Posted By Dorean Koenig On April 26, 2007 @ 5:11 pm In International Human Rights Law | No Comments

by Dorean Marguerite Koenig

Two children, teenagers, are subjected to the horrors of war and the abuse of recruitment into war. It is instructive to compare rehabilitation and reintegration for one with what happened to the other. Both of them, after they were recruited, were encouraged, if not forced, to participate in heinous activities in wars they did not create. Omar Ahmed Khadr was a fifteen-year-old child “soldier” in Afghanistan when he was captured in 2002 and sent to Guantanamo. According to his attorneys, Khadr, a Canadian, has been held at Guantanamo “in conditions equal to or worse than those given to convicted adult criminals” (National Post, Canada, April 25, 2007). Khadr is being charged with, among other charges, the murder of Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer as a result of a firefight on July 27, 2002. Khadr has been held at Guananamo for five years without trial and, apparently, without any recognition of his being a child, let alone being recruited into a war. Greg McNeal writes (April 24, 2007) on the upcoming trial of Khadr at Guantanamo by a Military Commission. McNeal emphasizes that Khadr is an adult now; that he committed serious terrorist acts as a child and that he “comes from a dedicated al Qaeda family.” Michael Kelly wrote (April 6, 2007) that the already poor conditions at Guanatamo are worsening. He quoted from reports that “the majority [are] held in solitary confinement, and the often harsh and inhumane conditions at the camp are pushing people to the edge.” A new prison facility is said to have “created even harsher and apparently more permanent conditions of extreme isolation and sensory deprivation”. Detainees are reportedly confined to windowless cells for 22 hours a day, only allowed to exercise at night and can go for days without seeing daylight. What would such conditions do to an impressionable youth? However child abuse occurs, the result is the same for the youths – children committing horrendous acts, using lethal weapons, in a war. Comparing the outcome of being a recruit for the then 15-year-old Omar Khadr in Afghanistan and for the then13-year-old Ishmael Beah in Sierra Leone is instructive, although only the comparison of two children recruited for war. Omar Khadr has been imprisoned as an adult, with adults, during his five years in U.S. custody, held under harsh conditions and without having the care a child, especially a teen-ager, needs. Khadr is suggested by McNeal as being as dedicated a terrorist today as he was in 2002. For a different outcome, we need only read Ishael Ishmael Beah’s story, beginning when he was 13-years-old, as he tells it in A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. The acts of brutality he committed should have, by all acounts – including his own, left him unable to ever contribute to society. But, here we have, as outcome, a talented writer and productive member of society, reprieved and brought to the United States after being a child soldier where he admits to killing many people. After he was found, he was treated humanely as the teen-ager he was, and given the help and education he needed. According to Amnesty International, there may be as many as 500,000 child soldiers recruited by governmental and non-governmental entities alike. No one really knows how many. Research indicates 300,000 at least. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is a treaty that has been ratified by all 191 member states of the United Nations except the United States and Somalia. It is so widely accepted that it has been described as “international customary law.” The CRC states, Art. 3(1), “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” (Art.20(1)) states: “A child temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her family environment, or in whose own best interests cannot be allowed to remain in that environment, shall be entitled to special protection and assistance provided by the State.”

None of this, apparently, was provided to Khadr.

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