Children to be tried for war crimes

 CAFOD is condemning a decision of the UN Security Council to prosecute children accused of war crimes in Sierra Leone. The agency, which supports rehabilitation programmes for children as young as eight who were recruited into the army, says the decision will criminalise them and destroy the work being done to integrate them into civil society. Ibrahim Sesay, director of Caritas Makeni, which has rehabilitated 2,000 children said: "Those of us working with child soldiers in Sierra Leone are very angry about this decision. It shows real contempt for the work of local and international agencies that has always insisted that these children are the victims of war, no the instigators. The real criminals are those who recruited or abducted these children and forced them to fight." "If the Security Council is really interested in using the criminal court to promote peace and justice it must abandon these plans. Many of these children have just been accepted back into their families and communities. Stigmatising them now by putting them on trial will not benefit civil society and will do nothing to promote peace and justice." The UN Security Council claims that the new special court for Sierra Leone will only try those children who were most responsible for atrocities and human rights abuses during the civil war. It insists that the court will not send any children found guilty to prison but will set up new rehabilitation camps. Antonio Cabral, CAFOD's programme officer for Sierra Leone, said: "These assurances only serve to convince me that this decision has been made in some building in Geneva, a long way from the realities on the ground in Sierra Leone. Firstly, children were not responsible for the worst atrocities of the war and, secondly, rehabilitation centres already exist and are working well. How can it be right to take children out of rehabilitation, criminalise them in a war crimes court and then set up new rehabilitation camps for them to return to?" CAFOD is concerned that the War Crimes court will be set up by the UN before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which was agreed as part of the 1999 peace deal. The agency feels that this commission, based on the South African model, could be a better way for children to come to terms with their own actions than the criminal courts. The agency will be writing to the Foreign Office urging it to use its influence at the UN to overturn the decision.

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