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Press release

UNICEF welcomes special court ruling establishing child recruitment a 'war crime'

NEW YORK/FREETOWN, 17 June 2004 –   The Special Court for Sierra Leone recently ruled that the recruitment or use of children under age 15 in hostilities is a war crime under customary international law.  This landmark ruling may result in the first ever conviction for the recruitment of child soldiers.  UNICEF welcomes the Court’s decision as a bold effort to hold perpetrators accountable for serious crimes against children.  

The decision by the Appeals Chamber came in response to an assertion by one of the accused that he was immune from prosecution because the recruitment or use of children under 15 in hostilities was not established as a war crime during the period of the Special Court’s authority, dating back to 1996.  The Appeals Chamber dismissed the motion by a majority of 3 – 1.

Responding to the Court’s decision UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said, “This ruling is an important milestone because it holds perpetrators criminally responsible.  It should set off alarm bells to armed groups around the world and act as a deterrent to future recruitment and use of children in hostilities.”

The Court’s ruling comes at a critical time when both girls and boys continue to be recruited to fight as soldiers in adult wars.   Tens of thousands of child soldiers across the globe are forced to commit atrocities or are used as cooks, porters and for sexual purposes.  These children are often subjected to extreme brutality – including physical torture, sexual violence and rape.  An estimated 6,000 children were demobilized at the end of the civil war in Sierra Leone. It is widely believed that the number of children (especially girls) who served in various capacities in the armed groups is actually much higher.

Eleven persons from all three of Sierra Leone's former warring factions have been indicted by the Special Court. They are charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international law.  All of them have been accused of the recruitment or use of children as soldiers.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone was jointly created by the Government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations in January 2002.  It is mandated to try those who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law committed in the country since 30 November 1996.


For further information, please contact:
Jehane Sedky-Lavandero, UNICEF New York, 212 326 7269,
Alexandra Westerbeek, UNICEF Sierra Leone,  +232 76 601 310
For nearly 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 158 countries to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for poor countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. 





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17 June 2004: Interview with Karin Landgren, UNICEF Chief of Child Protection, on child soldiers

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