A boy soldier strikes a pose. The threat to good social order cannot be over emphasised.
The New Times Rwanda’s highly acclaimed programme of rehabilitating and reintegrating ex-child soldiers has won the ultimate accolade – it is being used as the blueprint for an ambitious and high profile United Nations Security Council campaign of naming and shaming groups that recruit and use child soldiers.
“I have seen personally the effect of this process,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, said in a statement sent to The New Times following a recent visit to South Sudan.
Rwanda has won widespread praise for its efforts in rehabilitating and reintegrating ex-child soldiers, especially members of the terror group,the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, (FDLR)back into their communities. Speaking on the proposed list of shame, said Coomaraswamy,
“I have met heads of State and non-State actors and announced to them they’re on this list, and it makes a big difference – there’s no doubt about it.” Ms. Coomaraswamy is a lawyer by training and a leading international human rights advocate.
In 2010, her office in partnership with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), launched the ‘Zero under 18’ campaign to promote the universal ratification of the Optional Protocol by 2012.
To date, 146 UN Member States have ratified the treaty while 47 are not party to it. Ms. Coomaraswamy is hopeful that progress can be achieved and that the efforts of her office can make a difference in the lives of children worldwide.
“Last year 11,000 children were released from armed groups,” she noted. “So, in a sense, I think we can make a difference, and that’s really what motivates me and my whole office.” The Security Council states that the campaign has been effective in combating the scourge, and that, like slavery, the horrible practice can be eradicated with concerted action.
Countries which have signed the action plan on the abolition of child soldiers are Afghanistan, Chad and the Central African Republic. Others, include the Democratic Republic of Congo, which suffered the indignity of being the first country whose national, warlord Thomas Lubanga, became, the first person to be convicted by the International Criminal Court in its 10-year history for recruiting child soldiers and for committing crimes against humanity.
He was convicted of snatching children from the streets and turning them into cold blooded killers when he was head of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) and its military wing. He faces the prospects of a life sentence. Tuareg rebels The scourge of child soldiers has been largely confined to countries where rebel groups and militias have been active.
The latest entry into the list of shame is the Tuareg rebel group in Mali. Mercifully in the flashpoints in Eastern Africa, groups such as the Al Shabaab terror militia in Somalia, rebels in Ethiopia and Eritrea are not known to use child soldiers, although they are under the scrutiny of the Security Council. Rwanda’s campaign has won the backing of the highly decorated military strategist and Canadian Senator, retired Gen. Romeo Dallaire, whose Child Soldiers Initiative seeks to galvanise international political will to end the use of child soldiers. Gen.
Dallaire was the force commander for the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in which an estimated 1,000,000 people were murdered. His highly moving book on the plight of the child soldiers, They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children, examines the sad reality of hundreds of thousands of children used in armed combat around the world. Gen.
Dallaire’s citation of Rwanda’s tremendous progress in rehabilitating and reintegrating the child soldiers back into their communities and school “as being good for the country and a stable reference to build on” is part of the basis on which the Security Council initiative is based.
Alongside Gen. Dallaire, Ms. Coomaraswamy has become a moral voice and independent advocate to build awareness and give prominence to the rights and protection of boys and girls affected by armed conflict. The fact that they’re on a Security Council list really is something they’d decide to do something about,” she said.
“And they do try… not all, there are some who don’t care about the Security Council, as we know… but many think they’re going to be the legitimate rulers of their country in the future, so it has its weight,” she says in the statement. Rwanda’s example in tackling the scourge of the child soldiers or as they are derisively called The Toy Soldiers in the film by the same name, have given East Africa and the Horn Region some badly needed respite.
But the use of child soldiers by the fugitive Ugandan rebel Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, the FDLR, which sought refuge in the DRC, and the Sudan Liberation Army and other militia in South Sudan, remain. South Sudan’s government recently signed an action plan on children serving as soldiers applies not only to the SPLA, but also to all armed groups who have accepted a government amnesty.
The action plan ensures that a transparent system is in place for disciplinary action against those in command who recruit children within the SPLA. It also improves communication among commanders to make sure that the practice of child recruitment is halted and responsibility for child protection is understood on all levels. So many horrors “The children of South Sudan have witnessed so many horrors in this decades-old conflict and many have grown up in war.
I urge the Government to implement the commitments made today and to make certain that, in this new country, future generations of children can spend their childhood with books and not in barracks,” says Ms Coomaraswamy. In 2001, the Council recommended that the then-Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, list parties recruiting and using children in armed conflict in his annual report to the 15-member body.
Since then it has also asked for lists on other violations against children, such as sexual violence, attacks on schools or killing and maiming. The process has led to State and non-State actors agreeing to actions plans to release children in their ranks, as well as actually handing children over, Ms. Coomaraswamy said. A total of 17 action plans have been signed since the Special Representative took up her post and she hopes to have action plans in Myanmar and Somalia before she finishes her tenure in July.
“The Security Council process of listing, shaming and having targeted measures, possible targeted measures have, I think, put this issue front and centre. I think that, like slavery, in about 20 years we can eradicate it,” said the Special Representative. The task of disarming, demobilising and reintegrating the children will not be an easy one, Ms. Coomaraswamy noted. She stressed the need to work with the Government to develop health and educational facilities in a country where only four per cent of children go to secondary school and 92 per cent of women and girls are illiterate.
The action plan signed by South Sudan follows similar agreements in 2011 with the Afghan National Security Forces and the Chadian National Army, among other actors. The number of action plans signed reflects a “sea change” among State and non-State actors in terms of abandoning child recruitment, the Special Representative said. Since taking up the post, she has undertaken 25 country visits, with a central element of her advocacy strategy being to bring high-level visibility to the situation and rights of children affected by armed conflict.
Source The New Times