UNICEF [official website] expressed concern [press release] Wednesday over Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee and former child soldier Omar Khadr [DOD Materials; JURIST news archive]. Khadr was arrested in Afghanistan in 2002 at the age of 15 after he allegedly threw a grenade that killed on soldier and injured another. The statement held that recruitment and use of child soldiers is a war crime and those that should be punished for a child's acts of violence are the adult recruiters who manipulate young children into committing violent crimes. UNICEF said that separate systems have been created to accommodate judicial proceedings for child soldiers and are much better equipped to adjudicate juveniles suspected of war crimes:
[F]ormer child soldiers need assistance for rehabilitation and reintegration into their communities, not condemnation or prosecution. The prosecution of Omar Khadr may set a dangerous international precedent for other children who are victims of recruitment in armed conflicts. At a time when the UN celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, we call on all governments that have ratified this treaty, including the United States, to uphold the spirit of the Protocol and all its provisions. In addition, anyone prosecuted for offenses they allegedly committed while a child should be treated in accordance with international juvenile justice standards, which provide them with special protections. Omar Khadr should not be prosecuted by a tribunal that is neither equipped nor required to provide these protections and meet these standards.The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict requires States that ratify it to "take all feasible measures" to ensure that members of their armed forces under the age of 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities. Khadr is the last child soldier being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
Earlier this month, a UN official called on the US and Canada to respect international conventions [JURIST report] and release Khadr into Canadian custody. In February, Khadr's lawyers filed an emergency motion in the Federal Court of Canada [official website] challenging the decision of the Canadian government not to seek his repatriation [JURIST report]. The Canadian Supreme Court ruled that Canada was not obligated [JURIST report] to seek his repatriation despite having violated his rights under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text]. A US military judge has announced that Khadr's trial will begin on August 10 [JURIST report]. Army Col. Patrick Parrish also ordered pre-trial hearings [JURIST report] on the admissibility of Khadr's alleged confession to resume July 12. Khadr's pre-trial hearings were suspended last month so that Pentagon officials could submit him to a mental health evaluation.