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UNICEF applauds verdict passed by the Special Court for Sierra Leone

Landmark verdict ends impunity for child rights violations during armed conflict

FREETOWN/SIERRA LEONE, 20 June 2007 – Today marks a major milestone in the annals of Sierra Leone as the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) handed down the first judgement on three former leaders of the former Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), Alex Tamba Brima, Brima Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu. They were found guilty on eleven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  These include conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 years into armed forces or groups, or using them to participate actively in hostilities.

The AFRC played a critical role in Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war which affected the country for over a decade (1991-2002). Thousands of people were killed, defenceless innocent civilians were mutilated and about 1,200,000 people were internally displaced. Children and women suffered most. More than 10, 000 children, including girls, were recruited as combatants. Many women and girls were raped.

The judgment was read out in court by Justice Julia Sebutinde. It is the very first time that an international tribunal has ruled on the charge of recruitment of child soldiers into an armed force.

Reacting to the verdict, the UNICEF Representative, Geert Cappelaere said, “This is another very important positive step to end impunity for all perpetrators of violations of children’s rights. Armed conflict is no justification! Children need respect and special protection under all circumstances. The judgement is another proof that no one should be considered any longer above the law. It is however only a meagre consolation for those many child victims of the decade long civil war. Nothing can compensate for their lost childhood. I hope, he concluded; that the verdict will send a strong message to the whole world and help prevent similar atrocities in other countries.”

Sierra Leone was one of 59 countries in February to adopt the Paris Commitments to stop the unlawful recruitment and use of children in armed conflict and endorse the Paris Principles, a set of concrete programme guidelines to prevent the unlawful recruitment of children and facilitate their release and long term social reintegration.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, 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.

For further information, please contact:
Alison Parker, UNICEF Sierra Leone, (076) 601310, aparker@unicef.org

Rafael Hermoso, UNICEF New York, 212 326 7516, rhermoso@unicef.org




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