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

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

Analysts say move by President Xi is an effort to win more party support, take step toward economic reforms, removing those who would stand in way of change More

South Africa Land Reforms Still Contentious 20 Years Later

Activists argue that the pace of land reform is slow and biased; legal experts question how some proposed reforms would be implemented More

In Vietnam, Religious Freedoms Violated, UN Finds

Beliefs reportedly prompt heavy surveillance, intimidation and travel restrictions 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.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid