Children have become the unwilling emblems of armed conflict and extreme violence.

Searing images have surfaced in news stories, aid workers’ alerts, and rights groups’ dispatches: a 5 year old pulled from Aleppo rubbleorphans at a Goma children’s center, a young Colombian woman struggling to readjust after years as a child soldier, and, face down on a Turkish beach, a drowned 3-year-old refugee. Images of this nature were shown yesterday at the International Criminal Court, during the opening statement in Ongwen, with Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda herself warning “that some of these images are extremely disturbing.”

There is no better time than now to press for strategies both to combat such harms and to bring the persons responsible to justice. Presenting an important step toward those goals is the Policy on Children of the International Criminal Court Office of the Prosecutor.

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Prosecutor Bensouda launched the Policy on Children at an event during last month’s meeting of the ICC Assembly of States Parties. Bensouda quoted from the U.N. expert Graça Machel’s pathbreaking 1996 report on children and armed conflict, then commented:

“[I]t is indeed unconscionable that we so clearly and consistently see children’s rights attacked and that we fail to defend them.
“It is unforgivable that children are assaulted, violated, murdered and yet our conscience is not revolted nor our sense of dignity challenged. This represents a fundamental crisis of our civilisation and a failure of our humanity.
“By adopting the Policy on Children, which we launch today, we at the Office of the Prosecutor seek to ensure that children suffering the gravest injustices are not ignored. That through the vector of the law, we do what we can to protect and advance the rights of children within the framework of the Rome Statute.”

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