One week before military tribunal proceedings are set to commence on January 11, 2006, for young Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, a detainee at Guantánamo Bay, his attorneys delivered a letter to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and Interim Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Karin Sham Poo. The letter urges the United Nations to appeal to the United States government and to unilaterally condemn Omar’s trial as inconsistent with international legal protections accorded to children in armed conflict.
In the letter (attached), Khadr's U.S. attorneys, Richard Wilson and Muneer Ahmad, professors at American University Washington College of Law request that the U.N. "fully investigate, document and denounce this [trial] development, and ask that a representative from the U.N. attend hearings of the military commissions as an observer for the protection of this child victim of armed conflict, including the first session now scheduled for January 11, 2006."
Imprisoned by the United States since the age of 15 Omar Khadr has been held under strict security conditions, often in solitary confinement, and subject to interrogation and torture despite his status as a juvenile.
When the military commission commences on January 11, Omar will become the first individual in the modern history of any international tribunal in the world, to be tried for war crimes for conduct allegedly committed as a juvenile. This ignoble precedent of prosecuting children for war crimes - something that was not done at Nuremburg after World War II, in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, or Sierra Leone, Kosovo or East Timor - will be established through American prosecution of a Canadian child. Remarkably, Canada has not uttered a word of public criticism in response.
The U.S. charges against Khadr are inconsistent with international legal protections accorded to children in armed conflict. The Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the United States is a party, protects children under the age of 18 by obligating state parties to take measures to demobilize them and provide assistance for recovery and reintegration. On February 9, 2005, the Secretary General included a list of best practices for disarming, demobilizing, and reintegrating child soldiers, which includes the provision that children who are captured should not be treated as combatants.
Khadr's case will likely set a precedent for the several other children at Guantánamo and for the future treatment of all children involved in armed conflict.
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