A Call to Hold Bashir Accountable for the Use of Child Soldiers in Sudan

By Shelley Clark, Law & Policy

As the populations of Sudan and South Sudan attempt to recover from the bloody conflict that ripped apart the region, President Omar al-Bashir is still a free man. The International Criminal Court indicted Bashir with two arrest warrants in March of 2009 and July of 2010. Bashir is accused of three counts of genocide, two counts of war crimes, and five counts of crimes against humanity.[i] However, the mass-atrocities and mass-genocide (led by the Sudanese government and their horse-riding militia, the Janjaweed) against the people of Darfur have been left unanswered by international justice. He and the nations who harbor him, such as Libya, Egypt and Chad, continue to thwart the Court’s authority to prosecute those accused of the most heinous crimes. Today, Bashir remains at large and free to travel despite his indictment at the International Criminal Court. This lapse in justice shows not only a lack of seriousness towards human rights abuses, but it also affects the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court and should not be tolerated by the international community.

In addition to the crimes committed in Darfur, the leader of Sudan is suspected of having planned attacks against civilian populations during the civil war between the northern and southern regions of the nation. Currently, Bashir is accused only of the war crimes of pillaging and intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population. However, he should be charged with another count of war crimes for the use of child soldiers in the conflict in Sudan and the Darfur region. The government of Sudan has recruited and used child soldiers in the civil war of Sudan and the conflict in Darfur. The international community views the use of children in combat as an inhumane and wrongful practice.

Under Article 8(2)(b)(xxvi) of the Rome Statute, “conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into the national armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities” is a war crime.[ii] Yet, the government of Sudan has recruited many children to serve in its armed forces.

According to the United Nations’ Children’s Fund, the government of Sudan has recruited many child soldiers to serve in its armed forces. There are approximately 6,000 child soldiers in the Darfur region alone.[iii] Ted Chaiban, the Director of Emergency Programmes for the United Nations Children Fund, told the BBC in a 2008 interview that child soldiers are linked to government backed-militia in the Sudanese conflict and others were fighting alongside the Sudanese army.[iv] According to a 2010 article from the United Nations News Center, thousands of child soldiers are used in conflicts across central western Africa including in Chad, Central African Republic, and Sudan.[v]

The International Criminal Court has prosecuted other accused for the use of child soldiers. Thus, holding Bashir accountable would not be a case of first impression. The Court first addressed the issue of child soldiers in the trial of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, the former warlord in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Lubanga received a guilty verdict and a fourteen-year prison sentence for the war crime of conscripting and enlisting child soldiers in the Congolese conflict. Lubanga’s conviction sparked attention for children rights in conflict regions and for the use of child soldiers.

We must remember that although child soldiers participated in these violent conflicts they are still victims of circumstance. Child soldiers are forced to participate in hostilities under extreme duress. Conscripting children into the armed forces has long-term negative effects on communities and individual children. Bashir should be held accountable for this extreme abuse of human rights. In order to achieve legitimacy, the International Criminal Court should investigate Bashir for the crimes he allegedly committed, including the crime of conscripting and enlisting child soldiers.


[i] “Profile: Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir,” (2011), http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-16010445.

[ii] “Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,” http://untreaty.un.org/cod/icc/statute/romefra.htm (follow “Jurisdiction, Admissibility, and Admissible Law”).

[iii] “Children of Sudan: Realizing Children’s Rights in Sudan,” (2012), http://www.humanium.org/en/sudan/.

[iv] Amber Henshaw, “Sudan ‘has 6,000 child soldiers,'” (2008), http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7796507.stm.

[v] “UNICEF seeks to end use of child soldiers across Central Africa,” (2010), http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=34940#.UeQij6A1ZlI.

photo credit: UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran

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