UNICEF voices concern ahead of trial of last child soldier in Guantánamo Bay

Aerial view of Guantánamo Bay

27 May 2010 – The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has voiced its concern about the prosecution of Guantánamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr – who was arrested in Afghanistan in 2002 for crimes he is alleged to have committed at the age of 15 – saying it sets a dangerous precedent for child victims of recruitment in armed conflicts.

Mr. Khadr is the last child soldier held in Guantánamo Bay, and his case has long been highlighted by UN officials, including the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy.

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, in a statement issued yesterday, said that the recruitment and use of children in hostilities is a war crime, and those who are responsible – the adult recruiters – should be prosecuted.

“The children involved are victims, acting under coercion,” he said, adding that former child soldiers need assistance for rehabilitation and reintegration into their communities, not condemnation or prosecution.

“The prosecution of Omar Khadr may set a dangerous international precedent for other children who are victims of recruitment in armed conflicts,” Mr. Lake added.

He stressed that anyone prosecuted for offenses they allegedly committed while a child should be treated in accordance with international juvenile justice standards, which provide them with special protections.

“Omar Khadr should not be prosecuted by a tribunal that is neither equipped nor required to provide these protections and meet these standards,” stated the UNICEF chief.

The trial of Mr. Khadr, a Canadian national, is reportedly set to begin on 10 August. Earlier this month, Ms. Coomaraswamy called for authorities to release the now 23-year-old detainee into Canadian custody, and to ensure efforts for his rehabilitation.

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