In this guest post Sharanjeet Parmar, an international human rights attorney working on gender, justice, and anti-corruption issues in conflict and post-conflict countries, suggests means to empower national authorities to carry out more prosecutions of grave crimes against children in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and further afield.
In 2015, national authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) charged 7 individuals for recruiting and using children in armed groups. While there have been earlier attempts to hold perpetrators to account for this crime, successful prosecutions of serious violations of international law against children have been largely limited to international bodies, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Indeed, to date, there has not been a single conviction by national courts in the DRC for this crime.
Why is there such a lack of prosecutions at national level for crimes against children in war?
Based on the field-based research I conducted for Conflict Dynamics International in the last few years, judicial actors often lack the technical capacity and resources to deal with conflict-related crimes against children. In some cases, for example, prosecutors, judges, or lawyers do not know how to conduct age verification to support charges of recruitment and use of children or how to ensure the protection of victims and witnesses during such a process. In the DRC, some judicial authorities are not aware of the Congolese Child Protection Law (2009), which prohibits and sanctions the recruitment and use of children (below the age of 18) by armed actors (also see Conflict Dynamics’ case example).
What can be done to promote more national prosecutions?
Ending impunity for violations against children requires specialised approaches to investigating and prosecuting these crimes. In December 2015, Conflict Dynamics International published the Children in Armed Conflict Anti-Impunity Tool, a practical resource on how to investigate, prosecute and try serious violations committed against children in war (“CAC violations”). This Tool offers some important guidance on this issue, including:
- In developing and organizing a strategy for prosecuting CAC violations, it is useful for prosecutors to understand and depict why CAC violations are committed by armed actors and how they may serve military purposes, as well as the consequences of these violations for affected children and communities.
- Because of children’s unique vulnerabilities, national anti-impunity efforts like those in the DRC require careful collaboration between legal and child protection actors. Child protection actors can play an essential role in protecting child victims and witnesses throughout the judicial process by monitoring their well-being, assisting with unaccompanied children, and establishing links with health, psychosocial, legal, and other protection services.
- Support for national judicial processes involves enabling national actors to raise awareness through outreach activities and provide services to strengthen the recovery and resilience of affected children and their families.
This current set of cases in the DRC offers a unique opportunity to apply this technical guidance and break new legal ground. The stakes for successful national prosecutions are high. In Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and many countries terrible crimes committed against children in war – attacks against schools, use of child soldiers, killing and maiming – remain unabated and unpunished. With the international community struggling to respond to many pressing conflicts and humanitarian crises, now is the time to empower national actors to tackle impunity for the worst violations against children during armed conflict.
The resource referred to in this post: Anti-Impunity Tool: Guidance for investigating and prosecuting serious violations against children in armed conflict.
For a definition of “children in armed conflict accountability”, background on relevant accountability actors, and guidance for advancing accountability: Children in Armed Conflict Accountability Framework.
For more resources on children in armed conflict accountability, please visit: The CAC Accountability Resource Database.