The start of the trial of Omar Khadr – arrested in Afghanistan in 2002 for crimes he allegedly committed as a child – before the United States Military Commission in Guantánamo Bay today could set a precedent jeopardizing the status of child soldiers around the world, a United Nations envoy cautioned.
Mr. Khadr, the last child soldier held in Guantánamo, was 15 years old when he allegedly threw a grenade that killed a US soldier. He faces war crimes charges at his trial.
Radhika Coomaraswamy, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, stressed in a statement that the statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is clear that no one under the age of 18 should be tried for war crimes.
Prosecutors in other international tribunals have used their discretion not to prosecute children, she added.
“Since World War II, no child has been prosecuted for a war crime,” Ms. Coomaraswamy said. “Child soldiers must be treated primarily as victims and alternative procedures should be in place aimed at rehabilitation or restorative justice.”
She noted that even if Mr. Khadr, a Canadian citizen, were to be tried in a national court, the standards of juvenile justice are clear – “children should not be tried before military tribunals.”
In the past decade, the international community has worked together to protect child in armed conflict, the envoy said, with the US and Canada leading the way in creating and implementing such norms.
“Without their support, we would not have been able to persuade the Security Council to create a
Working Group on children and armed conflict nor be able to release thousands of child soldiers around the world,” Ms. Coomaraswamy said.
“I urge both governments to come to a mutually-acceptable solution on the future of Omar Khadr that would prevent him from being convicted of a war crime that he allegedly committed when he was child.”