling asleep. All children from besieged Sarajevo, still suffer from trauma in the form of waiting to die.”

Justice

While the study says children should be permitted to seek reparations for violation of their rights, Keco-Isakovic says the children of Sarajevo have never received justice commensurate with the crimes committed against them.  

“When you kill a European in a car accident, you get 10 years in prison," said Keco-Isakovic. "When you kill thousands of people in Balkans, Asia, Africa - you are in prison five, six years. The explanation-good behavior, the age and you are out.”  

Messeh Kamara was a child during Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war.    

“What I am here to do is to represent the voices of the millions of children whose voice go unheard, who we cannot see in this small room," said Kamara. "But, they are out there suffering from conflict.”

Children unheard

Kamara lost his parents. He learned to survive and eventually became a child-activist for children’s rights. He is now 24 years old and studying to become an international human rights lawyer.  

He says it was most important for him and other children who lived through this brutal war to see those who created this havoc brought to justice.  

“I was 11," said Kamara. "I was thrown into a conflict I did not cause to happen, but I suffered the most. So for justice and accountability to us is very important. But, it is also mostly important when our rights are given back to us. Remember, what they did was they stole our rights from us and when they stole something from someone, it is most important that you return what they stole.”

Punishment

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor is seen at the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in Leidschendam, Netherlands (File Photo - August 5, 2010).
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor is seen at the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in Leidschendam, Netherlands (File Photo - August 5, 2010).

Kamara regards the trials of suspected war criminals at the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the war crimes trial of former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, at the International Criminal Court at The Hague as very important. He says they are giving the children and young adults in Sierra Leone a sense of hope that justice will be done.

While children undeniably are victims of war, the U.N. study notes some children also are involved in committing crimes.

Radhika Coomaraswamy is Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict and lead author of the study. She says children who are abducted and forced to commit atrocities by their military commanders should not be prosecuted and judged in the same manner as adults. She notes under international law, the recruitment and use of children under the age of 15 in hostilities is a war crime.

“We would prefer a process of, what we call, diversion, which is that children are diverted away from the judicial and prosecutorial system into some alternative mechanism, which can be either a truth and reconciliation commission, truth-telling, restorative justice or some kind of rehabilitation process," she said. "And, what we are saying is if they have to be prosecuted, then it must be the absolutely last resort.”  

The study notes countries increasingly are arresting and detaining children associated with armed groups on the grounds they are a threat to national security or because they have participated in hostility.

It contends children held in administrative detention during armed conflict are particularly vulnerable. It says few are granted access to lawyers or are given reasons why they are being detained.

The study argues states should not use administrative detention for children under 15 and detention conditions should comply with international standards and judicial guarantees. It says the United Nations should be allowed to monitor child detention centers.

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

There are Western concerns Islamic State militants soon may unleash offensive in kingdom that could create upheaval - though nation has solid intel, grip on banking system More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid