Home Articles posted by René Provost

Targeting Child Soldiers

Published on January 12, 2016        Author: 

Despite the numerous volume on child soldiers in legal literature over the last few decades, very little has been said on targeting child soldiers. It seems to be something international lawyers would rather not talk about. The fact that legal literature doesn’t say much about targeting child soldiers doesn’t mean that no such practice exists, or that soldiers haven’t discuss the matter. In 2002, the US Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory organised a ‘Cultural Intelligence Seminar’ on the implication of child soldiering for US forces. One trigger for that discussion was the fact that the very first US soldier killed in Afghanistan reportedly was a Special Forces Sergeant shot by a 14-year-old boy. The year before, in Sierra Leone, a squad from the Royal Irish Regiment was taken prisoner by a group consisting mostly of armed children called the West Side Boys, as the British soldiers were hesitant to open fire. After they had been held hostage for two weeks, an assault was launched by an SAS unit supported by suppression fire from helicopters, leading to between 25 to 150 dead among the West Side Boys. Finally, during the civil war in Sri Lanka, a Government aircraft bombed what was deemed an LTTE training camp, killing a reported 61 minors, mostly girls. Although the LTTE was widely known to use child soldiers, and the specific facts were contested, the Sri Lanka Government was adamant that if a child took up arms, then he or she could be targeted and killed.

The phenomenon of child soldiers remains widespread, and their activities does include direct participation in hostilities. It is imperative that international humanitarian law provide guidance as to what opposing forces can do if they are confronted with that reality. In this piece, I suggest that there are elements in international humanitarian law that support adapting a child-specific approach to targeting. Under this approach, the fact that a potential target is a child should prima facie raise a doubt as to whether he or she is targetable. Although the doubt may be dissipated in light of available facts, overcoming the presumption of civilian status might require more than would be the case for an adult. In addition, even if a child is deemed targetable, the allowable means and methods must nevertheless reflect the protected status of children in international law. Read the rest of this entry…


Canada’s Alien Tort Statute

Published on March 29, 2012        Author: 

Professor René Provost, Faculty of Law and Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism, McGill University

A few days ago, Canada moved to follow the Alien Tort Statute model found in the United States and open the door to file suits in damages against foreign states and others linked to acts of terrorism. The new law provides for both a basis of jurisdiction of Canadian courts and removes the immunity of foreign states in certain circumstances (see also Joanna Harrington’s post).

Bill C-10, an Omnibus criminal law statute, was adopted by the Canadian Parliament last week. The bill generated intense political debate and media attention, but largely for another section which imposed mandatory minimum sentences for a series of criminal acts. The scope of the Bill is well illustrated by its full title: “An Act to enact the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act and to amend the State Immunity Act, the Criminal Code, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and other Acts”. One of the nine distinct sections of the bill which attracted considerably less attention in the mainstream media – and indeed in Parliament itself – is the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act The law brings Canada into the very small group of states in which it is possible to use domestic courts to seek redress for violations of international law. It is noteworthy that the Act is limited to responsibility for acts of terrorism, and does not cover other violations of international law such as torture and war crimes, despite some earlier calls for a wider ambit.

The first part of the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act creates a cause of action in Canada for damage or loss which occurred anywhere in relation to a terrorist act, if certain conditions are met. If the plaintiff is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, no further territorial link is required. The Act opens the door to a suit in damages even for plaintiffs who do not have a nationality or residency link to Canada if there is a “real and substantial connection” to the country. This refers to the standard adopted by the Supreme Court of Canada in Libman v. The Queen, [1985] 2 SCR 178 to establish a territorial basis for criminal prosecution, which was later relied upon in other areas as well. The connection demanded in order to satisfy the “real and substantial” test has been interpreted quite broadly, to include not only any phase of the crime but also its repercussions. As such, the door which is opened by the Act is overall quite broad. Read the rest of this entry…