ACLU Calls On International Bodies To Intervene In Case Of Alleged Child Soldier At Guantánamo

January 16, 2009

Obama Administration Should Immediately Halt Military Commissions Proceedings Against Omar Khadr And Mohammed Jawad

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union called upon the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child and the U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict to intervene in the case of Omar Khadr, the 22-year-old Canadian national slated to be tried by military commission at Guantánamo for war crimes allegedly committed when he was 15. If Khadr's trial goes forward as scheduled on January 26, the United States will be the first western nation in recent years to hold a war crimes trial for crimes allegedly committed by a child.

In letters delivered yesterday, the ACLU urged the Committee (UNCRC) and the Special Representative to issue public statements calling on President-elect Obama to suspend Omar Khadr's trial and reminding the U.S. of its obligations under the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, ratified by the U.S. in 2002, which guarantees certain protections for former child soldiers.

According to the letter to the UNCRC, "while such a public statement is an exceptional measure for the Committee to adopt, it is warranted by the urgent circumstances. If the trial of Omar Khadr goes forward, it would establish dangerous precedent for the United States and the entire world."

The ACLU has also called on the U.S. to suspend proceedings against Mohammed Jawad, another Guantánamo detainee facing a military commission trial for crimes allegedly committed when he was 16 or 17. The ACLU is representing Jawad in a habeas corpus challenge to his unlawful detention.

Last May, the UNCRC, which oversees compliance with the Optional Protocol, criticized the United States' treatment and military prosecutions of children held at Guantánamo and called on the U.S. government to treat children in its custody in accordance with international juvenile justice standards.

The full text of the ACLU letter to the UNCRC is below and online at: www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/nationalsecurity/38360res20090115.html

The ACLU letter to the U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict is available online at: www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/nationalsecurity/38359res20090115.html

A video calling on President Obama to bring the United States into compliance with treaties it has signed regarding the treatment of juveniles who have been recruited or used in armed conflict, and highlighting the Khadr and Jawad cases, is here: blog.aclu.org/2009/01/14/obamas-child-soldiers/

January 15, 2009

Ms. Yanghee Lee
Chairperson, Committee on the Rights of the Child
United Nations Office at Geneva, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
CH 1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland

Dear Ms. Lee,

We write to you regarding Omar Khadr, the 22-year-old Canadian national slated to be tried by military commission at Guantánamo for crimes allegedly committed when he was aged 15.  If the trial, now scheduled for January 26, 2009, is allowed to go forward, Omar Khadr will become the first person in recent years to be tried by any western nation for war crimes allegedly committed as a child. 

We respectfully request that the Committee on the Rights of the Child promptly issue a public statement to the United States about the impending trial of Omar Khadr, reminding the State Party of its obligations under the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.  While such a public statement is an exceptional measure for the Committee to adopt, it is warranted by the urgent circumstances.  If the trial of Omar Khadr goes forward, it would establish dangerous precedent for the United States and the entire world. 

Numerous human rights and children's rights organizations have recently called upon the U.S. government to suspend Omar Khadr's trial, and a public statement by the Committee would reinforce these efforts.  This week, the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, and the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers submitted the attached letter, calling on President-elect Barack Obama to drop the military commission charges against Omar Khadr.  A similar joint letter was submitted this week by the Juvenile Law Center and over 350 children's and human rights scholars, advocates, and professionals who work with youth [http://www.jlc.org/files/khadr/Letter_to_Obama.doc].  Both coalition letters also called upon the United States to suspend proceedings against another juvenile detainee facing trial by military commission, Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan who is charged with attempted murder for acts allegedly committed when he was either 16 or 17 years old.

At the conclusion of the periodic review of U.S. compliance with the OPAC, in June the Committee expressed concern that children who were recruited or used in armed conflict have been charged with war crimes and subject to prosecution by military commissions, without due account of their status as children.  A public reiteration of the Committee's concerns and recommendations is clearly warranted at this time.

We hope that you will act quickly on this matter in the interest of protecting the human rights of children recruited or used in armed conflict.

Sincerely,

Jamil Dakwar
Director, Human Rights Program
American Civil Liberties Union

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