New York, 12 December 2008 – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will enter into an action plan with the United Nations to stop the recruitment and use of children and ensure that they are separated from their ranks and return to civilian life. The MILF committed to direct their commanders in the field accordingly. This was announced by Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, during her press conference in Manila, which concluded her five-day visit to the country.
"The primary purpose of this visit, requested by the Security Council, was to discuss ways and means of securing the release of children being recruited by the MILF and New People's Army (NPA)," said Ms. Coomaraswamy. These armed groups are listed by the Secretary-General for the use and recruitment of children. She welcomed the decision of the MILF to comply with the Security Council recommendations. "Possible dialogue with NPA is under consideration in the context of ongoing peace processes," she added.
During her meetings with the Government, Ms. Coomaraswamy raised concerns regarding alleged involvement of children in the paramilitary Citizens Armed Force Geographical Units (CAFGU) and Community Volunteer Organizations (CVOs) operating in some conflict areas. The Government agreed to immediately issue a directive that all local units must strictly adhere to existing national legislation that no-one under 18 shall be recruited or used.
The Special Representative also urged the Government to take all necessary measures to investigate and take firm action against those within the Philippines Security Forces allegedly responsible for grave violations against children. In this regard, she welcomed the Government's nominating high level focal points within the Armed Forces of the Philippines to deal with these issues.
Ms. Coomaraswamy complimented the Government on its strong framework of laws and structures with regard to children and armed conflict. However, she felt that there is a need to more fully implement these policies and also improve areas such as the incorporation of child protection provisions in the on-going peace processes.
The Special Representative welcomed the upcoming amendment of Republic Act No. 7610. It would exclude from prosecution children who are arrested for reasons related to armed conflict, considering them as victims instead of perpetrators.
"The Government of the Philippines needs to strengthen its capacity to deal with children associated with armed groups in returning them to civilian life. The UN country team and especially UNICEF is ready to support them based on international standards and taking into account the specific context of the community based insurgencies. This would be undertaken with Government and civil society at national and local levels," underlined the Special Representative with regards to the current reintegration programs.
The Special Representative deplored the recent increase in violence in Mindanao and the resulting casualties and displacements. Ms. Coomaraswamy urged all parties to the conflict to spare children and ensure that civilians are not caught in the cross fire.
During her stay Ms. Coomaraswamy visited an IDP camp in Central Mindanao to assess the condition of children who had to leave their homes due to the conflict. "The children are extremely vulnerable in the evacuation centers and all necessary measures should be taken to ensure that they can go back home and return to school as soon as possible," said Ms. Vanessa Tobin, UNICEF Country Representative who accompanied Ms. Coomaraswamy on her visit. She called on the Government to undertake targeted interventions with the assistance of UN agencies, regarding the management of the camps, water and sanitation, health, food security, psycho-social support and protection of civilians.
"Children are affected in multiple ways by the conflict in The Philippines. However, they should remain zones of peace and all the parties to the conflict, civil society, religious leaders and the Government must consider their protection as a priority," concluded Ms. Coomaraswamy.
The Special Representative undertook her visit to The Philippines in follow-up to the recommendations of the Security Council on the situation of children in The Philippines within the framework of Security Council resolution 1612 (2005). The visit was organized by UNICEF Philippines in collaboration with the UN Country Team.
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