UNICEF concerned over possible prosecution of child soldier

4 February 2008 –

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has expressed concern over the possible prosecution of a detainee at Guantanamo Bay on charges of war crimes he allegedly committed when he was 15 years old.

“UNICEF is concerned that such a prosecution, in particular in front of a military commission not equipped to meet the required standards, would set a dangerous precedent for the protection of hundreds of thousands of children who find themselves unwittingly involved in conflict around the world,” the agency said.

A United States military commission at Guantanamo Bay is scheduled to review the case of the detainee, Omar Khadr, today and decide whether his prosecution for war crimes should proceed. Mr Khadr, who is a Canadian citizen, was arrested in 2002 in Afghanistan.

“UNICEF believes that children alleged to have committed crimes while they were child soldiers should be considered primarily as victims of adults who have broken international law by recruiting and using children… and that these individuals must be provided with assistance for their social integration,” the agency said.

It added that persons under 18 at the time of the alleged offence “must be treated in accordance with international juvenile justice standards which provide them with special protection.”

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