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December 14, 2003 

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Unheard juvenile voice in Guantanamo

Oli Md. Abdullah Chowdhury

US has not only failed to distinguish between Al-Quida and Taliban but also among adults and children, while imprisoning all of them at Guantanamao Bay Base. US Secretary Rumsfeld called those detained at Guantanamao the ' worst of the worst'. Among those detainees, interestingly, there are at least three children, ages 13 to 15. Thus, imprisoning the children without any trial for an indefinite period US is violating UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which was adopted by 193 of total 195 members of UN.

Firstly, UNCRC is the most venerated international mandate in establishing rights of the child. After adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 20 November 1989, the convention came into force on 2 September1990 in less than any other human rights convention. Moreover, on 29-30 September 1990 the largest gathering of world leaders in history assembled at the United Nations to attend the World Summit for Children. Led by 71 heads of the State and government and 88 other senior officials, mostly at the ministerial level, the World Summit adopted a Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of children and a Plan of Action for implementing the Declaration in the 1990s. It simply reflects the commitment of world leaders as well as the inhabitants of this world despite US continuous refusal to comply with UNCRC considering juvenile prisoners in Guentanamao.

However, UNCRC is based on four key principles-
1. Non-discrimination
2. Best interest of the child
3. Survival & development
4. Participation

The detention of children in such a special prison like Guentanamao poses grave risk to the basic rights of the child.

"States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status"- stated in the Article 2 of UNCRC. UNCRC is equally applicable for the all children of the world since the rights set forth in the conventions are universal. US certainly is discriminating among children; nonetheless children from Afghanistan or other parts of the world have equal rights. If a child from US was being kept, what would be the reaction of Mr. Rumsfeld and Bush?

'No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile ( Article 9),' as it has been stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Furthermore, it implies: Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him. These are the basic rights of a human being and UDHR proclaims this basic rights.

However, the effects of the ruling by an American court that Guantanamao Bay detainees cannot invoke the jurisdiction of United States courts because the territory is not a part of the country " can set a dangerous precedent", an expert of the UN Commissioner on Human Rights said. The Special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Dato Paren Cumaraswamy, thus reacted on the decision by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Though detention without trial offends the very first principle of the rule of law, detaining children without any trial seriously contradict the spirit of juvenile justice ensured by the UNCRC. The best interest of the child shall be a primary consideration as it is reflected in the UNCRC, " In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration." Courts of law should also consider this when dealing with juvenile offenders.

Even though US Secretary Rumsfeld called those detained at Guantanamao " the worst of the worst", it is hard to believe that a 13-year-old child could fit that category. A pentagon spokesman has said that the children are being questioned to obtain possible intelligence, but it is unjust to detain children simply for providing the United States with military intelligence, Becker, Advocacy Director for the Children Rights Division of Human Rights Watch also opined this.

Furthermore, most countries of the world except very few who didn't ratify UNCRC are committed to do the following apart from others as described in Article 40 of UNCRC, "Every child alleged as or accused of having infringed the penal law has at least the following guarantees: (iii) To have the matter determined without delay by a competent, independent and impartial authority or judicial body in a fair hearing according to law, in the presence of legal or other appropriate assistance and, unless it is considered not to be in the best interest of the child, in particular, taking into account his or her age or situation, his or her parents or legal guardians;

(iv) Not to be compelled to give testimony or to confess guilt; to examine or have examined adverse witnesses and to obtain the participation and examination of witnesses on his or her behalf under conditions of equality;" .According to UNCRC, there is no scope to interrogate children. In spite of continuous request from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other humanitarian agencies, US government seems to be very reluctant in dealing with those children humanely with equal respects.

To sum up, US must comply with United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and make alternative arrangements for those children. State parties should create pressure since they vowed to establish the rights of the children without any discrimination. Those children of Guantanamao could neither participate no do they have any chance of development. Rather, their survival is at risk since there have already been as many as 25 suicide attempts reported at Guantanamao. Those isolated detainee children are up to eight times more likely to commit suicide than those held in facilities specially for juveniles. World community should raise their voice about Guantanamao for the sake of children even.

Oli Md. Abdullah Chowdhury is Programme Assistant of Save the Children Sweden, Denmark.

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