New York, 26 September 2013 – The decision by the Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone to uphold Charles Taylor’s conviction sends a clear message that those who recruit and use children in hostilities will be held to account for their crimes, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict said today.
“Today’s decision clearly affirms that no one is above the law,” said Leila Zerrougui. “This verdict is a milestone for the accountability of those who use child soldiers, and another warning to warlords and military commanders that child recruitment will not go unpunished”
The UN-backed court maintained Taylor’s criminal responsibility for participating in the planning of crimes, and aiding and abetting crimes committed by rebel forces in Sierra Leone’s decade-long war.
The use of child soldiers was extensive in the conflict in Sierra Leone. The 2012 court verdict stated that children under the age of 15 had been used to participate actively in armed combat, forced to commit, but also victims of sexual violence as part of their association with the armed group. They were also recruited and used to amputate limbs and to perform auxiliary duties such as manning checkpoints, guarding diamond mines, going on food-finding missions and acting as bodyguards.
The recruitment and use of children in hostilities is a grave violation of international law. Prior to the Taylor verdict, the Special Court for Sierra Leone had brought the first convictions for the recruitment of children. The Court also chose not to prosecute child soldiers, deciding instead to bring to justice political leaders and military commanders, those considered to bear the greatest responsibility in the conflict.
In March 2012, the International Criminal Court, in its first verdict, convicted Thomas Lubanga, a warlord in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 into the Forces patriotiques pour la liberation du Congo.
“These are all important precedents to promote accountability for those who violate children’s rights,” said the Special Representative. “I hope these judgements by international tribunals will also serve as examples and useful precedents for national courts, where prosecution for recruitment and use of children continue to remain rare.”
In the mid-nineties, Graça Machel visited Sierra Leone, among other countries, to prepare her landmark report on the impact of conflict on children. What she saw in the war-torn country, and elsewhere, led her to the conclusion that “for too long, we have given ground to spurious claims that the involvement of children in armed conflict is regrettable, but inevitable.”
It is not. And today’s decision is another milestone in the fight against impunity.
For additional information, contact:
Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
Tel: +1 212 963-8285
Mobile: +1 917 288-5791
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