Universal Jurisdiction in the US for Child Soldiers
It’s official. President Bush has signed the Child Soldiers Accountability Act:
The Child Soldiers Accountability Act makes it a federal crime to recruit knowingly or to use soldiers under the age of 15 and permits the United States to prosecute any individual on US soil for the offense, even if the children were recruited or served as soldiers outside the United States. The law imposes penalties of up to 20 years, or up to life in prison if their action resulted in the child’s death. It also allows the United States to deport or deny entry to individuals who have knowingly recruited children as soldiers.
“The US is saying to the world that using child soldiers is a serious crime and that it will take action,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocate for Human Rights Watch. “Military commanders who use children can no longer come to the United States without the risk of ending up in jail.”
The legislation was introduced by Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois and adopted unanimously by both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate in September 2008.
The use of child soldiers is a global problem. According to the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, tens of thousands of children were engaged in armed conflict all over the world between 2004 and 2007, fighting for both rebel groups and government forces in at least 18 countries: Afghanistan, Burma, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Occupied Palestinian Territories, Nepal, Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand and Uganda.
Kudos to Senator Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) — whom Human Rights Watch rather pettily fails to mention in its press release — for authoring the Act, and to President Bush for signing it.