International Law concerning Child Civilians in Armed Conflict

By Jenny Kuper | Go to book overview

8 Conclusion

In a 1990 UNICEF lecture, the speaker commented that '[i]n the past it was soldiers who died in war... The present reality is that modern man wages war against children.'1 Despite the plethora of laws designed to protect children in armed conflict, the description in Chapter 7 of the three Iraqi conflicts indicates that this speaker's comment was largely accurate.

Obviously, international law alone cannot provide a solution. It reflects and is limited by social and political values and realities. Moreover, as discussed in section 3.1.2, the law concerning child civilians in armed conflict contains significant lacunae (as in relation to children in internal disturbances), and this body of law is also uncomfortably vague in places.2 Nonetheless, it is substantial, and one can be forgiven for asking why, with so much law, it seems generally so ineffective.

A central problem here, as with many other areas of international law and particularly humanitarian law, is that of implementation and enforcement,3 despite the many organisations and procedures that play a role in this context (see Chapter 6).4

Further, insufficient attention has been paid to safeguarding child civilians, even though most governments express support in principle for the

____________________
1
L. Palme, Nations Touch at their Summits: 1990 UNICEF Lecture ( London, 20 Nov. 1990), 9. In the same vein, Rädda Barnen comments that children 'pay the highest price for... our wars': The Rights of the Child ( 1990), 14. See also Vittachi ( London, 1993), 136.
2
Thus, even the key norm that children 'shall be the object of special respect' (Art. 77(1) of 1977 GP I) can clearly be interpreted in a multitude of ways. Moreover, the absence in certain Arts. of fixed age limits can leave children subject to the whim of, e.g., an Occupying Power, as in relation to family accommodation of those interned or detained (Art. 77(4) of 1949 GC IV).
3
Aldrich suggests 3 factors that are largely responsible for failure of compliance with international humanitarian law: (1) ignorance of the law; (2) cynicism due to a belief that compliance cannot be coerced and violations effectively punished; and (3) an absence of effective monitoring, fact-finding, and dispute-settlement mechanisms: G. H. Aldrich, ' Compliance with the Law: Problems and Prospects', in Fox and Meyer (eds.) ( 1993), 4.
4
Many writers have commented on the issue of enforcement and implementation. For example, Franck ( 1980), 707, observes:'The surprising thing about international law is that nations ever obey its strictures or carry out its mandates' in that 'the international system is organised in a voluntarist fashion, supported by so little coercive authority.' However, another writer argues that observance of international law is based on a perceived 'reciprocal advantage in cautioning self-restraint' ( Higgins, Problems and Process ( 1994), 16), and that the main role of international institutions lies not in the imposition of sanctions but 'in the mobilisation of shame and in providing international scrutiny': Higgins ( 1979), 18.

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