Somalia: Special Representative Zerrougui calls for stronger measures to protect children affected by armed conflict

New York –At the end of her second visit to Somalia, Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, called for stronger measures to protect children from recruitment and use by armed forces and groups. She also urged authorities to treat children suspected of association with Al-Shabaab primarily as victims and to consider the best interest of the child and international protection standards as guiding principles.

“Children in Somalia face an unbearable situation, marked by a considerable increase in recruitment and use and abductions by Al-Shabaab,” said Leila Zerrougui. “Despite a very complex and difficult environment in which the Federal Government of Somalia is operating, it has made important commitments in the past few years to protect children, notably by ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child and by signing two Action Plans with the United Nations to end and prevent recruitment and use, and killing and maiming of children. During my visit, I called on authorities to sustain their engagement to the country’s children and assured them of our continued support.”

Ms. Zerrougui met with the Prime Minister, the federal ministers of defence, internal security, women and human rights development as well as other key members of the Government. She also met with UNSOM, the UN country team, the leadership of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and members of the civil society and the diplomatic community.

In Puntland, the Special Representative met children captured by regional forces in March and detained since, including 12 children sentenced to death for association with Al-Shabaab. During meetings with regional authorities, she expressed her alarm that children faced the death penalty and that others continued to be held in detention in Puntland for their association with Al-Shabaab. While the President and the Minister of Justice of Puntland assured the Special Representative that children under 18 will not be executed, federal and regional authorities must swiftly resolve all existing legal ambiguities related to the age of majority and should clearly domesticate the country’s international obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In Mogadishu, the SRSG met with children formerly detained at the Serendi center and transferred in 2015 to a reintegration center supported by UNICEF. She was happy to be reunited with some of those children in much better conditions, with positive outlooks on their future and in a safe environment.

The Special Representative also followed up on recent allegations that the Somali National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) used children in their custody as informants to identify al-Shabaab militants. She met with members of the Ministerial Committee set up by the Prime Minister to investigate the issue. The Committee’s report, shared with Ms. Zerrougui, confirmed that children had indeed been abused and used as informants by NISA.

“The Government stated this practice has been stopped, and that all children captured for association with Al-Shabaab are now transferred to child protection actors,” she said. “I am encouraged by the Government’s willingness to act on this issue because using children as informants in counter terrorism operations is particularly abhorrent. Not only do you put children in immediate danger, but you compromise their future reintegration as they risk becoming targets in their own community.”

The Special Representative welcomed the release and handover to child protection actors of children detained in Serendi and Hiil-Walaal and of children captured in Galmuddug as positive steps in the right direction. However, the detention of children for their association with Al-Shabaab remains an ongoing concern in Somalia, notably due to the lack of transparency and oversight in the classification of children held on national security charges and the plight of children classified as high risk. In addition, the absence of a clear legal framework for children detained on security charges and lack of juvenile justice system in the country are significant concerns. During her visit, the Special Representative encouraged the diplomatic community to prioritize these issues in their bilateral relations with the Government.

With regard to the implementation of the Action Plans signed by the Somali Government in 2012 to end and prevent killing and maiming of children as well as recruitment and use of children, the Special Representative welcomed the Government’s continuing efforts, including the creation of a child protection unit within the federal Ministry of Defence and the adoption of standard operating procedures for the reception and handover of children separated from armed groups. She urged the authorities to fully implement their action plans, particularly to ensure that no children enter the Somali National Army in the context of the integration of regional militia groups. She also engaged with AMISOM to discuss the vital role they should play to protect children and to address allegations of violations committed against children by their contingents.

Somalia is one of seven countries involved in “Children Not Soldiers”, a campaign launched by the Special Representative and UNICEF in March 2014 to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children by government forces in conflict.

A year ago, Somalia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Special Representative strongly encouraged the Government to ratify the convention’s optional protocol on the involvement of children and armed conflict, which would strengthen the legal framework to end and prevent the recruitment of child soldiers.

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For more information please contact:
Stephanie Tremblay, Communications officer,
Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict,
Tel: +1 212 963-8285
Mobile: +1 917 288-5791
tremblay@un.org

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