playing games with UN over children
NEW YORK - The United Nations is threatening to come down heavily
on governments and rebel movements that continue to recruit child
soldiers in violation of international law.
a damaging and despicable practice," says UN Secretary-General
Kofi Annan, who estimates more than 250,000-300,000 children under
arms worldwide. But despite five Security Council resolutions condemning
it, child soldiering continues unabated.
LTTE has been singled out as one of the world's worst offenders,
with the average age of child recruitment at 15. The 'Coalition
to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers', a London-based group of more
than 100 non-governmental organisations, has implicitly dismissed
LTTE leaders as a bunch of liars -- but in more diplomatic jargon.
new 360-page study released by the Coalition last week quotes several
"solemn pledges" made by the LTTE to the UN Children's
Fund (UNICEF) promising to cease all recruitment of underage children.
a meeting in Berlin in February 2003, an LTTE spokesman was quoted
as saying that "senior LTTE leaders had been discharged following
investigations into recruitment."
all this has turned out to be hogwash because UNICEF has documented
the recruitment of hundreds and thousands of children despite sanctimonious
of February last year, there were more than 1,250 child soldiers
in LTTE camps, but the true figure was said to be much higher, according
to UNICEF. If a resolution currently being discussed by the Security
Council is adopted next month, there would be targeted sanctions
against governments and rebel leaders who continue to recruit child
countries named in the report include: Burundi, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic
Republic of Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Colombia, Myanmar, Nepal, the
Philippines, Sri Lanka and Uganda. In some cases, governments are
guilty of deploying child soldiers, and in others, armed rebel groups
are held responsible, as is the case with Sri Lanka.
proposed sanctions include travel restrictions on leaders and their
exclusion from any governance structures and amnesty provisions;
the imposition of arms embargoes; a ban on military assistance;
and restriction on the flow of financial resources to warring parties.
Salah, UNICEF's Deputy Executive Secretary, proposed an even tougher
measure: the time has come, she said, to subject those who recruit
and use child soldiers to the full force of the national legal systems
and the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague on charges
of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
a meeting of the Security Council last week, Ambassador Bernard
Goonetilleke not only endorsed the proposed restrictions but also
charged that the LTTE has continued to recruit thousands of children,
mostly by force.
But in an obvious attempt to circumvent the proposed restrictions,
the LTTE's Political Wing Chief S.P. Thamilselvan has fired off
a letter to Olara Otunnu, the Under-Secretary-General for Children
and Armed Conflict, expressing readiness to enter into a dialogue
with the UN.
is also seen as an attempt to marginalize UNICEF which has been
consistent in its condemnation of the LTTE. Otunnu is expected to
meet with an LTTE delegation, possibly in mid March, to follow up
a meeting he had with LTTE leaders during his visit to Sri Lanka
the question for Otunnu is: how trustworthy is the LTTE which has
a miserable track record of broken pledges? Is the UN on the verge
of being taken for a ride?
told the Security Council that he wants the LTTE leadership "to
embark immediately on tangible actions leading to a time-bound action
plan to end, once and for all, the practices of recruitment, abductions,
and the use of children as soldiers."
am instinctively suspicious of the LTTE move," says one UN
official who is fully aware of past LTTE tactics. "This is
very likely a ploy to stave off Security Council sanctions. By starting
a dialogue you give the impression of trying to be good when everybody
knows that they did not deliver on their promises not to recruit
the LTTE is hit with sanctions, no UN member state will permit any
of the LTTE leaders to visit their country. This, of course, includes
Norway and Thailand, where peace talks were held earlier.
there may be an attempt to inscribe exceptions to the travel ban,
exempting leaders shuttling on peace missions. A new UN study, submitted
to the Security Council last week, identifies six grave violations
described as egregious abuses against children.
include killing or maiming of children; recruiting or using child
soldiers; attacks against schools or hospitals; rape and other grave
sexual violence against children; abduction of children; and denial
of humanitarian access for children.
secretary-general expects key UN and international bodies such as
the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Commission on Human
Rights, the International Criminal Court, and regional organisations
and governments to take action against child abuse.
before the Security Council, Otunnu echoed a variation of a famous
song by Jamaican reggae singer, the late Bob Marley:
the children cryin'
From Apartado, Malisevo and the Vanni
But I know they cry not in vain
Now the times are changin'
Love has come to bloom again.'
Let's hope the UN is right – and times are really changing.