Drumbl — Reimagining Child Soldiers

by Kevin Jon Heller

I am delighted to announce that Oxford University Press has just published my dear friend Mark Drumbl’s new book, “Reimagining Child Soldiers in International Law and Policy.”  Here is the description:

The international community’s efforts to halt child soldiering have yielded some successes. But this pernicious practice persists. It may shift locally, but it endures globally. Preventative measures therefore remain inadequate. Former child soldiers experience challenges readjusting to civilian life. Reintegration is complex and eventful. The homecoming is only the beginning. Reconciliation within communities afflicted by violence committed by and against child soldiers is incomplete. Shortfalls linger on the restorative front.

Still, conversations about child soldiers mostly involve the same story, told over and over, and repeat the same assumptions, over and over. Current humanitarian discourse sees child soldiers as passive victims, tools of war, vulnerable, psychologically devastated, and not responsible for their violent acts. This perception has come to suffuse international law and policy. Although reflecting much of the lives of child soldiers, this portrayal also omits critical aspects. This book pursues an alternate path by reimagining the child soldier. It approaches child soldiers with a more nuanced and less judgmental mind.

It offers a way to think about child soldiers that would invigorate international law, policy, and best practices. Where does this reimagination lead? Not toward retributive criminal trials, but instead toward restorative forms of justice. Toward forgiveness instead of excuse, thereby facilitating reintegration and promoting social repair within afflicted communities. Toward a better understanding of child soldiering, without which the practice cannot be ended. This book also offers fresh thinking on related issues, ranging from juvenile justice, to humanitarian interventions, to the universality of human rights, to the role of law in responding to mass atrocity.

The book is available both in hardback and paperback.  I had the pleasure of reading a couple of chapters while Mark was writing the book, and they were superb.  I predict the book — which will no doubt be controversial — will have a profound impact on the way courts, scholars, and activists think about child soldiers.

Read Drumbl!


2 Responses

  1. Thanks for the heads-up Prof. Heller.
    Drumbl is a great IL scholar, who helped me immensely during my dissertation days (Diss. was on International Environmental Law).
    Looking forward to reading this gem, too!

  2. Also very much looking forward to reading the book. I saw Drumbl at a conference speaking about this book. His problematization of the victim/perpetrator dichotomy is absolutely fascinating and timely. I’ve recommended the book to many fellow students, especially those working in Sierra Leone. But what fascinated me, in particular, about this work is his juxtaposition of the iconography of child soldiers – the contradiction between praising some child soldier narratives (eg. Joan of Arc) against others (eg. child soldiers in the DRC). Drumbl was kind enough to exchange a few e-mails with me because, as a child and teenager, I collected small statuettes of a the “little soldier” statue outside of the Old City in Warsaw, which pays homage to the many child soldiers who participated and perished in the Warsaw Uprising. It remains one of my favourite statues but Drumbl really put into perspective something that I had never thought of before, namely that there is something fundamentally problematic about the imagery of child soldiers, some of which actually celebrates them.

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