by Mariana on 06 Aug 2012 | Comments
By Tania Deigni and Mariana Rodriguez Pareja
Former Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, was born in Jiba, in the district of Ituri, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He was arrested in Kinshasa, DRC, in March 2006; following his arrest, he was transferred to the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) detention facility in The Hague, the Netherlands, where he has been in detention ever since and will remain until the Court rules on which facility will enforce his 14-year sentence.
Lubanga is the first person to be judged and sentenced by the ICC. In March 2012, he was found guilty of committing war crimes as contained in the Rome Statute. As a co-perpetrator, and as the ICC ruling states, he was convicted for “enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 years into the Force patriotique pour la libération du Congo [Patriotic Force for the Liberation of Congo] (FPLC) and using them to participate actively in hostilities.”
According to the findings of the tribunal, Lubanga was responsible for heading the FPLC, which lead a systematic and widespread recruitment of children and forced them to join and participate in hostilities. As commander of this rebel group, he assumed great responsibility in planning and coordinating the recruitment of child soldiers. Lubanga also used them as his personal bodyguards.
Although most people associate arm and warfare and the issue of child soldiers with males, it is important to note that girls were also recruited as child soldiers and, in most cases, served as sex slaves for the FPLC commanders and rebels. However, the ICC did not incorporate these sexual crimes into the final guilty verdict against Lubanga, despite relentless efforts by several oganizations, including the Women Initiatives for Gender Justice (WIJG), who sought to have these sex crimes incorporated into the verdict. These organization’s efforts can particularly be contextualized through the 2007 Paris Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces and Armed Groups, which states that “A child associated with an armed force or armed group refers to any person below 18 years of age who is, or who has been, recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, spies or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking, or has taken, a direct part in hostilities.”
Justice welcomed, but more remains to be done
Several international, regional, and national organizations welcomed Lubanga’s sentence, although not all of them were satisfied with it. The DRC Coalition for the ICC welcomed the decision of the judges to sentence Lubanga to 14 years in prison. However, as the organization’s coordinator, André Kito, stated: “Civil society organizations and victims [in the DRC] still regret that the scope of charges was not broad enough since other crimes perpetrated such as sexual violence, summary executions, and pillage were excluded. We are also frustrated that sexual violence was not considered at sentencing as an aggravating factor due to the absence of any prosecutorial evidence presented to the Chamber.”
In addition, Armel Luhiriri, African Situations Liaison at the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), pointed out that Bosco Ntaganda, another warlord still committing crimes in the DRC, remains at large despite an ICC arrest warrant issued against him. Persistent calls for his arrest have not succeeded in securing his arrest and his transfer to the ICC.
Child Soldiers throughout the World
According to Child Soldiers International, since January 2011, 18 states have reportedly used girls and boys to actively participate in hostilities. In some cases, such children are found to have been incorporated as part of the official state armed forces, including national armies, paramilitaries, civil defense, police and other forces established by law. In other instances, these children were found to be a part of state-allied armed groups such as irregular paramilitaries and “self-defense” groups which are backed by (or in alliance with) government forces, but were not officially incorporated into such government forces. Children have also been used in armed opposition groups allegedly being supported by foreign states. In yet a few other cases, child soldiers had not been formally conscripted or enlisted but were nonetheless used by state armed forces for intelligence purposes or as guides, porters, spies or human shields.
No matter the level of incorporation of a child in armed services, it is a danger to the child and illegal under international (and most national) laws. In all these cases, children are forced to fight, in some cases at gunpoint. The sad reality is that once a child soldier is recruited, it is extremely difficult for him or her to escape. Certain few have managed to escape, but the vast majority of children who try to escape or desert are executed. There are no arrest warrants, no trials and no convictions for the recruiters. There is no accountability, only total impunity.
The United Nations (UN) stipulated that 11,000 child soldiers were freed in 2011 in Africa and Asia. But, it is hard to say the exact number of children who remain at the mercy of warlords like Lubanga. Just yesterday, on 5 August 2012, Child Soldiers International reported that hundreds of children have been forced into armed groups in northern Mali, some serving as soldiers and others as sex slaves.
Child Soldiers International reports that Africa has the largest number of child soldiers and can be found in: Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Somalia and Sudan. In Asia, child soldiers are fighting in Myanmar (where it is legal to recruit under- aged persons to participate in hostilities), Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, and Thailand. In the Middle East, Iran, Iraq, Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and tribal groups in Yemen have child soldiers operating in hostilities. In Latin America, child soldiers are primarily in Colombia, where Child Soldiers International estimates there are 14,000 children in armed groups. In Europe, child soldiers are involved in conflicts in Turkey and in the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation.
The Particular Case of Colombia
NGOs in Colombia have been working tirelessly to shed visibility on the problem of the recruitment of child soldiers in Colombia. The FARC and other groups involved in the internal conflict that has been going on for almost 40 years, have allegedly recruited children as young as 7 or 8 and forced them into combat. Girls are being raped, and some become pregnant; after giving birth, they are beaten and sometimes killed. There are gangs composed of children under 18 years old, who carry guns and go on killing rampages, eliminating all who come in front of them. According to consulted journalists, some view child soldiers as benevolently aiding in controlling drug trafficking.
Those who are working in order to eradicate the use of child soldiers and for their reintegration into society do not have the support they need in order to achieve their goals. This crime is almost invisible to a great part of Colombia’s society, which is misinformed and at times uneducated on the issue of child soldiers. Many Colombians believe this crime only happens in Africa, and are unaware that kids are being kidnapped a few blocks away from their homes, from their schools, from their communities, and being forced to live these nightmares.
Colombian civil society will be releasing an exhaustive report on the issue, which I will highlight when it is released. Indeed, it is not a question of only Colombia or the DRC; it is a matter of humanity. How can we, as a global society of human beings, continue to allow children to be recruited into armed groups throughout the world?
We must take a stand; justice has been rendered against Lubanga, who is next?
Tania Deigni obtained a BA in Political Science from the University of Florida, currently pursuing nursing studies
Mariana Rodriguez Pareja is the Director of the Human Rights Program at Asuntos del Sur @maritaerrepe