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Criminal charge in child soldier case a milestone in protecting children

Unicef Press Centre

18 March 2006

NEW YORK,United States of America - Friday’s arrest of Thomas Lubanga by the International Criminal Court, on a charge of conscripting and enlisting children and actively using them in hostilities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, sends an important message that the international community will not tolerate the use of children in armed conflict, UNICEF said. It shows the high priority that the international community gives to combating crimes against children.

“It is important to protect children from being recruited and used in armed conflict,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said. “Wars must never be fought by children. Whether children are forcibly recruited, join armed groups in order to escape poverty or hunger, or enlist to actively support a cause, the first loss is their childhood.”

UNICEF estimates that at any given time, up to 300,000 children globally are being used in armed groups and forces in a variety of roles, including as combatants, cooks, porters, messengers, spies and for sexual purposes.

Lubanga, a Congolese national and alleged founder and leader of the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC), was arrested in Kinshasa on Friday and transferred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague as part of the judicial proceedings under the Rome Statute. Entered into force in July 2002, the Rome Statute makes the conscription, enlistment or use of children under 15 in hostilities by national armed forces or armed groups a war crime.

Under the Rome Statute, individuals can be held criminally accountable. Lubanga is the first person to be arrested and transferred to the International Criminal Court since the entry into force of the Rome Statute.

UNICEF has a long history of assisting and protecting children in times of conflict. UNICEF advocates for the national adoption of international legal standards that limit the participation of children in armed conflict, works to secure the release of child soldiers, and supports disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes in such countries as Afghanistan, Liberia and Democratic Republic of Congo.

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