Recently, the Embassy of Canada to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, in cooperation with The Hague Institute for Global Justice, organized a panel discussion on “Children in Armed Conflict: Victims, Survivors, Witnesses and Perpetrators”. Canadian Ambassador H.E. Sabine Nölke moderated the diverse panel of speakers, which included Lieutenant General (ret.) The Honourable Roméo A. Dallaire, Former Senator and Force Commander for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda; Mr. Stephen Rapp, former US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues and former Prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone; Ms. Shamila Batohi, Senior Legal Advisor to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court ; and Professor Dr. Ton Liefaard, Professor of Children’s Rights at Leiden University. Dr. Abi Williams, President of the Hague Institute for Global Justice, delivered the opening remarks.
The discussion was aimed at raising awareness and discussing the challenges faced in the current ongoing global dialogue. Lt-Gen (ret.) The Honourable Dallaire opened the panel discussion addressing the requirement to “shift our thinking in regards to children and conflict.” The panelists examined the particular vulnerability of children in conflict situations; the inherent challenges in dealing with children as victims, survivors, witnesses, and perpetrators; and how these challenges might inform policy development in the fields of investigations involving children in the domestic and international contexts, as well as the rehabilitation of child perpetrators of serious crimes. An estimated 230 million children live in countries affected by armed conflict, with more than 300,000 child soldiers currently being exploited. Despite increased international attention being focused on accountability for the perpetrators of violence against children in armed conflict, much work remains to ensure that children are adequately protected.
The panel was very well attended (by over 150 people from the diplomatic community, international institutions, and civil society), and promoted increased awareness and intense discussion on the matter at hand. The event also provided an opportunity for the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to highlight its continuing work on its draft Policy on Children, which it intends to circulate for public comment in 2016.
Prior to the panel, on January 27 Lt-Gen (ret.) The Honourable Dallaire delivered the thirteenth Auschwitz Never Again Lecture, organized by the Nederlands Auschwitz Comité, and was awarded the Annetje Fels-Kupferschmidt prize for his work in combatting genocide. He gave a moving speech to a full house at the Tropen museum in Amsterdam, urging the international community to take concrete steps to prevent the tragedy in Rwanda from being repeated and to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers worldwide.