ACLU Welcomes Child Soldiers Accountability Act

For Immediate Release

ACLU
Contact: 

Matthew Allee, (202) 675-2312, media@dcaclu.org
Rachel Myers, (212) 549-2666, media@aclu.org

ACLU Welcomes Child Soldiers Accountability Act

Bipartisan legislation signed into law today

WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union applauds President Bush and both chambers of Congress for enacting the Child Soldiers Accountability Act law today. The Act criminalizes the recruitment and use of child soldiers and gives the United States the authority to deport or to deny entry to individuals for such activities.

"With this new law, America has announced that the use of child soldiers is heinous and unforgiveable. The ACLU commends President Bush and Congress for taking this step to protect the world's children," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Senator Durbin deserves special recognition for introducing the bill and spearheading the effort to marshal it through Congress. Leaders who use children to fight their wars will not be protected by the American government."

"While our government has taken this historic step to protect children from recruitment as child soldiers abroad, it simultaneously fails to protect the youth who have already been forcibly involved in armed conflict," added Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. "The U.S. shamefully continues to detain alleged former child soldiers at Guantánamo and U.S.-run facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan without recognizing their juvenile status or observing international juvenile justice standards."

In May, the ACLU submitted a report to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child criticizing U.S. detention of children at Guantánamo and U.S.-run facilities overseas without recognizing their juvenile status or observing international juvenile justice standards. Highlighted in the report are the cases of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen in Department of Defense custody since he was 15, detained at Guantánamo on charges that include alleged crimes committed when he was 10 years old, and Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan national captured when he was about 16, whose case has been marred by ethical and legal problems resulting in the prosecutor's recent resignation in protest. Both Khadr and Jawad have claimed they were subjected to torture and mistreatment in U.S. custody.

According to the ACLU, the lack of protections and consideration for the juvenile status of detainees violates the obligations of the U.S. under the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict that the U.S. ratified in 2002, as well as universally accepted international norms.

In its own report made public in May, the U.S. government revealed that it has no comprehensive policy in place for dealing with youth detained by the U.S. military. According to the government report, approximately 2,500 youths under the age of 18 have been held, in some cases for months and years without being charged with a crime, in Guantánamo Bay and U.S.-run facilities overseas. As of April 2008, there are approximately 500 youths being held in US-run detention facilities in Iraq alone. The government report claims that it is holding Iraqi children in prison in order to educate them to "contribute positively to the future of Iraq."

These revelations raised clear concern among the U.N. Committee members, who called on the U.S. to institute much-needed policies for dealing with juveniles in U.S. military custody.

The ACLU calls on the government to adopt the CRC recommendations, including:

* Ensure that captured children are only detained as a measure of last resort and that detained children enjoy adequate conditions in accordance with their age and vulnerability;
* Reduce the number of children detained at U.S.-run facilities abroad and prevent the detention of suspected child soldiers at Guantánamo;
* Avoid criminal prosecutions of suspected child soldiers before military commissions and promptly and impartially investigate accusations against detained children, in accordance with minimum fair trial standards; and,
* Guarantee captured children a periodic and impartial review of their detention and impartially investigate reports of torture and abuse against child prisoners, and bring to justice those responsible.

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