Secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict condemns attacks on civilians and use of child soldiers

9-Nov-98

HR/4388

(Reissued as received from the Office of the Special Representative. )

NEW YORK, 5 November — Olara A. Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, today condemned the increasing number and brutality of attacks upon civilians, especially children and women, and the ongoing recruitment and use of child soldiers.

Mr. Otunnu, speaking at a press conference, vigorously and repeatedly called on all parties to armed conflicts to observe international humanitarian and human rights standards and to cease their abhorrent attacks against civilians. He appealed to all parties, both governments and rebels, to end the use of child soldiers and make demobilization an essential element of any peace negotiations.

He cited the horrific massacre in north-western Afghanistan and attacks last week on civilians in northern Sierra Leone and northern Kenya. He also pointed out the continuing enlistment and deployment of children as fighters in Colombia, Sri Lanka and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka, both of which he visited earlier this year, parties had broken their commitments to him to begin to end recruitment and deployment of youngsters.

The Special Representative cited major international instruments and local values that protect the rights of civilians — especially children and women. He appealed to the international community to translate these words from documents into deeds on the ground.

Targeting Civilians

— Afghanistan:massacre in Mazar-i-Sharif — Taliban troops massacred at least 2,000 people in August in reprisal attacks against the Hazara ethnic group after they seized the north-east city. Described as a “killing frenzy” by survivors, it was the singl

— Sierra Leone:bombing atrocity — Rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) herded some 48 civilians, including children and women, into a room and blew up the building to punish non-sympathizers. The killing last week in the northern town of Alika

— Kenya:slaughter in El Das — Borana raiders attacked ethnic Degodia settlements in late October, brutally slaying some 142 civilians, including pregnant women and children, according to officials and witnesses. Dozens of others were injured and more th

Persistent Use of Child Soldiers

— Colombia:all parties recruiting and using children under 18 — Up to 30 per cent of some guerrilla units are composed of children, with numbers rising as high as 85 per cent, according to independent sources. The national security forces, including the

The Special Representative appealed to all parties to make a commitment to stop the recruitment and use of children and to begin the process of demobilization as integral aspects of the ongoing peace process.

Sri Lanka:Tamil Tigers break promise to stop recruiting — the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are still recruiting and deploying children, According to recent reports. this violates their commitment made to the Special Representative during his visit last May. a number of child soldiers are among the Tamil Tigers cadres surrendered recently in the northern town of Mankulam.

These developments are all the more disturbing, the Special Representative said, because the Tamil Tigers had given him an undertaking that they would not use children under 18 and would not recruit those under 17. He addressed a particular appeal to the Tamil Tigers leadership to take concrete measures to stop the recruitment and use of child soldiers in fulfilment of the commitments they made to him in May.

— Democratic Republic of the Congo:recruitment ongoing — Both sides in the conflict are continuing to recruit and use children; already, thousands of children, known as “kadogos”, had been recruited during the fighting in 1996 and, many of them continue

The Special Representative appealed to all parties in the conflict to immediately stop the recruitment and use of children. He also described as very disturbing recent reports that children are being recruited in neighbouring countries for combat in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

— Sierra Leone:still massive recruitment and use of children by rebel forces — The RUF continues to recruit and use youngsters as combatants on a major scale. There is also evidence that the government-allied Civil Defence Forces have been engaged in so

He appealed to the RUF to stop recruiting and using children as soldiers, and to the Civil Defence Forces to honour its commitments made to him last June. He also expressed grave concern about reports that children were being recruited in Liberia for fighting in Sierra Leone.

Violations of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Instruments

The Special Representative said these cases of atrocities and use of children violated the letter and spirit of a number of key international and human rights instruments, as follows:

— The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits recruitment and use of children under 15 in hostilities, and calls for protection of children against abuse, torture and armed conflict (articles 38 and 39).

— The Geneva Convention, of 12 August 1949, relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, which calls for the protection from hostilities of civilians (part IV, section I, chapter II) and civilian sites (part II, articles 14 and 24), and

— The Statute of the International Criminal Court, which designates as war crimes the acts of intentionally directing attacks against civilian population; of conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 into armed forces; or of using them to pa

— In addition, the United Nations Security Council, in a ground-breaking presidential statement issued in June, condemned the targeting of children, including their humiliation, brutalization, sexual abuse, abduction and forced displacement and recruitme

The Special Representative stressed that these acts of atrocities violated local value systems existing within most of the societies concerned. He quoteda local elder in El Das where Kenyan villagers were massacred, who lamented:”In our tradition, men fight fellow men. But, now, they ambush women and children. “

Call to Action

Words must be translated into actions, the Special Representative said. “Nothing is more important today than translating existing standards into practice on the ground. “

The Special Representative called for actions from key actors within the international community, as follows:

Firstly, for all governments to incorporate as a major theme the protection of children in their domestic and international policies and programmes;

Secondly, for the non-governmental organization (NGO) community, in tandem with the very important project to raise the age limit for recruitment and participation to 18, to mount a major international campaign for the application of existing standards and to protect children who are presently exposed to abominations in present theatres of conflict. He directed his appeal, in particular, to two recently established NGO coalitions:the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers and the Leadership Council on Children in Conflict;

Thirdly, for governments and NGOs to use their own influence and channels of communications to pressure parties to support and reinforce the initiatives and commitments undertaken by parties in conflict; and

Finally, in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the International Declaration of Human Rights, for the entire international community to “agree to focus on and make the issue of the protection of children — all our children — a common cause”.

Scale of Problem

From 1987-1997:

— 2 million children have been killed;

— 6 million children have been maimed, injured or permanently disabled;

— 1 million children have been orphaned or separated from their parents.

At present:

— More than 300,000 children under the age of 18 are fighting in conflicts worldwide;

— Children account for one half of the worldwide total of 24 million refugees and internally displaced peoples;

— 90 per cent of the casualties in today’s conflicts are civilians, including a large and increasing number of children and women. By contrast, that number was only 5 per cent in the First World War, rising to 48 per cent in the Second World War.

For further information please contact Victoria Graham at (212) 963-5508, or Salman Shaikh at (212) 963-6194, at the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict; Fax: (212) 963-0807.

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