The verdict against former Liberian President Charles Taylor by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone is a victory for children recruited and used in war and will serve as a warning to other war-time leaders and warlords, UNICEF said today.
Taylor was convicted of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity, war crimes and other grave violations of international law committed by rebel forces in Sierra Leone. At his trial in The Hague he faced an 11-count indictment including the enlistment, recruitment and use of children under the age of 15.
The prosecution argued that he was one of those bearing the greatest responsibility for crimes committed by rebel forces between 1996 and 2002.
“For the thousands of children brutalized, scarred and exploited as weapons of war, today’s verdict against Charles Taylor may not wipe out the atrocities they suffered, but we hope it will help to heal their wounds,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. “This is the first conviction of a former head of state for aiding and abetting such crimes. It is a clear victory year for children -- and against impunity, even for the powerful.”
The verdict against Taylor follows the conviction by the International Criminal Court on March 14 of former Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga of war crimes for enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 years into his armed movement in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002 and 2003.
The recruitment and use of children in hostilities is prohibited under international law, and constitutes a war crime when children are under the age of 15. Often it is the most vulnerable children who are at risk of becoming associated with armed forces or groups, whether through forced conscription or driven by factors such as poverty, violence, and ideology.
During the civil war in Sierra Leone, UNICEF intervened directly with all parties to rescue children who had been recruited. In some cases children who had been branded and scarred by rebel forces received plastic surgery to help them to be accepted into their communities. UNICEF also led efforts to release and reunite children with their families and reintegrate children into their communities by providing skills training, education and psycho-social support.
Children were also used as human shields, sex slaves and as labourers in diamond mines. After the end of the war, 7,000 children were released and reintegrated into society. Ninety-eight per cent were reunited with their families. Another 7,000 separated children were supported for reintegration, among them girls who had been associated with the rebels.
“Those who exploit children for military gain violate their rights and rob them of their childhood,” said Lake. “We all should be heartened that grave violations against children are now being successfully prosecuted and perpetrators are being brought to justice.”