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.
“At this point, Khadr has spent more than a quarter of his life at Guantanamo,” said Daskal. “What is Canada waiting for?”