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Published:May 22nd, 2008 11:58 EST
War On Terror Turns Into War With Children

War On Terror Turns Into War With Children

By Krzys Wasilewski

GENEVA, Brussels. Over 500 children, some as young as 10 years old, are held in Iraqi prisons by American forces, alarms a human rights organization. Listed as “imperative threats to security,” juvenile delinquents spend many months in custody during which they face torture and abuse from their cell mates.


Human Rights Watch (HRW), a non-governmental organization based in New York City, says that some 2,400 Iraqi children have been detained by U.S. forces since the start of the American occupation of Iraq in March of 2003. The figures provided by the organization show that only last year around 100 underage Iraqis were put behind bars every month. As of May of 2008, there were 514 children kept in U.S. detention camps. “The vast majority of children detained in Iraq languish for months in US military custody,” reported one Human Rights Watch researcher.


HRW admits that rebels often draft young boys into their ranks. But even then, international law demands that, when captured, underage soldiers must receive proper assistance. In 2002, the United States signed the Optional Protocol on children in armed conflicts, according to which U.S. forces are required to provide people under 18 with psychological and social help. HRW says that when it comes to Iraq, the United States breaks the law. “The US should provide these children with immediate access to lawyers and an independent judicial review of their detention,” said the organization.


Even though U.S. forces make sure that their juvenile prisoners are separated from adult inmates, they do nothing to provide them with the right level of security. According to the report prepared by organization, “US officials earlier this year told Human Rights Watch that they separate children from adults at these facilities but do not separate very young or particularly vulnerable children from other child detainees.” To substantiate the claim, Human Rights Watch writes about a 17-year-old boy who was strangled by a fellow prisoner in one of American detention centers in Iraq, in 2007.


Apart from Iraq, however, the United States works in accordance with international law, states the organization. Clarisa Bencomo, one of Human Rights Watch researchers, said that “in conflicts where it was not directly involved, the US has been a leader in helping child soldiers re-enter society.” Still, Bencomo admitted that “that kind of leadership is unfortunately missing in Iraq.” She said that less than a half of those children who are now in American custody received education as requested by the 2002 protocol. As detention centers suffer from overcrowding, some juvenile inmates have to sleep on the floor.


A United Nations meeting concerning the U.S. behavior in Iraq is scheduled for Friday, May 22. It is already known that American authorities in charge of Iraqi affairs must comply with seven points listed by Human Rights Watch. Among others, they include: independent legal assistance and family visits for underage prisoners; prompt review of detention by an independent judicial body; release children who have been detained for more than a year; and education and recreation of all children in U.S. custody.




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