On 12 February 2009, the world celebrates the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers in commemoration of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. The UN Treaty, which entered into force on 12 February 2002, prohibits the recruitment of children under 18 into government and rebel armies and prohibits their active participation in hostilities. It has been ratified by 126 States, but child soldiers are still being used in 15 countries or territories, including some that have ratified the treaty.

The prohibition of the recruitment or use of child soldiers was first recognised as a crime under customary international law in the landmark decision by the Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which has now convicted several individuals for this crime. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has also played a pivotal role in establishing individual criminal responsibility for those who recruit and use children in hostilities. The Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the ICC, includes the enlistment and recruitment of children under the age of 15 as a war crime.

On 26 January 2009, the ICC opened its first trial in the case of The Prosecutor vs. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo. Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga was the first person charged in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) situation as well as the Court’s first detainee. He is alleged to be responsible for enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 years into the Forces Patriotiques pour la Liberation du Congo and using them to participate actively in hostilities.

No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ) considers this trial a landmark in the ongoing fight against impunity in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and sees it as a signal of growing international determination to end the use of child soldiers. NPWJ hopes that it will also foster the process of global ratification and enforcement of the Second Option Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which raises the minimum age below which the use or recruitment in the armed forces is prohibited to the age of eighteen. The current disconnect between customary international law, which prohibits the conscription, enlistment or use of children under the age of fifteen, and the definition of a child being anyone under the age of eighteen leaves a significant gap in the protection of children aged between 15 and 18, which should be remedied as soon as possible

Read also the Press release issued by the CICC.

Visit also the website of the Red Hand Campaign, a worldwide initiative to stop the use of child soldiers.

For further information, contact Alison Smith on asmith@npwj.org or +32-486-986 235 or Nicola Giovannini on ngiovannini@npwj.org or +32-2-548-3913.