Press Release

IACHR Welcomes First Verdict of International Criminal Court: Case on Recruitment of Child Soldiers

March 20, 2012

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and particularly its Office of the Rapporteur on the Rights of the Child, welcome the first verdict handed down by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The case has to do with the rights of children.

On March 14, 2012, the ICC found Thomas Lubanga Dyilo guilty of the war crime of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate in hostilities in the context of an internal armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The ICC's verdict sends a powerful message that this type of practice will not be tolerated.

The Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits the participation of children under the age of 18 in armed conflict. Moreover, the Statute of the International Criminal Court classifies as a war crime the conscription and enlistment in armed conflict of children under the age of 15. In the inter-American system specifically, the American Declaration and the American Convention on Human Rights recognize that all children, without discrimination, have the right to special protection, care, and assistance, and to measures required by their status as children from their families, society, and the State.

The Commission has emphasized that the conscription or voluntary enlistment of children or adolescents in armed conflict, whether by the State or by other armed actors, places the children in situations of danger for their life and integrity, and violates their right to education as well as other rights recognized in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Through its petition and case system and its monitoring mechanisms, the IACHR has followed situations involving the recruitment of minors in the Americas. In 1999, the Inter-American Commission issued a general recommendation for eradicating the recruitment of children and their participation in armed conflict. The recommendation states: "Although laws in most member countries establish a minimum age of 18 for conscription, practices violating the human rights of children persist. The Commission finds such practices comparable to slavery and forced servitude." In some cases, laws have been reformed to absolutely prohibit incorporating minors under the age of 18 into military service, but situations involving the recruitment of children continue to exist in the Americas. The IACHR will continue to strive so that States will repeal any laws or regulations that permit conscription of voluntary enlistment of adolescents under the minimum age allowed by international instruments.

International law tends to prohibit persons under the age of 18 from joining the armed forces or any other armed group, and to ensure that in the exceptional cases in which they voluntarily join the military service, they do not participate in hostilities and receive special treatment that takes into account their age and particular needs.

The IACHR urges those States in the region that have not yet done so to ratify the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, as well as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 31/12