"The ruling sends the strongest of signals that recruiting and using children by government forces or armed groups is among the most serious crimes under international law and that those who engage in the practice can and will be brought to justice." said Victoria Forbes Adam, the Coalition's director. The recruitment and use of children were some of the most widespread violations of international humanitarian and human rights law during the civil war. It is estimated that between 10,000 and 30,000 under-18 year olds actively participated at some point during the 11 year conflict: though, unfortunately, the jurisdiction of the Special Court is limited to cases of conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years. Many of the children, who were used by all sides, were forcibly recruited.
Those children who were the victims of enlistment and use, many of whom are now young adults, urgently need support. In its final report completed in 2004, the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission specifically recognized that forcibly recruited children were among those who still suffer the consequences of the war and recommended specific reparative measures for them.
The Coalition's own field research in 2006 among former child soldiers with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), another of the parties to the conflict and one to which the AFRC was closely associated, found that many have not successfully reintegrated into their communities and that they lack support and opportunities. For those who took part in the formal disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process, vocational training and employment opportunities were inadequate. As a result, many have returned to the mining industry or the streets from where they were originally seized by the RUF. Significant numbers, perhaps as many as half, did not take part in the DDR process and subsequently received no support. Girls in particular were not included and are now facing lives of exclusion and poverty.
The Coalition calls upon the Sierra Leone authorities, with the support of donors, to provide effective remedies to former child soldiers to ensure that their suffering is fully acknowledged and that they are provided with appropriate support and assistance. This must include restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition. It should also include psychosocial support and education, training, employment and other programs to facilitate their meaningful participation in society. Such assistance should be offered in the context of broader programs to help all war-affected children.
The inclusion of the charges of child conscription and use is the result of an historic decision taken by the Special Court's Appeal Chamber in May 2004. In response to a motion challenging its jurisdiction, the Chamber ruled that conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 to participate in hostilities was recognized as a crime under international customary law.
With this decision, the Court ruled that the defendants were subject to individual criminal responsibility for this offence during the entire period covered by the court's jurisdiction. More broadly, the ruling creates important jurisprudence that can be used by courts elsewhere to consider charges against individuals for the crime of recruitment and use of children that took place prior to the adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in 1998.
"The Special Court has set some important precedents and contributed significantly towards delivering justice to the countless victims of the civil war," said Dee Brillenburg Wurth, West Africa Project Manager to the Coalition. "However, the narrow interpretation by the Prosecutor on the 'greatest responsibility' standard applied along with the amnesty provision contained in the Lomé Peace Agreement means that many other suspects, including those who recruited and used children - will remain at large," she added.
The Coalition reminds the Sierra Leone government that it has the duty to investigate and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, to prosecute before national courts persons suspected of enlisting or conscripting children and, if found guilty, the duty to punish them.
Tens of thousands of civilians were killed during the civil war from 1991 to 2002. The conflict was characterized by widespread abuses, in particular rape and sexual slavery, where girls and women were forced into ''marriage'', domestic servitude or other forced labour that involved forced sexual activity, including rape by their captors; the use of child soldiers; mutilation; destruction of property; and forced displacement.
In January 2002, the Government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations signed an agreement to establish the Special Court for Sierra Leone, to prosecute those "who bear the greatest responsibility" for crimes against humanity, serious violations of international law and a few select aspects of Sierra Leonean law committed in Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996, the date of the Abidjan Peace Accord.
In addition to Alex Tamba Brima, Brima Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu of the AFRC, five other people are also on trial in the Special Court for crimes including enlistment of children under 15. They include three former RUF leaders, and two former Civil Defence Forces (CDF) leaders. The former Liberian President and principal backer of the RUF, Charles Taylor, has been charged by the Special Court, but for security reasons has been transferred to The Hague to stand trial. The enlistment and use of child soldiers are also among the charges against Taylor.
For more information, please contact: Dee Brillenburg Wurth, West Africa Project Manager. West Africa Regional Office of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, Dakar, Senegal. Tel: + 221 56995256 (temporarily contactable in Conakry, Guinea. Tel: + 224 64661425); email: firstname.lastname@example.org; or Enrique Restoy, Programme Manager, Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, London, UK. Tel: +44 2077132764. Email: email@example.com