Law Bulletin analyses legal ramifications of child soldier recruitment

from Commonwealth Secretariat
Published on 08 Dec 2008 View Original
In 2002, children were fighting in 37 of the world's 55 ongoing or recently concluded conflicts and they numbered around 300,000

One of the most significant rulings from the Special Court for Sierra Leone was on the recruitment of child soldiers.

The Court had to rule on a motion by the accused, Sam Hinga Norman (founder and leader of the Civil Defence Forces (CDF) in Sierra Leone), who argued that the Court did not have jurisdiction to try him for recruiting child soldiers.

Mr Norman's defence team argued that the crime was not part of customary international law. Moreover, his defence argued that even though certain international treaties, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, may have created an obligation on the part of states to refrain from recruiting child soldiers, these instruments did not criminalise such activity.

On its part, the prosecution argued that the crime of child recruitment was part of customary international law at the time of these offences. The Geneva Conventions established the protection of children under 15 years of age as an undisputed norm of international humanitarian law.

The prosecution also argued that a number of states had made the practice illegal under their domestic law, and subsequent international conventions addressing child recruitment demonstrated the existence of a customary international norm prohibiting such recruitment.

In its significant decision, the Appeals Chamber of the Court accepted that there was a norm prohibiting recruitment of child soldiers. Moreover the Court held that this prohibition applied equally to state and non-state entities, such as rebel groups.

This case is analysed in detail by Dr Susan C Breau, Reader in International Law at the School of Law, University of Surrey, UK, in 'The Contribution of the Special Court for Sierra Leone to the Development of International Humanitarian Law'. This article will appear in the Special Issue of the Commonwealth Law Bulletin on International Humanitarian Law and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement of December 2008.

In addition to this article, the Special Issue of the Commonwealth Law Bulletin (Vol. 34, No. 4), for which Sir Kenneth J Keith - from the International Court of Justice - has written the foreword, contains a broad spectrum of articles on modern international humanitarian law (IHL), including on the implementation of IHL obligations by small states; fact-finding commissions; international custom; and international disaster response laws, rules and principles, making this a key reference manual on IHL in the Commonwealth.

This Special Issue will be launched in Geneva, Switzerland, at the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum on Wednesday, 21 January 2008 at 6 p.m. Those wishing to attend the event should contact the Law Bulletin's Legal Editor, Dr Aldo Zammit Borda, at