Statement of ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, on the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers: “Children’s voices and their stories of unspeakable abuses during war and conflict must not go unheard.”
Today, I join the chorus of voices around the world to mark the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, determined to bring an end to the use and abuse of children during war and armed conflict. As Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court ("ICC" or the "Court"), this serious matter has been of particular concern to me and my Office.
Most crimes under the Rome Statute, the Court's founding treaty, can affect children either directly or indirectly: from the devastating effects of using children as soldiers or as sex slaves and servants to the deprivation of their fundamental right to life and education.
The first case before the ICC in the Situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. - the Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo – concentrated on the enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 years and using them to participate actively in hostilities as child soldiers. The 2012 guilty verdict rendered by the Court in that case was a landmark decision, highlighting the need to take urgent and concrete action to curb this scourge. The final outcome in the case sent a clear message globally that the use of child soldiers is not acceptable, and that perpetrators must be held accountable.
In the exercise of its mandate, my Office has consistently sought to charge for such crimes led by the evidence, whether it is the enlistment and use of child soldiers, sexual and gender-based violence or other crimes against or affecting children.
To do so effectively and in a systematic manner, my Office has elevated the investigation and prosecution of these crimes to one of the key strategic goals of the Office, committing to pay particular attention to these crimes. We have developed comprehensive policies to better guide our efforts in this regard (see the Office policies on sexual and gender-based crimes and children).
On the strength of these policies in practice, we achieved success at trial in another case in the Situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: the case of the Prosecutor v. Bosco Ntaganda. In July 2019, the Trial judges entered a conviction for sexual violence committed by perpetrators against members of their own armed group for the first time in the history of international criminal law and indeed international humanitarian law. This case demonstrates our willingness to make use and indeed push the envelope of the law to protect children in armed conflict.
The recently concluded trial in the case of the Prosecutor v. Mr Dominic Ongwen, is a further example of my Office's declared policy in action to address these serious crimes. The guilty verdict against the defendant, one of the senior commanders of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, of more than 60 counts included important convictions on the basis of sexual and gender-based crimes and crimes against children, and for the first time before the Court, the crime of forced marriage and forced pregnancy. We also charged and secured convictions for enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 years and using them to participate actively in hostilities; a crime so devastating to the lives of so many, breaking the normal path of children to education and development.
Children have themselves played an active and crucial role at the ICC. Their powerful presence in our work, as victims and witnesses, reminds us daily that there should be no place for children in war. Their voices and stories of unspeakable abuses must not go unheard, and the law must respond to their plight in a manner that has their best interests foremost in mind.
Given the irreparable harm done to children in conflict, the international community must redouble its efforts in preventing and addressing crimes against and affecting children. My Office will continue to play its part within the parameters of the Rome Statute.
A crime against a child is an affront to all of humanity.
The Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC conducts independent and impartial preliminary examinations, investigations and prosecutions of the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. Since 2003, the Office has been conducting investigations in multiple situations within the ICC's jurisdiction, namely in Uganda; the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Darfur, Sudan; the Central African Republic (two distinct situations); Kenya; Libya; Côte d'Ivoire; Mali; Georgia, Burundi Bangladesh/Myanmar and Afghanistan (subject to a pending article 18 deferral request). The Office is also currently conducting preliminary examinations relating to the situations in Bolivia; Colombia; Guinea; the Philippines; and Venezuela (I and II) and has completed three other preliminary examinations concerning the situations in Palestine, as well as Nigeria and Ukraine (pending requests for authorisation to proceed to investigation).