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The BBC's Mark Devenport at the UN in New York
"The child soldiers prosecution presents a terrible dilemma"
 real 28k

Friday, 6 October, 2000, 01:03 GMT 02:03 UK
UN reviews 'war crimes' children trials
Sierra Leone rebels
Protests: Sierra Leonean child soldiers
The United Nations has revised proposals for a special war crimes court in Sierra Leone to prosecute those most responsible for killing and maiming tens of thousands of people.

After a series of protests from child welfare groups a provision to put child soldiers on trial will only be allowed on a UN go-ahead.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan proposed that the new court should have the power to try both adults and teenage child soldiers for crimes committed during the country's civil war.

But that the UN security council would make the final decision on whether teenagers aged between 15 and 18 should face prosecution.

No prison

Lawyers, including those within the United Nations itself, argued that the estimated 5,400 child fighters in Sierra Leone are themselves the victims of abusive commanders who abducted them, drugged them and forced them to kill.

child soldier
Lawyers say child soldiers are abused themselves
Subjecting teens to public accusations and putting them on trial, even with special protections, "is potentially making these children a victim a second time," said Joanna Van Gerpen, UNICEF's representative in Sierra Leone.

UN officials have defended the move by making it clear that the teenagers, if found guilty, would not be imprisoned.

The court, which would have its seat in the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown, would handle the most serious breaches of international law, including war crimes and crimes against humanity dating back to 1996 from one of Africa's most brutal conflicts.

While Sierra Leone's civil war began in 1991, the report recommended that the court's jurisdiction extend back only to 1996, to avoid overburdening the proceedings.

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See also:

29 Sep 00 | Africa
Row over 'war crimes' youngsters
25 Jun 99 | Africa
The child victims of war
04 Jul 00 | Africa
Atrocities mount in Sierra Leone
10 May 00 | Africa
Brutal child army grows up
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