Stop at Least Six Grave Abuses against Children in Conflict


Human Wrongs Watch

Three months ago, the United Nations named 52 parties on its annual ‘list of shame’ of those who recruit and use children, kill and maim, commit sexual violence or attack schools and hospitals, including four new parties in Sudan, Yemen and Syria.

Photo: United Nations

In fact, secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s annual report to the Security Council on children and armed conflict, released on 23 June 2012, gives an overview of the grave violations committed against girls and boys in conflict zones, the main perpetrators as well as measures taken for the protection of children.

Now a top United Nations envoy stressed the need for more action to prevent violations from being committed against children affected by conflict and for greater accountability for such violations.

The Case Before UN Human Rights Council

“Justice and healing is most effectively achieved through national accountability mechanisms. For this, it is crucial to build national capacity – with international support – so that justice may be administered in accordance with international norms and standards,” said the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui.

Addressing the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the recently-appointed envoy noted that last year witnessed important positive developments for children affected by armed conflict.

The 47-member Council is an inter-governmental body within the UN system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and making recommendations on them, the UN informs.

In her statement, the envoy noted that two verdicts passed by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Special Court for Sierra Leone this year against a former Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubanga, and the former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, respectively, set important international jurisprudence on the war crime of recruiting and using children.

Child Recruitment A War Crime

“These two verdicts send a clear signal to commanders that child recruitment is a war crime and perpetrators will be held accountable,” said Zerrougui.

“These cases influence and may alter the behaviour, decisions and orders of parties to conflict. Indeed, the possibility of appearing before the ICC is increasingly serving as a deterrent against child recruitment in places where armed conflict is occurring,” she added.

At the same time, she emphasized that international justice cannot replace, but rather complement, national accountability mechanisms, specifically where national authorities are unable or unwilling to bring alleged perpetrators to justice.

“The challenge in conflict-affected developing countries is not always lack of will, but often one of capacity,” the envoy stated, adding that when the political will exists, the burden falls on UN Member States to join forces and ensure that national authorities have the capacity to translate their will and desire for accountability into reality.

Zerrougui, who took up her post on 4 September, highlighted the complex set of factors leading to child recruitment and the need to strengthen the capacity of Governments to investigate and prosecute adult recruiters before national courts.

Alternatives to Child Recruitment

She called on Member States to ensure that children and young people are provided with alternatives to recruitment, stressing that education and employment creation should be important components of national strategies to address the stabilization of conflict-affected areas.

In addition, she stressed the need for more long-term and sustainable support for the reintegration of conflict-affected children, including through swift support to the implementation of action plans between the UN and parties listed in the annexes of Ban Ki-moon’s annual report on children and armed conflict.

The report for 2011, released in June, named 52 parties on its ‘list of shame’ of those who recruit and use children, kill and maim, commit sexual violence or attack schools and hospitals. It included four new parties in Sudan, Yemen and Syria.

On the positive side, Zerrougui noted that, since last September, five new action plans to halt and prevent the recruitment and use of children were signed, between the UN and parties in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia and Myanmar.

In addition, last month, Somalia’s transitional authorities became the first party to sign an action plan to prevent the killing and maiming of children by its forces.

The signing of action plans is, however, only the first step, she added.

Time-bounded Actions

“The action plans signed between the UN and State security forces or armed groups set concrete and time-bound activities for the release and reintegration of children, and provide measures to prevent further recruitment,” stated Zerrougui. “This concrete and time-bound set of measures must be completed before we can be certain that a protective environment exists for children.”

The Human Rights Council’s current session runs until 28 September.

The List of Shame

On 12 June 2012 , the UN named 52 parties on its annual ‘list of shame’ of those who recruit and use children, kill and maim, commit sexual violence or attack schools and hospitals, including four new parties in Sudan, Yemen and Syria.

“2011 shows a mixed picture,” said the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy.

“While new crises erupted with a heavy toll on children such as in Syria, and also in Libya, violations against girls and boys have come to an end in other parts of the world,” she noted.

Victims of Killing, Maiming, Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, Torture, Sexual Violence

Children in Syria – where more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 16 months ago – were victims of killing and maiming, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence, by the Syrian armed forces, the intelligence forces, and the Shabiha militia, the UN reported.

Young people between 8 and 13 were forcibly taken from their homes and used by soldiers as human shields, placing them in front of the windows of buses carrying military personnel into the raid on villages, according to a news release issued by the Special Representative’s office. Schools have been regularly raided, used as military bases and detention centres.

In detention, girls and boys were beaten, blindfolded, subjected to stress positions and to electrical shocks, as well as whipped with heavy electrical cables.

“The world is keeping a detailed account of the violence committed against civilians in Syria and I am confident that these crimes will not go unpunished,” said Coomaraswamy.

Used as “Victim” Bombers

A worrisome trend is the growing use of children as suicide bombers and “victim” bombers – those who do not know that they are carrying explosives and are detonated from distance. In 2011 alone, at least 11 children in Afghanistan and another 11 girls and boys in Pakistan were killed while conducting suicide attacks, some as young as eight years old.

“The world should unite against this inhuman and perverse practice of child suicide bombers,” the Special Representative said.

Meanwhile, the report notes that parties to conflict in Nepal and Sri Lanka have been de-listed after their successful completion of Security Council-mandated action plans to end the recruitment and use of children.

In 2011, five more parties in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad and South Sudan entered into similar agreements with the UN.

Also in 2011, releases of children associated with armed forces and armed groups have taken place in CAR, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Myanmar, South Sudan and Sudan.

“The progress is continuous but the list of parties to conflict who harm girls and boys will always be too long,” Ms. Coomaraswamy said.

The report for the first time ever, thanks to a Security Council resolution adopted last year, lists parties responsible for attacks on schools and hospitals in addition to those who recruit, kill and maim, or commit sexual violence.

They include armed groups in Afghanistan, DRC and Iraq, as well as the Syrian Government forces who regularly shell, burn, loot and raid schools, as well as assault or threat teachers, students, and medical personnel.

Coomaraswamy called for stronger action against the growing list of persistent perpetrators of grave violations against children – those who have been listed for at least five years – which has doubled since last year to 32.

“We must put more pressure on these parties through sanctions, other Security Council action, and closer collaboration with national and international courts,” she stated.

The Six Grave Violations

Children are affected by armed conflict in many different ways. In order to advance the goal of protecting children during armed conflict and ending the impunity of perpetrators, the United Nations Security Council identified six categories of violations – the so-called six grave violations.

They serve as the basis to gather evidence on violations and include:

2012 Human Wrongs Watch

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