(Reissued as received from Office of Special Representative. )

NEW YORK, 16 June — The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict, Olara A. Otunnu, said today that “the best interest of, and maximum protection for, children affected by armed conflict” should serve as guiding principles in the drafting of the statute for a permanent international criminal court.

The Special Representative, who serves as an international advocate for children affected by armed conflict, by promoting their rights, protection and welfare, sent this message to the United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court, which opened on Monday, 15 June, in Rome.

The abomination we are witnessing against children in theatres of conflict around the world, where they are being deliberately targeted, brutalized and used as instruments of warfare, represents above all a crisis of values, Mr. Otunnu said. “There is a wide gap between the impressive repertoire of international humanitarian and human rights instruments that have been developed in the last 50 years, and their application on the ground. The establishment of an international criminal court represents a unique opportunity to begin closing that gap and to begin the process of reversing the trend of impunity in conflict situations around the world. “

Regarding the draft statute before the Conference, the Special Representative stated his support for provisions that put the interest of children first, and provide for their maximum protection. Specifically, he called for the following:

war Crimes:the recruitment into armed forces or groups of children below the legal minimum age for recruitment should be defined as a war crime. the Targeting of buildings or sites that usually have a significant presence of children, such as schools, playgrounds, hospitals, should be defined as a war crime. the crime of rape and other forms of sexual violence in the context of armed conflict should be defined as a war crime, with provision for the severest punishment.

age of responsibility:the age of criminal responsibility should be that of the legal minimum age for recruitment into armed forces or groups. Consistency between the age of criminal responsibility and the legal minimum age of recruitment is essential to avoid the deliberate use of children in the commission of Crimes, due to their de jure immunity from prosecution by the Court.

— Sentencing:The age of the defendant, if below 18 at the time of the commission of the crime, should be a mitigating factor. Provision should be made for particularly heavy sentences for adults guilty of crimes involving the use and abuse of children. I

Mr. Otunnu urged delegations to adopt pertinent provisions with a view to ensuring that the statute be consistent with international standards of juvenile justice, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Beijing Rules, and the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty.

He expressed the hope that the Diplomatic Conference in Rome would lead to the adoption of a comprehensive statute for the court. “The Conference bears an enormous responsibility to children world wide. The establishment of an effective, permanent court would be a historical landmark in the struggle to restore accountability, as well as ending impunity for crimes against children. This opportunity must not be squandered”, he said.