Even as the United States proceeds this week to prosecute Omar Khadr, a child soldier held at the Guantanamo Bay prison, a top United Nations official has warned that this move would violate a statute of the International Criminal Court that no person under the age of 18 years should be tried for war crimes.
Mr. Khadr was arrested in Afghanistan in 2002 for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a Delta Force medic, among other charges. He was said to have been 15 years old at the time.
Radhika Coomaraswamy, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, noted that prosecutors in other international tribunals have used their discretion not to prosecute children, adding, “Since World War II, no child has been prosecuted for a war crime.”
Child soldiers are victims
Ms. Coomaraswamy also said that child soldiers ought to be treated primarily as victims and alternative procedures should aim at rehabilitation or restorative justice rather than trial and prosecution by military tribunals. She had earlier warned that Mr. Khadr’s prosecution would set a dangerous international precedent for other children who are victims of recruitment in armed conflicts.
She went on to urge the U.S. and Canada, of which country Mr. Khadr is a citizen, to come to “a mutually-acceptable solution on the future of Omar Khadr that would prevent him from being convicted of a war crime that he allegedly committed when he was child”.
According to reports, constitutional experts have said he should have been released “years ago” given his youth and “evidence that his family upbringing forced him to take up arms with Bin Laden”. Others were reported to have argued that he should be returned to Canada and reunited with his family and possibly face trial there in a civilian court.
The LA Times reported that since his capture, Mr. Khadr has brought allegations that the U.S. army tortured him, held him in harsh conditions and prevented him from contacting his family and attorneys. He said he had suffered “deep emotional distress and borderline mental illness”. However, a ruling by a military judge this week said that Mr. Khadr’s confessions in prison could be used against him and dismissed arguments that they were “tainted by mistreatment”.