(New York, February 1, 2008) – Canada should formally request that the United States transfer a Canadian citizen at Guantanamo, who was arrested when he was 15, to a court that meets juvenile justice and fair trial standards or repatriate him to Canada for rehabilitation, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, and Human Rights First said today in a joint letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
On February 4, a military commission at Guantanamo Bay will consider whether the United States may proceed in prosecuting Omar Khadr for war crimes and other offenses in Afghanistan in 2002. If the proceedings go forward, Khadr, now 21, will become the first person in recent years to be tried by a western nation for alleged war crimes committed as a child.
“Canada has turned a blind eye to the United States’ mistreatment of its citizen,” said Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel for Human Rights Watch. “Canada’s inaction on Khadr’s case stands in stark contrast to its past leadership on behalf of children affected by armed conflict.”
US forces captured Khadr after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002. He has been charged with murder for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a US soldier, as well as attempted murder, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying. Khadr has been detained at Guantanamo Bay since November 2002, where he has alleged that he was subjected to abusive interrogations and prolonged solitary confinement. He said he was shackled in painful positions, threatened with rape, and used as a “human mop” after he urinated on the floor during an interrogation session.
International juvenile justice standards allow for juveniles to be detained only as a last resort and require prompt determination of juvenile cases. In addition, treaties binding on the United States oblige governments to provide for the rehabilitation of former child soldiers within their jurisdiction.
Khadr, however, was detained for more than two years before he was provided access to an attorney, and for more than three years before he was charged before the initial military commissions at Guantanamo established in 2001. While other children detained at Guantanamo were given special housing and education, and eventually released to rehabilitation programs in Afghanistan, Khadr has been housed with adult detainees and denied access to education or other rehabilitation assistance.
“Throughout his detention, the US has refused to acknowledge Khadr’s special status as a juvenile,” said Daskal. “Before the US compounds these violations by prosecuting Khadr before an unfair military tribunal, Canada should intervene.”
The organizations note that Canada is the only Western nation that has not called for all of its citizens held in Guantanamo to be returned home.
Canada has long been in the forefront of international efforts to end the use of child soldiers. It was the first country to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and in 2000 hosted an international conference on war-affected children.
February 1, 2008
Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Canada K1A 0A2
Dear Prime Minister Harper:
We write regarding Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen whom the United States government has detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for more than five years, since he was 15 years old. On February 4, 2008, a military commission in Guantanamo Bay will consider whether the United States may proceed in prosecuting Khadr for war crimes and other offenses before the commission. If the proceedings go forward, Khadr will become the first person in recent years to be tried by a western nation for alleged war crimes committed as a child.
Throughout Khadr’s lengthy detention, the United States has flouted international juvenile justice standards that provide for children to be treated consistent with their unique vulnerability, capacity for rehabilitation, and lower degree of culpability. The United States now seeks to compound these violations by prosecuting Khadr before a military tribunal that is not equipped to address juvenile justice standards as well as other fair trial requirements, and in a manner inconsistent with its legal obligations to assist in the rehabilitation of former child soldiers within its jurisdiction.
Consistent with its global leadership regarding children and armed conflict and to prevent the continued mistreatment of its own citizen and former child soldier, Canada should formally request that, if the United States is not prepared to prosecute Khadr in a judicial system that incorporates fundamental standards of juvenile justice and other fair trial rights, it should promptly release Khadr and repatriate him to Canada for appropriate rehabilitation.
According to allegations made by the United States, Omar Khadr’s father introduced him to al-Qaeda leaders when Khadr was just 10 years old, then sent him to receive military training from al-Qaeda members at age 15 and out to the battlefield shortly afterwards.
On July 27, 2002, Khadr was captured by US forces after a firefight in Afghanistan that resulted in the death of US Army Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer, as well as injuries to other soldiers. Khadr, who was seriously wounded, was initially detained at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and transferred to Guantanamo Bay in November 2002, where he remains today.
Khadr was not provided an attorney until he had been detained for over two years. In the third year of his detention, Khadr was charged with crimes under the initial military commissions authorized by President George W. Bush. Those charges were dismissed when the Supreme Court ruled the commissions unlawful in the 2006 case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. In 2007 the United States charged him under the commissions authorized by the Military Commissions Act with murder in violation of the laws of war, attempted murder in violation of the laws of war, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying.
Khadr has reported to his lawyers that he has been subjected to abusive interrogations, as well as prolonged periods in solitary confinement while incarcerated at Guantanamo.
Failure to Comply with International Standards for Juvenile Detention
First detained at age 15, Khadr now has been held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay for more than a quarter of his life. The US government’s failure to properly treat Khadr as a child in detention violated US legal obligations under the laws of war, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and international juvenile justice standards. International standards allow for detention of juveniles only as a last resort and require prompt determination of juvenile cases; however, Khadr was detained for more than two years before being provided access to an attorney, and for more than three years before being charged before the first military commission.
Further, despite international legal requirements that juveniles in custody be treated in accordance with their age and that juveniles and adults be segregated from each other, Khadr has been incarcerated with adult detainees, even when other child detainees his age were being housed together in Guantanamo’s Camp Iguana.
In Guantanamo, Khadr has been held in prolonged detention in solitary confinement. He has told his lawyers that he was also subjected to abusive interrogation. He said his interrogators shackled him in painful positions, threatened him with rape, and used him as a “human mop” after he urinated on the floor during one interrogation session. Such treatment of a detainee, particularly one who was a child, violates Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and analogous provisions of other treaties to which the United States is a party. These abuses during detention, coupled with the lack of fundamental safeguards required for the treatment of juveniles in custody, raise serious concerns about the voluntariness of any statements that Khadr may have made and which may be used against him at his trial.
Failure to Comply with the Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict
International law recognizes the special situation of children who have been recruited or used in armed conflict. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (“Optional Protocol”), which Canada ratified in 2000 and the United States ratified in 2002, requires that all states parties provide for the rehabilitation of former child soldiers within their jurisdiction, including “all appropriate assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and their social reintegration.”
In its 2007 Initial Report to the United Nations pursuant to the Optional Protocol, the United States declared that it is “committed to continue to develop rehabilitation approaches that are effective in addressing” the problem of child soldiers and that it “espouses the principle that family reunification and community reintegration are both goals and processes of recovery for former child combatants.”
During the time that Khadr was detained at Guantanamo without charges and otherwise in violation of basic juvenile justice protections, the United States funded millions of dollars to programs dedicated to the rehabilitation of child soldiers, including $4.5 million to a major initiative launched by UNICEF in 2003 to rehabilitate and reintegrate former child soldiers in Afghanistan.
Yet in its handling of Khadr, an alleged child combatant in its custody, the United States has ignored its professed commitments and its legal obligations under the Optional Protocol. It has failed to provide him with access to education, vocational training, counseling, a family or community environment, or other assistance that is essential to successful rehabilitation and social reintegration.
Failure to Incorporate Juvenile Justice Standards in Military Commission Proceedings
The military commissions created by the United States to try unlawful enemy combatants for war crimes and related offenses do not meet international standards for fair trials. Of particular concern, the commissions allow the use of evidence obtained through abusive interrogations so long as a judge finds the evidence “reliable.” Moreover, the Military Commissions Act (MCA) permits prosecutors to shield interrogation methods from the defendant and his lawyer, making it virtually impossible for a defendant to demonstrate that testimony was obtained through such abusive techniques. This lack of adequate due process safeguards is particularly harmful to child offenders, given the increased risk that they will be unduly influenced by coercive methods.
The MCA lacks any explicit juvenile justice safeguards. It has no provisions requiring that judges have expertise in juvenile justice to preside over the trials of children. This is particularly important given the likelihood that the judge will be asked to decide the reliability of statements Khadr gave while he was still just a child. Similarly, there is no indication that the military commissions will appropriately consider Khadr’s age at the time of the alleged offenses in making its sentencing determination. The United States’ failure to comply with international juvenile justice standards or provide any rehabilitation assistance to Khadr throughout his detention provides little assurance that his special circumstances will be taken into account in the future.
In short, because the military commissions fail to provide key due process protections and are not equipped to take into account Khadr’s juvenile status, they are not an appropriate forum for proceedings against Khadr.
Canada Should Intervene and Repatriate Khadr
Canada has long been at the forefront of international efforts to end the use of child soldiers. It was the first country to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict in 2000 and took a leading role during negotiations of the treaty. At the United Nations, the government of Canada chairs a “friends” group of nations that actively support the implementation of Security Council resolutions related to children and armed conflict. Canada also has hosted a number of workshops and conferences that have focused international attention on children and armed conflict, including the International Conference on War-Affected Children in 2000.
Canada is the only western nation that has not insisted all of its citizens held at Guantanamo be returned home. Consistent with its commitment to the rule of law, international juvenile justice standards, and the rehabilitation of former child soldiers, Canada should formally request that unless the US government will prosecute Khadr in accordance with international juvenile justice and fair trial standards, the United States should promptly release Khadr and repatriate him to Canada for rehabilitation. Canada has been a global leader in addressing children and armed conflict, and the need for rehabilitation and reintegration of former child soldiers. It cannot credibly maintain its leadership position and continue to turn a blind eye to the continued violations by the United States of the rights of a Canadian citizen, particularly given his special status as a former child soldier. It is time for Canada to intercede.
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights First
Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
TORONTO, Jan. 31 /CNW/ – In a letter sent this week to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, The United Church of Canada has asked that he formally intervene with the Government of the United States on behalf of Omar Khadr.
Khadr, whom the U.S. has classified as an enemy combatant, has been held in custody at a naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since his capture in Afghanistan in July 2002.
“The United Church acknowledges the complexity of the situation but believes that the overriding issue is his age at the time of capture. We do not believe that Canada should remain silent in a precedent-setting prosecution of a child soldier for war crimes, least of all when that child is a Canadian citizen,” writes Nora Sanders, the General Secretary of the General Council.
In the letter, Sanders draws particular attention to fact that Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. She notes that Article Two says that “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family
In addition to asking Mr. Harper to intervene on behalf of Khadr, the United Church’s letter also requests
- that the Prime Minister insist that Khadr be returned to Canada
– that when Khadr is returned to Canada, he either be released or charged with a recognizable criminal offence and prosecuted through a process where he will be afforded all the protection available under the criminal justice system
– that no evidence obtained under torture will be used in any
– that while these actions are in progress, the Prime Minister ensure
that Khadr is afforded adequate contact with his familySanders says the church also believes that it is important that the role of the Canadian government in the interrogations of Khadr, including the positions taken formally or informally by the government in respect to the rights of Khadr to appropriate counsel and legal advice, be examined.
“We are therefore requesting that an independent review of the Canadian government’s involvement in Khadr’s detention be implemented,” says Sanders.
She ends the letter by saying she hopes the Prime Minister receives the church’s requests “as an indication of our desire that Canada continue to be recognized throughout the world as a just and civil society, and as a leader in the protection of children affected by war.”
For further information: Mary-Frances Denis, Communications Officer, The
United Church of Canada, (416) 231-7680 ext. 2016 (office), (416) 885-7478
(cell), (416) 766-0057 (home)
NEW YORK, 2 February 2008 – On 4 February 2008, a military commission at Guantanamo Bay will review the case of Omar Khadr and decide whether his prosecution for war crimes should proceed. Omar Khadr was arrested in Afghanistan in 2002 for crimes he allegedly committed when he was 15 years old.UNICEF believes that children alleged to have committed crimes while they were child soldiers should be considered primarily as victims of adults who have broken international law by recruiting and using children in the first place, and that these individuals must be provided with assistance for their social reintegration.
If in contact with a justice system, persons under 18 at the time of the alleged offense must be treated in accordance with international juvenile justice standards which provide them with special protection.
As an organization that works actively to prevent unlawful recruitment, to facilitate reintegration of child soldiers, and to promote due process, UNICEF is concerned that such a prosecution, in particular in front of a military commission not equipped to meet the required standards, would set a dangerous precedent for the protection of hundreds of thousands of children who find themselves unwittingly involved in conflict around the world.
For further information please contact:
Geoffrey Keele, UNICEF New York, Tel + 212-326-7583, Email; firstname.lastname@example.org
Britain and other countries have demanded the release of their Guantanamo detainees.
But still we do NOTHING because we don’t want to upset the lawless and criminal Bush administration.
Even though Omar Khadr is a CANADIAN KID.
What stinking hypocrites it makes us look like. We make such a fuss about the plight of child soldiers in Africa and elsewhere. But we forgot about our own. We forgot about Omar.
Even though when he killed that American soldier HE was just a child, with crazy parents who led him to where a Canadian teenager never should have been, instead of protecting him.
So why aren’t more Canadians outraged? Why aren’t more Canadians demanding that their government stand up to the Bush war criminals ?
I mean really….what kind of country of yankee flunkies are we becoming? Is a country that can’t even protect its young people even a real country?
How HOLLOWED OUT are we?
Sometimes I really wonder….
Related: AP has more on Monday’s hearing; TorStar editorial on how “Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s refusal to take up Khadr’s case is rapidly turning him into a martyr”; Michelle Shepard reports that some believe the Khadr case has eroded Canada’s international reputation (h/t April Reign) and how “Fifty-five law professors and 22 members of Parliament, including Canada’s former attorney general, Irwin Cotler” support the motion to recognize Khadr as a child soldier; joint letter to US Defense Secretary Robert Gates from Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers and Amnesty International, asking that Khadr be tried “in a court that meets juvenile justice and fair trial standards or repatriate him to Canada for rehabilitation“.
Background: 2006 Rolling Stone profile of Omar Khadr, who has been in Gitmo limbo since 2002 after being captured in Afghanistan at the age of 15; Human Rights Watch: The Omar Khadr Case: A Teenager Imprisoned at Guantanamo.