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Omar Khadr

    Omar Khadr, left, as a child in a photo provided by his family. And right, in custody in Guantanamo Bay in 2009.

    It has been over ten years since Canadian Omar Khadr was seriously injured and captured by US forces in firefight in Afghanistan on July 27, 2002. He spent over ten years in US custody before finally being transferred to a Canadian prison at the end of September 2012.  At 15 years old, he never should have been on a battlefield in the first place.

    Just months earlier, the international community had struck a landmark agreement on child soldiers that prioritized demobilization and reintegration. The United States, however, sent a number of children to the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay including Omar Khadr. Accused of throwing a grenade that ended the life of US Special Forces soldier Sgt Christopher Speer, his trial by military commission ended in a plea agreement in October 2010. He was sentenced to eight more years in detention, the first of which was to be served in US custody before he would be eligible for a possible transfer to Canada.

    Diplomatic notes exchanged between the US and Canada at the time of the plea agreement stated that the “Government of Canada is inclined to favourably consider Mr. Khadr's application to be transferred to Canada to serve the remainder of his sentence.” In November 2011, then Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon told the House of Commons that Canada would “implement the agreement.”

    Some nine months after Omar Khadr became eligible for a transfer to Canada, the request still sat unsigned on the Minister of Public Safety’s desk. In the face of too many delays, Omar Khadr’s lawyers launched a Federal Court action in mid-July. That pressure and the work of many others over the years - including Amnesty members from all over the world - ultimately contributed to his transfer on September 29, 2012 to Millhaven Institution in Bath, Ontario (near Kingston) for evaluation prior to be transferred to another federal prison. He is currently held in medium secuirty at Bowden Institution in Innisfail, Alberta.

    Omar Khadr is believed to be the only child soldier put on trial in modern history. Canadian Courts and UN experts have repeatedly called on the government to provide a remedy for the human rights violations in this case, including torture and ill-treatment

    Amnesty International believes that no one under 18 years old should ever have been transferred to Guantánamo, and that no Guantánamo detainee, let alone one who was a child at the time of his alleged crime, should be subject to a military commission trial. In 2010, the United Nations Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, expressed concern that the trial will set a dangerous precedent for child soldiers worldwide: "juvenile justice standards are clear -- children should not be tried before military tribunals." These feelings have been echoed for years by NGOs, academics and other international experts including the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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