- The Special Court for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone's civil war has made what rights group hail as a "historic court decision". The Court, which only is to handle the gravest war crimes committed in Sierra Leone, affirmed that the recruitment and use of child soldiers was under its jurisdiction and an internationally illegal war crime.
International law history has been written in Sierra Leone. The International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers today welcomed the decision by the UN-backed Special Court, confirming that the recruitment and use of child soldiers as a crime under international law and rejecting a preliminary motion, which claimed that the crime only entailed individual criminal responsibility.
- This decision ends an artificial debate about whether alleged war criminals can be prosecuted in Sierra Leone for recruitment of children, said Casey Kelso, International Coordinator of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. "This ruling serves as a warning to others because, although the Special Court only has jurisdiction in Sierra Leone, this legal ruling has broader implications for others recruiting children into wars elsewhere in the world," he added.
Thirteen people from all warring factions in Sierra Leone have been indicted by the Special Court since November 2003, including former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor. Charges against indictees include conscription of children under the age of 15 into an armed force.
Over 7,000 children were used as soldiers in the Sierra Leone conflict. "Today's decision is a victory for all those children and their families," the Coalition said, "but also transcends Sierra Leone, because it sends a clear message to recruiters all over the world that international judicial institutions are taking the issue seriously."
- The fact that these people will face charges of child recruitment is good news in the struggle against impunity for those who recruit children, concluded Mr Kelso. The trial of three alleged members of the Civil Defence Force will start in Freetown today.
In other news from Sierra Leone's Special Court, it was reported from Freetown that the Court has withheld its indiction of the Liberian ex-President, still protected by Nigerian authorities. The human rights group Amnesty International today sent out a press release welcoming this week's ruling of the Court, which states that Mr Taylor has no immunity from prosecution for crimes against humanity and war crimes, which reinforces the need to ensure that he faces the serious charges against him.
- The decision upholds the principles of international justice and the rule of law, the human rights group said. "The ruling reaffirms that Charles Taylor must not be allowed to enjoy impunity from trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes," Amnesty added.
The group therefore renewed it calls on Nigeria to "arrest Charles Taylor and either surrender him to the Special Court or open an investigation with a view to determining whether to pursue criminal or extradition proceedings in Nigerian courts."
A number of individuals and non-governmental organisations in Nigeria, including lawyers, journalists and human rights activists, lately publicly have expressed their disquiet at the Nigerian government's action in harbouring Mr Taylor and violation of its obligations under international law, and share the concerns of Amnesty, the group reports.
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