January 28, 2010

Group Seeks Assurance That Transferred And Current Juvenile Detainees Are Afforded Protection Under International Law

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

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union expressed concerns today about a U.S. government report that states that the number of juveniles held in U.S. military detention in Iraq and Afghanistan has dropped dramatically from over 500 in May 2008 to five as of December 2009. While much of the reduction may be attributed to the transfer of prisoners to Iraqi authorities, the ACLU asked for data on the fates of the detainees and sought assurance that all current or former child soldiers and juvenile prisoners have access to the protections guaranteed to them under international law.

"It is very encouraging to see that the U.S. government has made efforts to reduce the number of juveniles in U.S. military custody," said Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. "But the public is entitled to know how these cases are being handled. We hope that the U.S. can confirm how many of these detainees were released and how many were transferred to Iraqi or Afghan authorities for prosecution. The U.S. has a responsibility to ensure that any juvenile detainees transferred to other authorities are still granted their basic human rights, including consideration of their status as juveniles and safe opportunities for rehabilitation and reintegration into society."

This is the first U.S. periodic report to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child. The report documents compliance with the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, a component of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The protocol, which the U.S. ratified in 2002, guarantees basic protections to former child soldiers. In May 2008, the committee conducted an initial comprehensive review of U.S. compliance with the protocol and issued a strongly worded critique of the United States' record on the detention and treatment of juveniles in U.S. military custody abroad.

The U.S. report, a response to that critique, indicated that there is no comprehensive policy on the detention and treatment of children who have been recruited or exploited by combatants. The report also did not include information about the treatment and care for those who were under 18 at the time of their capture and who are still in U.S. custody. Current policy allows the U.S. to take up to two weeks to provide the International Red Cross with names and access to all detainees, which is too long for the needs of children in custody. The first weeks of detention are critical to juvenile prisoners, and they should be accounted for and attended to as soon as possible.

"The humane treatment of juveniles in U.S. military custody is critical to restoring the rule of law and humanity to U.S. detention operations overseas," said Jennifer Turner, human rights researcher with the ACLU Human Rights Program. "We are pleased that the U.S. is constructively engaged in the review process with the U.N., but the government still lacks a comprehensive policy regarding the treatment of juveniles still in detention and their access to education, legal services and physical and psychological services that are critical to their rehabilitation."

In November, the ACLU sought updated data from the Department of Defense on juveniles in U.S. military custody in Iraq and Afghanistan and information on efforts to bring U.S. policy regarding the treatment, detention and trial of juveniles into compliance with international law. To date, no response has been received.

The CRC is the most comprehensive treaty on children's rights. The U.S. and Somalia are the only nations that have not ratified the full treaty.

The U.S. response to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child can be found here: www.state.gov/documents/organization/136023.pdf

The ACLU's letter to the Department of Defense requesting information on juvenile detainees can be found here: www.aclu.org/human-rights/aclu-letter-secretary-gates-regarding-juvenile-detention

More information on the CRC can be found here: www.aclu.org/human-rights/faq-convention-rights-child-and-its-optional-protocols

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