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CRIN Children and Armed Conflict 103 - Special edition on the International Criminal Court

5 January 2007 - CRIN Children and Armed Conflict 103
Special edition on the International Criminal Court


Children and the International Criminal Court: An introduction

NGO Engagement with the ICC: Opportunities and pitfalls

Coalition for the International Criminal Court

DR Congo: Plight of girl soldiers overlooked

Resources: Background information, news, publications and websites


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Children and the International Criminal Court: An introduction

In August last year, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo from the Democratic Republic of Congo became the first person to be formally charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) with recruiting and using children under fifteen in armed conflict. Judges have until 29 January 2007 to decide whether to go ahead with a full trial or throw out the charges. As the final decision approaches, this edition of CRINMAIL looks at how the ICC protects children from the most serious crimes that face humanity.

The ICC was established by the Rome Statute which came into force in 2002. It is an independent, permanent court that tries individuals accused of the most serious crimes of international concern: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The ICC also has jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. However, in a political compromise, it was agreed that this crime would not be defined or prosecuted until at least seven years after the Statute came into force.

To date, over 100 countries have accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC. This means they agree to prosecute the crimes listed in the Rome Statute where these crimes are committed on their territory or where they are perpetrated by one of their nationals. The ICC is meant to complement national judicial systems; it can only initiate prosecutions when national courts are unable or unwilling to investigate such cases themselves.

All crimes under the ICC's jurisdiction affect children. Genocide includes the forcible transfer of children from one group to another, with the intention of destroying a particular national, racial, ethnic or religious group. Crimes against humanity include trafficking in children. War crimes include recruiting and using children in armed conflict, attacking schools or hospitals and wilfully starving a population as a method of warfare.

The Rome Statute of 17 July 1998 was the first treaty to make the recruitment of child soldiers a crime under international law. Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Convention of 1977 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990) created an obligation on the part of States to refrain from recruiting child soldiers, but did not make it a crime.

The Lubanga case is the first time the recruitment and use of children in armed forces, which is a war crime according to Article 8 of the Statute, has been given such a high profile in an international tribunal.

Six children - who were 10 years old at the time - are cited in the indictment against Lubanga, who led the Union of Congolese Patriots militia. Their experiences are said to reflect those of hundreds of other children. 

Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the Court which heard evidence against Lubanga in November “We hope to send a message that those who use children to fight adult wars will face prosecution under the full weight of international law.”

The ICC is also currently investigating situations in Uganda, Darfur and monitoring situations in the Central African Republic and Cote d’Ivoire. It issued an indictment against five leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army of Uganda including commander Joseph Kony in October 2005 for crimes against humanity which include the abduction and sexual enslavement of children. The President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni has, however, offered a total amnesty to Kony on the condition that he renounces terrorism and accepts peace. This would protect him from prosecution at the ICC.

[Sources: the ICC, BBC, The Guardian]

Background note on age of conscription
While Article 38 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) stipulates that children under 15 must not participate directly in armed conflict, the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which entered into force in February 2002, states that States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure children under 18 do not take part in hostilities, and that armed groups that are not States Parties must not recruit children under 18.


Further information


NGO Engagement with the ICC: Opportunities and pitfalls

NGO staff are often the first people to witness massive violations of human rights and humanitarian law through their work with affected populations on the ground. This gives NGOs privileged access to information and testimonies from victims and witnesses and has led the International Criminal Court (ICC) to call upon them to provide vital evidence and to raise awareness about the ICC’s activities among people on the ground.

However, while many NGOs support the ICC’s aims and remit, engagement with the Court raises some challenges:

  • If ICC investigations are undertaken during ongoing conflict, association with the investigation can potentially put children and their families in danger.
  • The ICC is a political body; engaging with it can erode NGOs’ impartial stance, which can affect the security of the people they work with and that of staff members, as well as access to communities where they want to work.
  • Its political nature also means locally-led peace processes that may be ongoing could be disrupted.
  • In practical terms, collecting evidence can be difficult because most NGO staff are not trained investigators.
  • NGOs’ first priority is to protect the confidentiality of their beneficiaries.
  • NGOs may not have the capacity to appropriately document cited violations.

These dynamics must be monitored carefully by the ICC to ensure that it achieves what it set out to do: address the most egregious violations against humanity, including children.

[Source: Save the Children UK]


Further information


Coalition for the International Criminal Court

The Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) is a global network of over 2,000 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) established in 1995 to advocate for a fair, effective and independent International Criminal Court (ICC).

These groups are united in their support for a fair, effective and independent ICC and have made a significant contribution at all stages of the process, from the Preparatory Committee to the Rome Conference, from the UN Preparatory Commission for the ICC, to the Assembly of States Parties.

The CICC secretariat has two locations, in New York and The Hague - with regional coordinators based around the world. The work of the Coalition is guided by an informal Steering Committee, which helps to define the CICC’s goals, policies and strategies.

The role of the Coalition was recognised by the Assembly of States Parties when it adopted a resolution entitled ‘Recognition of the coordinating and facilitating role of the NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court’ (ICC-ASP/2/Res.8) during its second session in September 2003.

The goals of the Coalition include:

  • protecting the letter and spirit of the Rome Statute;
  • raising awareness of the ICC at the national, regional and global level;
  • monitoring and supporting the work of the Court;
  • promoting ratification and implementation of the Rome Statute;
  • monitoring and supporting the work of the Assembly of States Parties;
  • facilitating involvement and capacity building of NGOs in the ICC process; and
  • expanding and strengthening the Coalition’s worldwide network.


Further information


DR CONGO: Plight of girl soldiers overlooked

[13 November 2006] - As the trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) of a Congolese rebel leader approaches, some fear that the voice of girls forced into militias may go unheard.

While human rights organisations welcome the fact that Congo warlord Thomas Lubanga will soon stand trial at the ICC for conscripting child soldiers, some are concerned that the scope of the official charge is inadequate.

They allege that girls who were kidnapped into Lubanga's Hema tribal militia in Ituri province will not be able to give full testimonies at the ICC hearings in The Hague because charges of sexual violence have not been included in his indictment.

Thomas Lubanga Dyilo made history in March this year when he became the first - and, so far, only - person to be arrested by the ICC and imprisoned in its cells in the capital of the Netherlands.

Lubanga, 45, is charged with "enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities" against rival Lendu tribespeople. The scale of the inter-ethnic slaughter in the remote, mineral-rich Ituri region, in the northeastern corner of the sprawling Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC, has been compared in intensity, though not in scale, with that of the genocide in nearby Rwanda in 1994.

In an Ituri population of just over four million, the United Nations estimates that more than 60,000 people have been killed in internecine fighting since 1999, while more than half a million have been forced to flee their homes, encountering further violence in their flight.

While no one is disputing that the conscription of children into armed groups is a grave abuse that must be tackled, human rights groups and activists argue that the additional problem caused by the presence of young girls in guerrilla armies is being overlooked by the international community.

Beck Bukeni T Waruzi works with a charity in the east and northeast of the DRC that rehabilitates child soldiers, including those from Ituri's Hema, Lendu and Lendu-aligned Ngiti militias.

Waruzi told IWPR that when former girl combatants - who often have been raped and kept as sex slaves - hear there is a court in Europe called the ICC dealing with war crimes they are disappointed to find it is not also pressing charges of sexual violence.

"They feel that they are forgotten, and the court is only concerned with boys," said Waruzi, whose Ajedi-Ka/Projet Enfants Soldats organisation is based in Uvira, on Lake Tanganyika, some 700 kilometres south of Ituri.

He said girls very specifically feel that their exploitation as sex slaves has "broken their future ... [as] they cannot be married and are rejected by their communities"...

The DRC government and World Bank agree there are currently about 30,000 child soldiers in the Congo, long torn by a cat's cradle of national and provincial wars that have taken more than four million lives since 1998. An estimated 12,500 of these child soldiers are girls, some as young as six-years-old, who become sex slaves. Peace was officially established in the Congo in 2003, but militia warfare has continued unabated in many parts of the vast country.

In a report entitled DRC: Children At War, published in October 2006, Amnesty International claims that the presence of large numbers of girls in armed groups has been "largely overlooked by the government and international community". The report said there is "systematic abuse of these children through torture, sexual violence and ill-treatment". It said commanders and male fighters often do not feel obliged to release the girls, as they assume ownership of them, claiming them as their "wives".

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 38(3), prohibits recruitment of children under the age of 15.

The DRC government launched a nationwide programme after 2003 to coordinate disarmament and demobilisation and to reintegrate fighters into civil society. However, Renner Onana, a United Nations demobilisation officer who was on the programme's drafting team, told IWPR, "We did not touch the issue of the girl soldiers, but wrongly took them as the dependants of combatants." Regrettably, he said, "it was not seen as a serious issue".

With an estimated 1,200 people still dying every day in the Congo's unresolved regional conflicts, according to International Rescue Committee mortality surveys, Waruzi said he is surprised by the narrowness of the ICC charge against Lubanga. Many people in the eastern Congo feel he is guilty of "grave crimes like killing, maiming, abducting, and sexual violence", said Waruzi.

[Source: Institute for War and Peace Reporting]


More information


RESOURCES: Background information, news, publications and websites

Background information

Human Rights Watch: Children's Rights and the International Criminal Court

Amnesty International: Factsheet - Ensuring justice for children

The American Non Governmental Organisations Coalition for the International Criminal Court: The International Criminal Court and Children's Rights


Uganda wants ICC arrest warrants scrapped (6 September 2006)

International Criminal Court prosecutor says first Darfur cases are almost ready (15 December 2006)


REDRESS: Victims, Perpetrators or Heroes? Child soldiers before the International Criminal Court (September 2006)

War Crimes Studies Center, University of California, Berkeley: Child Witnesses at the Special Court (April 2006)

Coalition for an International Criminal Court: The International Criminal Court and Child Victims of Genocide, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity (August 2001)

Terre des Hommes - Italy: ICC and Children's Voice. International Criminal Court and Children Victims Of International Criminal Exploitation (June 2001)

Karin Arts, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, Vesselin Popovski, United Nations University, Tokyo: International Criminal Accountability and the Rights of Children (November 2006). Published by Cambridge University Press.
Available for purchase from


War Crimes Studies Centre, University of California, Berkeley

Crimes of War Project

Victims' Rights Working Group

Institute for War and Peace Reporting



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