By Priyanka Pruthi
NEW YORK, USA, 14 March 2012 – In a landmark ruling today, Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo was convicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of war crimes for recruiting children into his armed movement. The verdict is the first ever delivered by the ICC, the world’s only permanent, independent war crimes tribunal, since its establishment in 2002.
|VIDEO:UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Pernille Ironside discusses the conviction of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo for recruiting children into armed conflict. Watch in RealPlayer|
Mr. Lubanga Dyilo, the founder and former President of Union of Congolese Patriots in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was found guilty of conscripting children under age 15 and using them to participate in brutal ethnic clashes in 2002 and 2003.
“This is a pivotal victory for the protection of children in conflict,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “The conviction of Thomas Lubanga by the International Criminal Court sends a clear message to all armed groups that enslave and brutalize children: Impunity will not be tolerated.”
UNICEF has repeatedly called for the prosecution of those who commit this crime, which often victimizes the most vulnerable children – orphans, and children who have been separated from their families and communities because of violence.
|Ishmael Beah, UNICEF Advocate for Children Affected by War, speaks about the devastating effects of armed conflict on children. Watch in RealPlayer|
“The exploitation of children by armed groups does more than violate their rights; it robs them of their childhood,” said Mr. Lake. “UNICEF is heartened that ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo emphasized the plight of children recruited or used by armed forces or armed groups in his successful prosecution.”
Mr. Lubanga Dyilo is only one of many players in DRC’s violent past. Other perpetrators of grave violations of children’s rights in DRC and in other nations have yet to be apprehended. “This conviction sets a powerful precedent,” said UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Pernille Ironside, an expert on the use of children by armed groups. “It represents a milestone in child protection and may boost confidence in the international criminal justice system, which may in turn bring about new prosecutions and convictions.”
UNICEF’s work protecting children in armed conflict.
Solutions lie in communities
Ms. Ironside argues that the solution to the crisis of children in armed conflict lies not only in apprehending those who commit such grave violations, but also in empowering communities and providing children with the services they need to re-enter their societies.
|© REUTERS/Evert-Jan Daniels|
|Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo is seen behind his lawyers in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague on 14 March 2012, the day of his conviction for war crimes against children.|
“UNICEF promotes a community-based and inclusive approach to reintegrating and supporting children who have come out of armed forces and armed groups,” Ms. Ironside said. “These children need to return to school, to learn vocational skills, and to earn their livelihoods. Many are returning to impoverished areas, so we also support programmes and initiatives to boost social services, training social workers, counsellors, teachers, in order to strengthen the whole system that protects children and helps them to succeed,” she said.
UNICEF and its partners support the release and re-integration of children associated with armed forces and armed groups around the world. The organization has been working with governments and other UN agencies to ensure that children formerly used by armed groups are protected from further violence, and that they are supported to return to their home communities. This has involved setting up identification services, transit care, family tracing and repatriation programmes, and providing psycho-social support.
“The answer lies in long-term investment in poverty reduction, in peace building and reconciliation and in creating employment opportunities for young people,” Ms. Ironside said.