On November 16, Watchlist’s Executive Director attended the official launch of the Office of the Prosecutor (Office) of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Policy on Children at The Hague. The launch took place during the ICC’s 15th Assembly of the State Parties to the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the Court.

The ICC’s Policy on Children is an important step in its ongoing commitment to protect child victims of atrocities of war. Initially, the Rome Statute was the first international criminal law instrument to criminalize the recruitment and use of children under age 15 in an international or non-international armed conflict. The very first trial of the ICC resulted in a conviction for the war crimes of recruitment and use of children in the case of Thomas Lubanga, a warlord from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Further, in 2012 the Prosecutor of the ICC appointed a special adviser on Children in Armed Conflict, Professor Diane Marie Amman, whose task is to assist the Office in strengthening its capacity to respond effectively to crimes against or affecting children, and applying a child-sensitive approach to all aspects of its work. She was involved in the drafting and consultations that led to the adoption of the Policy on Children.

The Policy prescribes a child-sensitive approach to the ICC’s dealings with children. That approach recognizes children as both vulnerable and capable, as both needy and resilient – often, at the same time. The Policy pledges sensitivity to these realities according to the regulatory framework of the Rome Statute system, and also according to principles drawn from international instruments, like the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Policy then enumerates crimes against and affecting children. Included are crimes of conscription and use, as well as child trafficking as enslavement and forcible transfer as genocide. Also included are crimes like persecution if it targets children on the basis of age or birth, as well as attacks on schools. Finally, the policy details the approach of the Office with respect to children at all stages of the proceedings, from preliminary examinations and investigations to prosecutions, sentencing, and reparations.

The adoption of this child protection policy is one more demonstration of the Court’s attention for, and commitment to, the millions of children ‘with weapons’ or ‘affected by weapons’ in conflicts around the world. It was an honor for Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict to participate in the consultations leading up to the adoption of the Policy, and to co-sponsor its official launch.