W&L Law Professor’s New Book Explores Complex Issue of Child Soldiers

Lexington, VA • Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Prof. Mark A. Drumbl

Available for Purchase at OUP (US), OUP (UK), Amazon
In recent weeks, the plight of child soldiers has been thrust into the mainstream through the Kony 2012 video, a viral sensation that has garnered nearly one hundred million views on YouTube. But, as subsequent media coverage has shown, neither the story of Joseph Kony nor the problem of child soldiers are quite as simple as the film would have viewers believe. 

A timely new book from Washington and Lee law professor Mark A. Drumbl examines the complex problem of child soldiering and challenges conventional wisdom. Titled Reimagining Child Soldiers in International Law and Policy (Oxford University Press, 2012), Drumbl's book offers a comprehensive and interdisciplinary analysis of child soldiering worldwide and presses the international community to rethink its approaches to the problem.

Drumbl's analysis reveals that the phenomenon of child soldiering is largely oversimplified and that international humanitarian and criminal justice systems must evolve in order to offer adequate responses.    

"Two images of the child soldier dominate this discussion," says Drumbl. "Child soldiers are presented either as bloodthirsty, programmed killers or as faultless passive victims, devastated, with no control over their lives. But the realities on the ground are much more complex."

While the image of child soldiers is largely Africanized, Drumbl points out that the majority of child soldiers, in fact, live outside the African continent. Further, globally most child soldiers are not young children abducted into service but older adolescents who demonstrate some initiative in coming forward and enlisting in fighting forces.  These facts, argues Drumbl, should lead the international community to new solutions for dealing with child soldiering, especially in the post-conflict context.

Video: Prof. Drumbl discusses Kony 2012 and Child Soldiers

"When we view all child soldiers one generic whole, we lose sight of some important differences. But recognizing these differences is absolutely necessary after conflict to successfully reintegrate child soldiers back into their communities," says Drumbl.

In particular, Drumbl urges the adoption of restorative, rehabilitative, and remedial initiatives outside of the criminal justice system to facilitate reintegration and promote social repair. Truth commissions, traditional ceremonies, transitional justice, occupational training, and community service are some of processes Drumbl believes can better serve the interests of former child soldiers and their communities. This book is essential reading for anyone committed to truly emboldening the rights of the child.

Reimagining Child Soldiers in International Law and Policy, published worldwide, is available now from Oxford University Press in the US and in the UK and also from amazon.com and many other booksellers.  The book has garnered considerable attention in the blogosphere, for example here and here and here, and has been keynoted in conferences.  

A book signing was held in late March at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law in Washington DC, and a book tour is scheduled in the UK for the fall. Drumbl has blogged about recent issues regarding child soldiers, including the International Criminal Court's first conviction ever, released in March 2012, which involved the illegal military recruitment  of children.

Praise for Reimagining Child Soldiers

"Mark Drumbl draws on insights from numerous disciplines – developmental psychology, anthropological and ethnographic research, and critical intersectionality theory. He deploys these interdisciplinary insights skillfully to contest contemporary legal fiction...His book illuminates one of the darkest aspects of current conflicts and reinvigorates the international legal imagination."

−− José E. Alvarez, Herbert and Rose Rubin Professor of International Law, New York University School of Law

"Stimulating and provocative, Mark Drumbl provides us with a new understanding of what he calls the oxymoron of child soldiers. It is a discussion that is traditionally plagued with cliché, shibboleth and stereotype. His imaginative analysis of the subject is set out here with rich nuance and distinction, and presented in sparkling prose."

−− William Schabas, Professor, Middlesex University, London; Commissioner, Sierra Leone TRC

"Expertly argued, scrupulously presented and intellectually assured, Reimagining Child Soldiers offers a subtle, often unorthodox, retort to the prevailingintellectual and legal currents. It is always a pleasure to come upon a bookwhose very great ambitions are fully realized. Mark Drumbl has set the agenda
on this subject for years to come."

−− Gerry Simpson, Kenneth Bailey Chair of Law, University of Melbourne

"This well researched book challenges us…. It calls attention to children's agency and invites fresh consideration of the value of accountability, not through retributive trials but through reintegrative and restorative justice processes."

−− Mike Wessells, Professor of Clinical Population and Family Health, Columbia University 

About the Author

Mark A. Drumbl is the Class of 1975 Alumni Professor at Washington and Lee University, School of Law, where he also serves as Director of its Transnational Law Institute. He has held visiting appointments with a number of law faculties, including Oxford, Paris II (Pantheon-Assas), Trinity College-Dublin, Melbourne, and Ottawa. Drumbl has lectured and published extensively on public international law, international criminal law, and transitional justice. His first book Atrocity, Punishment, and International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2007) has been widely reviewed and critically acclaimed. He initially became interested in international criminal justice through his work in the Rwandan genocide jails. Drumbl holds degrees in law and politics from McGill University, University of Toronto, and Columbia University.

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