The ICC should allow a defense of “cultural relativism” to the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers

International Crime Court, as an international body of United Nations, needs to recognize the cultural diversity of the world. We may not like that children are fighting as we speak; the fact remains that child soldiers are both the tradition and the necessity in some countries. Therefore, we propose that the ICC take cultural relativity into account when making decisions.

In our case, the ICC will only accept "cultural relativism" argumentation in case child soldier recruitment and usage is commonplace and deep-rooted traditional lore in that particular society, and if children's military conscription and participation is carried out in accordance with aforementioned lore. To implement this, we will amend Part 2, Article 8, section 2.b.(xxvi) of the Rome Statute of ICC (17 July 1998), which specifies crimes that ICC adjudicates, to read as follows: '[C]onscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into the national armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities, if done forcibly with no cultural traditional basis.', and to amend all relevant ICC documents in accordance with this change. We stand for an option of full absolution based on grounds of cultural relativism whilst arguing this point on the floor of ICC; this defence, however, does not apply for other Rome-Statute-defined crimes.

This side wants to establish the Proposition standpoint very clearly - we believe that child soldiers are a problem, however, there are societies, where such practice is normal and even necessary. Certainly, we need to seek a path forward, but the ICC is simply not the appropriate body to deal with this issue; on the contrary, if ICC continues to prosecute this offence without regard to cultural backgrounds, it amounts to a miscarriage of justice.

The ICC should allow a defense of “cultural relativism” to the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers
Please cast your vote after you've read the arguments.
You can also add to the debate by leaving a comment at the end of the page.
(50%) (50%)

The ICC should allow a defense of “cultural relativism” to the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers
Yes because...

Relativity of the Rights of the Child

The issue underlying all debates about child soldiers goes to the very heart of intercultural discussion. International legislation notwithstanding, the notion that child should be protected from all violence at all costs is expressly Western, even if some post-colonial developing governments signed to uphold the Rome Statute. Different cultures, under these governments often in name only - e. g. Yemeni tribal societies - consider military participation of boys as young as 12 as a rite of passage to manhood, which neither the adults nor the boys are willing to give up[[]]. Not involving these children in societies where their early integration into military affairs - which, too, are deeply ingrained in culture and practice - then violates centuries of cultural tradition and their own cultural rights.

Western notions of inviolate childhood, free of all worries and violence, is merely a cultural construct. It is quite important to note that many facets of Western upbringing would constitute child abuse:

Jill E. Korbin, Case Western Reserve University

It is sobering to view many Western child-rearing practices that would be viewed as abusive from the vantage point of other cultures. In one of the earliest systematic cross-cultural comparisons of child-rearing practices (Whiting & Child 1953), United States and Western European cultures were more often than not on the far end of the continuum. Isolation for sleep at night, for example, is widely regarded cross-culturally as detrimental to children, yet it is the ideal practice in middle-class families in the United States. Although conceptions of child abuse in North America and Western Europe have had a focus on physical violence, in some societies verbal violence toward children is regarded as much more serious than physical violence.

[[Children, Childhood, and Violence]]

Child soldier recruitment may thus not be a criminal act; rather, a tradition.

No because...

The Opposition team believes that not every tradition has to be right and need to be continued for the sake of preserving a culture when it's already proven that it has harmful effects on that society. In fact, the practice of boys fighting in a war to reach "manhood" originated many centuries ago - not in the contemporary world (further elaborated on our x-d argument).

Just because of the tradition, people can't force children to fight in wars and put their lives at stake. Contrary to the opinion that "neither the adults nor the boys are willing to give up" the tradition, we have found, surprisingly, from the Proposition's own reference that "large number of boys have been DRAGGED into the fighting" (emphasis ours) and after Akram, a child soldier, stated his opinion that "To use children in war is wrong", he had to live in hiding for safety. Even if the children voluntarily fought, we should take into account that these children haven't reached 18 yet (some even 8 years old) and are not ready to reason and decide for themselves. They are often easily exploited by those recruiters and have to suffer the horrible consequences.

Also, unlike children sleeping alone at night - the amusing example provided by the Proposition - the problem of child soldiers is a serious matter of death or life and, as we will show, it is almost universally agreed that child soldiers shall be banned.

The ICC should allow a defense of “cultural relativism” to the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers
Yes because...

Unfairness of Asserted Culpability

Because the position of child differs from culture to culture, the act of “conscripting children” isn’t a crime for all the people of the world. Firstly, some countries didn’t sign the international treaties dealing with the rights of the child and condemning child soldiers, like the Convention on the Rights of Child,[[]] and therefore have no legal basis to punish recruiting child soldiers. Secondly, cultures in the third world countries often abide by the lore: old traditional laws of their ancestors are more valid than the modern, ever-changing laws, forced on them by a corrupted, unelected government that does not represent them. “Conscripting children” then is not a crime; on the contrary, it is part of their culture originated in need for defense, like in Democratic Republic of Congo.[[]] Hence, under these conditions, no-one should be tried for that because he is upholding the only law he or she knows, as opposed to an international treaty that an unrepresentative, post-colonial government acceded to of its own accord.

For the individual (who can, in the end, be tried by the ICC), it is simple: if he does something that is allowed by the lore (in this case, recruiting children), he is not obliged to know if his country is signatory of a treaty that would outlaw that. (Given different language and no legal upbringing, how would he and could he even know?) Similarly, when former child soldiers become recruiters themselves and enlist the new children to army, they can’t know that it is wrong because it happened to them and they see it as a common way of living. Hence, it is injust for the ICC not to respect argument of “cultural relativism” brought by a person which is from various reasons unable to recognize “conscripting children” as something wrong. Such approach would amount to a miscarriage of justice, and a foremost international tribunal shouldn't allow anything like that.

No because...

We agree that the culture and lore of a nation has a prodigious impact on the conscience of its civilians. However, according to Alcinda Honwana, a scholar of African traditions and a world leader on the topic of child soldiers in Africa, the problem of child soldiers does not "have its roots in African traditional culture." Although culture has an impact on society, the issue of child soldiers is not affiliated with culture.

Side proposition stated that ‘conscripting children’ should be legal if it is tolerated by the lore. However, is tradition more momentous than the abiding law of that nation? No. We on side opposition believe that the "rule of law is a legal maxim accordin to which no one is immune to the law.” [[]] The fundamental purpose of government is the maintenance of basic security and public order and thus without it the nation will deteriorate.

The proposition mentioned the Democratic Republic of Congo as an example. DRC signed the “Convention on the Rights of the Child” on Sep 21st, 1990. During this time era, Congo had not declared democracy, however they have hitherto developed a more democratic and stable government where each citizen has the right to speech. Additionally, DRC still has not relinquished the treaty “Convention on the Rights of the Child”, thus accentuating the fact that they are strongly against conscription of children.

Being oblivious of the fact that conscripting child soldiers is illegal is no defense. They should be aware of the fact that they are performing an illegal act and are putting the life of young children at stake.

The ICC should allow a defense of “cultural relativism” to the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers
Yes because...

Need to Avoid Cultural Colonialism

Condemnations of early integration of child soldiers into Yemeni tribal societies are symptomatic of what is wrong with our perception. This sentence perfectly describes the problem we are seeing in the world. We see that in some cultures recruiting is perfectly normal in certain circumstances, yet we, as the Western world, try to impose our values upon the other cultures.

Jill E. Korbin - Children, Childhoods, and Violence

Charged with the mantle of understanding and explaining cultural diversity, anthropologists have gone to great efforts to explain how such rites, although physically painful and emotionally frightening, fall outside the rubric of "abuse" in that they are collective expressions of cultural values (e.g., Korbin 1981).

. We can see that our perception of child soldiers and their participation in war is fundamentally a cultural construct.

We have already seen our cultural colonialism doing wrong: "The establishment of the ICTR by the U.N. Security Council probably went too far in embracing 'universal' values at the expense of the true needs of the Rwandan people. Specifically, certain aspects of the Tribunal's statute appeared to contradict Rwandan notions of justice."[[]]
Fundamentally, forcing one to obey their rules of law, causes the international tribunal to appear distant, foreign and colonialist to the locals, whose understanding should be our primary concern. For it is they, who the verdict will impact the most (along with the one, who is being prosecuted) - and this can be especially crucial in such important matters as the ICC discuses. The victims of the atrocities must see the justice done there, and it must be a justice they can respect. Otherwise, ICC appears as yet another dictator, who just takes what it wants and leaves.

We're not here to decide which values are correct - we should understand the differences in culture, because our culture is simply no better than others.

No because...

We the Opposition Team believes that if these countries, which are Chad, DPR Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, and Yemen have all ratified the Optional Protocol [[]] about child soldiers they should hold consequences to not use child soldiers.

Therefore in which it is true that these countries have signed it [[]] they must stop using children as soldiers. If they cannot do as said in the Optional Protocol they cannot use their culture as an excuse.
But the Proposition Team is saying that it is all right to use their culture as an excuse. In fact it is not right; they can’t just say that child soldiers are bad and at the same time use child soldiers.

Take for example Uganda:

Over the past 20 years the Lord Resistance army abducted 30000 more than boys and girls as soldiers. These children who are only 12 and13 are forcefully taken to be soldiers.

But they shouldn’t be using or recruiting child soldiers because they have signed their signature therefore declaring that they won’t use child soldiers. They specifically said that “The Government of the Republic of Uganda declares that the minimum age for the recruitment of persons into the armed forces is by law set at eighteen (18) years.”[[

The ICC should allow a defense of “cultural relativism” to the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers
Yes because...

Fundamentally Different Purpose of the ICC

While recognizing that the ICC should prosecute criminals for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and aggression, team Proposition believes that the ICC shall never become a universal watchdog trying to solve everything in theory and being unable to deal with rare and severe crises effectively.

It has to be underlined, however, that while Team Czech Republic personally stands against using children as soldiers in most cases, we do not deem the ICC to be the appropriate body to resolve these cases, and certainly not if it is a matter of cultural integrity.

Moreover, child soldiers are specific precisely because there is no global consensus on whether children should or should not fight due to varying cultural perspectives. On the other hand, we believe that the ICC should resolve only those issues a complete majority of countries agrees unconditionally on in order to enhance cooperation and thus increase efficiency: in other words, genocide is more important than child soldiering.

A country that does not recognize fighting children as something immoral and wrong has no incentives to cooperate with an international body that imposes seemingly illogical moral standards and laws in the future, which undermines the credibility of such an institution. Thus, the ICC should focus on resolving crises that are not culturally specific, such as genocide (as no society claims slaughter of men to be its "tradition", contrary to child soldiers).

Moreover, effective ICC is vital for deterring prospective criminals. Unless we focus on capturing real criminals instead of child soldier recruiters, the international community and its embodiment in this debate, the ICC, can gain no deterring power over crime perpetrators, as there will be no clear consequence. If we focus on child soldiers, though, the only consequence will be weakening of the legitimacy and position of the ICC, thereby weakening off the bulwark of international order and essential human rights.

No because...

Team Proposition says that there is no global consensus on whether children should be soldiers. However, 125 countries agreed to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict.
[[]]. A majority of countries have agreed to it, so shouldn’t the ICC work on resolving the issue of child soldiers? The Proposition has conceded the debate.


"On the other hand, we believe that the ICC should resolve only those issues a complete majority of countries agrees unconditionally on"

Interestingly, only 42 countries signed the UN’s Convention on Genocide[[]]. This proves that genocide is not globally hated more than the use of child soldiers. Also, many cultures could reasonably and validly claim that killing their enemies is traditional. That doesn't make it right.

Opposition team doesn’t understand why child rights aren’t essential human rights. Children are the future—guaranteeing their rights is guaranteeing the future. If there is such a thing as a “real” criminal, what is a “fake” criminal? Child soldier recruiters? The people who encourage the abusive and life-threatening conditions that child soldiers are usually subjected to? A crime is a crime, a criminal is a criminal and that is that.

There are approximately 300000 child soldiers throughout the world.[[]] 300000 children isn’t an amount to be ignored.

The ICC should allow a defense of “cultural relativism” to the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers
Yes because...

Reality of law in the concerned countries

What Opposition neglects is the reality of countries concerned. Firstly, we need to stress that although governments may have signed treaties against child soldiers, ethnic groups (e.g. Nandi tribe in Kenya) which are thus violating international law cannot be aware of the sheer existence of their own national legislature, let alone the international one.

People, who Opposition wants to condemn and imprison, are usually unable to read even in their own language, not to mention reading in highly specialized English legal lingo. It is preposterous to expect them to understand a different culture, different set of laws and different mindset in another language. They tend to be unaware of the existence of Rome, let alone the Rome Statute or the ICC! Hence, the principle "ignorance of law doesn't excuse" the Opposition applies clearly can't be relevant: it can only hold in conditions where defendants are aware of common legal framework of a nation, which doesn't apply to tribe that had no stake in and no awareness of arbitrarily drawn borders and imposed legislature - which, by Opp's own Wikipedia source, is not underlied by any rule of law since these failed states don't have one. These tribes can't understand they are doing anything wrong.

Consequently, ICC can only convict justly if the perpetrator could have known the immorality of his act. (That, unlike genocide, isn't clear with child soldiers; no culture is bent on complete annihilation, but many train and use children in combat.) We talk about isolated groups, whose law is based on their lore; hence, vast majority of cases in this debate's scope are completely unaware of illegality of their action on any level. If the ICC attempts to incarcerate people on the grounds of something that people in their communities deem normal, they will lose legitimacy in the local’s eyes; they will also compromise the ICC as a mere colonialist instrument and not a place of fair and just trial. That simply must not happen.

No because...

This topic states that the ICC will allow defense on the crime of child soldiers if there is cultural relativity involved. Firstly cultural relativism is the philosophical belief that all cultures are of equal and that right and wrong is relative and dependent on the cultural environment. Secondly not being aware of your own national law and not being able to read or write in your national language is not a cultural view, but rather ignorance of an individual or an ethnic group. Consequently this means the ICC cannot support those ethnics groups on the terms that they do not understand their own legislature.

It is never absurd for a group to understand another group’s way of thinking. The world is too diverse to just say that an ethnic group can never accept a new way of thinking and give in. They may not know what the ICC exactly is but that can never mean that they are too late to find out. So the notion that “ignorance of law doesn’t excuse” still stands because by no means should you say that these are tribes that will not understand the ways of the community around them. A country where the people are not aware of the law is simply ignorance, never a failed state.
The point that the ICC can only prosecute the criminal if he/she understands the immorality is completely false. On the second statement the ICC is only imposing the national law in which corresponds with their own roles, using national police force. You cannot assume that it is solely the ICC doing but more or less a national movement.

Now lastly the proposition made a big mistake in implying that, a lot of ethnic groups do not even know the ICC exists then saying if the ICC took action the people will lose legitimacy. This point contradicts in the propositions argument causing a flaw in there point.

The ICC should allow a defense of “cultural relativism” to the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers
Yes because...

Real Role of the ICC

Remarkably, the Opposition ran through this debate without once mentioning the ICC and its role; however, it managed to misconstrue a lot of ICC's internal procedures and assert lots of things that won't happen if we allow ICC jurisdiction to apply regardless of cultural relativity.

One, International Criminal Court is not the International Court of Justice. The ICC judges individuals; ICJ deals with countries. Time and again, we explained that individuals entitled to use "cultural relativism" defence often have nothing to do with the governments signing the treaties, or even with the legal frameworks that these governments try to implement in parts of the country they can control. ICJ may decide that these regimes don't do enough to implement whichever international treaties, which may influence them to do more (or not): the ICC doesn't punish regimes anyhow, but would punish individuals for regimes' failure to propagate their rule of law, which is injust. (Also, our cultural colonialism argument and its impacts still stand, as this was the only off-topic refutation to it.)

Secondly, the ICC isn't - and shouldn't be - a global watchdog of all wrong in the world; rather, it is a legal body that must be able to quickly and effectively deal with sudden crises and prosecute those responsible. Sure, it enforces compliance where there is strong consensus (and Genocide Convention, by the way, has 140 states as parties to it[[]]); however, the clash is not how many countries agree that genocide or child soldiers are a bad thing, but rather the nature of these crimes. What we see is a loss of focus & efficiency in prosecuting and justly punishing worst war criminals, never addressed by Opp. Conversely, Opposition assumes that ICC prosecution will reduce child soldier count; we simply don't see such deterrence mechanism.

Let UNDP talk the tribes out of child soldiering; but it's misguided, delegitimizing & unjust for ICC to punish them.

No because...

However there are other ways of treating people rather than just punishing them. Rehabilitating these criminals will give them a chance to change their position in society? If we were to rehabilitate these natives it would give them possibilities and chances for them are to redeem themselves and to reduce the amount of child soldiers. Human rights are essential to a country since their people represent their country. The ICC isn’t responsible for people who are isolated from the world not knowing their laws they can’t defend these people just because that there is “cultural relativisms”. If they have been rehabilitated there would be treaty for defense and protection for the country. Thus allowing child soldiers unneeded for the task. If we were to punish these people instead of being rehabilitated it will show no difference than making matters worse.

They will be set as an example for those who are using child soldiers as a weapon or due to cultural relativism but this is about people joining a greater position to become productive members of society allowing them to be educated, to realize that they are being forced to do something they can refuse from, they are capable of doing something much more for their country. The ICC doesn’t take responsibility for the people or the country, the country takes responsibility and care for itself and the people.The International Criminal Court is responsible for investigating, prosecuting, and trying persons accused of committing war crimesChildren who are enlisted and recruited for combat, even the ones who themselves commit crimes, are considered to be victims, unlike the ICJ.

The ICC should allow a defense of “cultural relativism” to the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers
Yes because...

Summary: Team Czech Republic

This debate hurted due to side Opposition's lack of understanding. Its argumentation almost fully ignored the breaking points of the motion: “the ICC”, “allow a defense” and, until last day, “the cultural relativism”. They argued against a Proposition that would stand for usage of child soldiers and the ability of ICC defendants to magically gain innocence by invoking “cultural relativism” with no real basis; but that was not the actual Proposition argumentation. From the onset, we insisted that although child soldiers aren’t good, “cultural relativism” - if properly substantiated, which it clearly wouldn’t be in cases of Burmese or Ugandan national armies - must be allowed in order to provide a fair trial, which wouldn’t tarnish the ICC. In effect, failure to reply to our actual case is why Opposition must lose.

That case, though, was quite clear.

We showed that notional “child abuse” is inherently culturally relative; Western judgments have no bearing over what isolated, in-name-only governed tribes in, say, Yemen, do in their families. Thus, the ICC is illegitimate in judging them in the first place. No reply.

We showed twice that tribal members don’t live within any legal framework of a rule of law (contrary to assertions by powerless governments); hence, they don’t have any law to be ignorant of. Thus, trying them for something that they never had a chance to consider wrong, in a different culture and a different language, is unfair, as it is the failure of their incompetent developing governments, not theirs – so ICC mustn’t do it on a principal level. No reply.

We showed that unless we allow defence by cultural relativism, we impose absolute Western standards, amounting to cultural imperialism. Thus, to maintain legitimacy before non-first-world countries currently parties to Rome Statute and to create legitimacy before the many people who have never heard of it, ICC must allow this defence. No reply.

We showed that the ICC would be out-of-role to blindly convict people who have done something wrong by our standards only; it is - as conceded - the role of education, not of a court of law, to change them. The ICC needs focus on people committing what they know to be heinous atrocities, not convict everyone we think does ill. Doing so will take away its efficiency in dealing with more important things. No reply.

Opposition had two options: either to show that not allowing a defense of cultural relativism to the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers is just, or that there are practical benefits to being unjust. They failed on both counts, only arguing that non-culturally-based recruiters should be convicted - which we agree with; or even trying to prove that convicting these people regardless of fairness would somehow alleviate the issue of child soldiers - which we showed will not happen, but instead harm the ICC. Their case belongs in a different debate, sadly not relevant to to this one.

No because...
The ICC should allow a defense of “cultural relativism” to the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers
No because...

An Unpardonable Crime

Throughout the world, thousands of children are being exposed to armed conflict. They are mostly recruited into armed political groups. Though most children voluntarily join the army, research shows that these children usually have no alternatives. They enlist because of lack of educational and work opportunities; war is also an important factor. Some child soldiers said that desire for revenge was a deciding point. Several female child soldiers revealed that they joined because of domestic abuse or forced marriages.[[]] The ones who didn’t volunteer are forcibly abducted and recruited. These children are being robbed of their childhoods and being used as weapons of wars.

Former soldier from Congo

They gave me a uniform and told me that now I was in the army. They said that they would come back and kill my parents if I didn't do as they said

19 year old from Zimbabwe

… on a nightly basis we were raped… you could not even see who it was. If we cried afterwards, we were beaten with hosepipes…we did not report the rapes… The youngest girl was 11 and she was raped repeatedly…

These are examples of the harsh treatment they deal with when they are in the army. Girls particularly are in danger of sexual abuse. Child soldiers are usually seen as expendable; they are ordered to run into mine fields only to be killed or to act as spies as they are small and innocent-looking.Children’s gullibility is used and they are told that they are immune to bullets and will be compensated greatly. Children are less-demanding than adult soldiers and easily controlled. Some children are drugged and inevitably become addicted to the drug therefore willing to do anything for it.[[]]
It is not easy to turn a soldier back into a child. How do you give back innocence to a child who has lived through such atrocities?

Yes because...

Team Opposition seems to debate a completely different motion, not even mentioning “cultural relativism” but only repeating all the terrible things that can happen to child soldiers. This is irrelevant on too many levels: these problems are not typical for child soldiers only, but also for adult soldiers, child laborers (the usual alternative to soldiering) or American prisoners. (Also, unarmed child is more susceptible to abuse than armed & trained one.) Moreover, Opp talks about new armies which abduct children, such as Zimbabwean or Ugandan: that is not case of this debate, because we talk about children who enlisted voluntarily and from cultural reasons.

Opposition is trying to twist our standpoint and make us advocate that child soldiers are good. This debate, however, is not about if we should recruit more or fewer immature conscripts, but rather whether “cultural relativism” is a suitable defense to the crime of their recruitment, when recruiters in cultural environments can't know their alleged crime.

The Proposition burden is to show that in cases where child soldiers are traditional for the culture and this culture is isolated from international legal framework (as Opposition agrees in their second argument that these cases exist), the “cultural relativism” defence must be permitted for the sake of fairness and justice before the ICC. The ICC shouldn't - and can't - decide correctness of traditions; only if the person is guilty or not. Therefore, “cultural relativism” is a fair defence; as explained above, culture & traditions are absolutes in place of non-existent rule of law.

What we say is that if such a strong cultural influence in the crime of recruiting child soldiers is proven, the only way to have a fair trial is to allow for such defense. To conclude: if the ICC doesn’t allow the defense of “cultural relativism”, the whole process is unjust, as excluding such defense would be ignoring the mindset of the alleged criminal.

The ICC should allow a defense of “cultural relativism” to the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers
No because...

Relativity of Tradition

Though it is important for countries to preserve their unique aspects of their culture, they don't have to tolerate everything simply because it is the tradition. Unlike what the Proposition seems to believe, as time passes and the needs of the society alter, traditions change. During the time underage boys fought to become men, fighting skills were the sole measurement of a man and necessary for survival. However, now, the nature of war has completely changed. Instead of hand-to-hand fighting, guns and bombs are being used in current wars that are fought not for survival but merely for power and money. Not only children but also adults can easily get killed. So, children, who are often forced to fight in wars against their wills, should train with their tribe until reaching eighteen. A small change in the perception of tradition can have a monumental impact on the everyday lives and development of our world's most valuable resource -- our children.

Yes because...

Accusations of ignorance from side Opposition really can't be met by any other response but that involving pots and kettles.

First and foremost, while we may have liberally interchanged "consensus" and "absolute majority", what Opposition did here really is conceding the debate. To quote: "Children, who are often forced to fight in wars against their wills, should train with their tribe until reaching eighteen." To remind the judges of the introductory definition, that is precisely the condition which we propose to be legally defensible before the ICC: non-forcible, culturally based recruitment of under-18 soldiers, not Ugandan abductions. (Presumably, Opposition will try to weasel out by saying that they don't want to *use* these children; however, if they are trained in combat among adults and a battle comes, it would be naive to expect these children just to sit back and watch.) This concession alone allows us to carry this debate.

Secondly, regarding cultural dynamics, we said repeatedly that change of traditions is possible & desirable. Fact remains, such change can't be forced by a court on any culture - and where children's social integration comes with partaking in tribal defence, they should never be (as conceded). Conversely, we proved that should ICC impose first-world judgments on unknowing tribes, wild resentment - rather than reluctant change - is likely to follow, as ICC is incorrect agent of change without leverage.

Plus, Opposition contradicts itself. Are child soldiers rooted in tradition, as claimed here, or not, as claimed above?

Thirdly, regarding changing warfare, we need to stress that tradition of child soldiers has to do more with defending the tribe, rather than with carrying a spear and not gun.

Overall, Opposition keeps debating that child soldiers are bad and societies should change, when they really should debate if ICC is just, fair & justified in convicting people unable to be aware of any wrongdoing.

The ICC should allow a defense of “cultural relativism” to the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers
No because...

A Case Study: Burma

Of the regions in the world[[]] most strongly tied to the use of child soliders, Burma stands out for its geographic isolationism, for its long-standing unrest, and for its refusal to sign the various international protocols we've previously mentioned. So let's look at the "best case" situation for Mr. Podhajsky's case.

In Burmese traditional culture boys 10-12 would start attending school in Buddhist monasteries. Children in rural areas grow up surrounded by the implements that they will use when they grow up and watch adults performing domestic, agricultural, and artisanal tasks. In the past, all boys eight to ten years of age would begin attending school in a nearby Buddhist monastery, where they would learn about Buddhism and be taught to read and write. Those schools gradually gave way to public schools, but many young men continue to receive some education in monasteries.[[]]

So from this information we can say that Burmese tradition had nothing to do with recruiting child soldiers into war. Rather it would be their government who is forcefully taking away the children to war. There are 70,000 boys who are serving the Burma’s national army, the Tatmadaw, with children as young as 11 forcibly recruited off the streets . For the last 50 years there has been conflict in Burma between the government and the rebel ethnic minorities.[[]] Here is a comment from an ex-army soldier : ‘an army recruitment unit arrived at my village and demanded two new recruits, those who could not pay 3000 kyat’s had to join the army’.[[]]

Even in Burma, a "worst-case" country that refuses to condemn child soldiers and recruits children for national militias, cultural relativism is a hollow and baseless defense. We're not proposing the existence of a "noble savage", but we are proposing a dose of reality: children in traditional cultures didn't shot each other with AK

Yes because...

To quote the definition:


…the ICC will only accept "cultural relativism" argumentation in case child soldier recruitment and usage is commonplace and deep-rooted traditional lore in that particular society, and if children's military conscription and participation is carried out in accordance with aforementioned lore.

This is yet another Opposition example outside this debate's scope, as Opposition concedes: “Burmese tradition had nothing to do with recruiting child soldiers into war.” We never proposed that ICC accept the relativism defense in such cases, as clearly, Burmese recruitment isn't “deep-rooted traditional lore" and children don't partake "in accordance with aforementioned lore". If a Burmese commander uses such defence before the ICC, it would simply be rejected as frivolous and irrelevant - just like a perfectly sane person's insanity plea.

Still, this brings no positive impact of denying "cultural relativity" plea in the ICC. All this says is "Children in Burma suffer". We agree.

Cases where relativism defence can justly apply are rarer in this globalized world - but contrary to what Opposition believes, they exist in Yemen, Congo or even Africa: “Reliable evidence indicates that, in the 18th century, various other peoples in the [Mthethwa ] area - the Mabhudu, Ndwandwe, Hlubi, Qwabe and Ngwane - already had military regiments of this nature. Oral traditions further claim that Mabhudu and Ndwandwe age sets were engaged in campaigns of conquest. In this case ... all age sets had performed military duties." [[]]

Like most Opposition case, this argument is irrelevant, only talking of children suffering en masse. Putting in example after example of untraditional, forcible recruitment, Opp snubs the real issue: if ICC is just and justified in trying people who don't live in a legal framework, aren't provided governmental rule of law, and the only law they do know is their traditional lore.

The ICC should allow a defense of “cultural relativism” to the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers
No because...

The trickiness of cultural relativism

Cultural relativism is the philosophical belief that all cultures and cultural beliefs are of equal value and that right and wrong is relative and dependent on the cultural environment.
According to cultural relativism, human rights cannot exist since there are different definitions of right or wrong depending on the relative culture. Cultural relativism means that human values and rights vary from culture to culture. So, human rights are relative not universal. If human rights are relative, laws are relative. Law is what society stands upright upon.
I could convince a bunch of people that killing 3 random people every full moon will bring good fortune. Perhaps I will make a whole community of people that practice this killing. Perhaps I will make songs and dances that describe the cultural and traditional killings. Now, this community and I will obviously get caught by the authorities. We will be put to trial and I will use cultural relativism as a defense. According to cultural relativism, the killings of random, innocent people are justified by my beliefs and the shared, passed along culture. This is an example of the danger of cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is, unfortunately, a concept that can be twisted to anybody’s wish.
Law must be absolute in order to preserve peace and tranquility in a society. Right and wrong are defined and human rights and values are for everyone, not individuals specifically. Cultural beliefs may not agree with it, but individuals cannot be exempted from the law. The law takes into account everyone of its jurisdiction. The law cannot bend according to the various cultures throughout the world. Yes, it has to take into account traditions, but only when the traditions are being created not when it is being applied.

Yes because...

At last, Opposition starts to address what this debate should have been about from the start. It’s a pity that it is their last argument, still not addressing the fundamental issue of this debate: culpability, justice, and role of the ICC.

Firstly, we stress that this argument is a huge, 2000-character-long ad absurdum fallacy. For one, Opposition misconstrues cultural relativism: yes, it does allow for emphasis on different values in different societies, which allows these societies to survive. However, it is a complete non-sequitur to claim that by cultural relativism, whatever you suddenly declare to be a tradition is a tradition as long as you dance to it. (At minimum, it wouldn’t fulfill our criteria for tradition: “commonplace and deep-rooted”, as set in Introduction.) Thus, this completely hypothetical argument falls just on this level, if not on being a far-fetched extremity.

Secondly, Opposition still ignores the reality of the proposal. What we propose is not that everyone, who recruits children, should get away with it just by saying the magical words “cultural relativism”, and that child soldiers should universally become legal. The core of our Proposition is that people who have never had any legal framework to fall back on and have knowledge of, who are quite unaware of their in-name-only “national government”, who only abide by the traditional laws that their elders passed on for centuries; those people cannot be held to evidential and legal standards of the ICC insofar as it would guarantee a fair trial, so entertaining defence by cultural relativism is the only way to make this just. Opp goes on about social contract and absolute law, ignoring that these people have no governance to broker a social contract with, and no idea about law to rely on.

The ICC should allow a defense of “cultural relativism” to the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers
No because...

Opposition Summary

We will now account for the major points of the debate, how they were answered, and why the opposition still firmly believes that the ICC should not allow the defense of “cultural relativism”.

First, the proposition mentioned that in some societies culture is simply unalterable and therefore, if it bestows the right for individuals to conscript innocent children, they sanction it. However, proposition failed to acknowledge our proposal that certain traditions are obsolete in their methodology, misconstrued about their inhabitants' current needs and are fully oblivious of the nefarious realities of war. Thus, if citizens fail to oblige and follow their legal system, the ICC is justified in intervening. We then strongly maintained that a small alteration in the perception of culture can have a monumental impact on the lives and development of our most valuable resource: children.

Additionally, proposition stated that these children will have their rights violated as their 'road to manhood' is different from what the ICC believes in. We say, when it comes to the life and death of chaste and innocent children, their lives are substantially more monumental than other absurdities. The problem of child soldiers is a serious predicament and therefore it is a case that the ICC can adeptly conduct. Side proposition unsuccessfully expressed that the ICC is not ‘meant’ to tolerate this issue because it is not globally agreed upon. However, they failed to see that the over 125 countries have sighed the Optional Protocol and are rigidly against child soldiers underlining the fact that child soldiers is a pandemic issue and thus should be dealt by the ICC.

Another incongruous point of side proposition is that the people or ‘tribes’ of certain societies are utterly absentminded towards their own legal system and thus should be pardoned and excused from putting the lives of future descendants at stake. The major flaw in this argument is that being oblivious of the law is not an inadequate excuse to endanger children. Proposition stated that if the ICC does not consider cultural relativism as an absolution to conscripting children then the ICC will undermine their credibility and portray the role of a tyrant that visits, takes what it wants and leaves. The fundamental purpose of a legal system is the maintenance of basic security and public order and thus without it the nation will deteriorate.

Throughout this debate we acknowledged the bitter truth of child soldiers. The truth that while remaining illegal in 125 nations, children are still facing abhorrent actions, are being persecuted and are facing the reality of war – a reality that even a grown man would be too afraid to counter. The children are our future, our hope and aspirations, and any monumental danger to them should be dealt with by the ICC.

Thus, the opposition firmly believes that the ICC should not allow a defense of “cultural relativism” to the crime of recruiting and using

Yes because...

The ICC should allow a defense of “cultural relativism” to the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers

What do you think?
(50%) (50%)

Continue the Debate - Leave a Comment

1 Comment on "The ICC should allow a defense of “cultural relativism” to the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers"