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Ending the recruitment of child soldiers

12 September 2012

The newly appointed Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict, Leila Zerrougui, called for greater protection of children affected by armed conflict.

While presenting the annual report of her predecessor, Radhika Coomaraswamy, to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Zerrougui also advocated for greater accountability for perpetrators of human rights violations against children in times of conflict.

“Two verdicts passed by the International Criminal Court and the Special Court for Sierra Leone this year against the Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga and former Liberian President Charles Taylor, respectively, set important international jurisprudence on the war crime of recruiting and using children,” she said. “In Lubanga’s case, it also made a significant contribution to the development of the right to reparations in international law.”

Zerrougui stressed, however, that international justice can only complement national accountability mechanisms, specifically when national authorities are not willing or not able to bring perpetrators to justice. “The challenge of conflict-affected developing countries is not always lack of will, but often of capacity,” she added.

She also made recommendations to States on how they could respond to child recruitment. These included criminalizing under-age recruitment, and prosecuting and investigating perpetrators; raising awareness of child protection at the community level; as well as addressing the root causes of ‘voluntary’ recruitment, such as poverty, social grievances and survival, and providing children alternatives to enrolment.

“In many contexts, children join armed forces or groups due to a lack of options. Conflict-affected countries continue to lag behind in the realization of the Millennium Development Goals, including on education, health and child mortality,” she said. “These factors lead many young people to see mobilisation as their only opportunity to provide for themselves and their families.”

The Special Representative added that poverty often also meant a lack of access to education and other basic services, and therefore the possibility of any other form of social mobility often did not exist. Education and employment creation, she said, should be major components of national strategies to address the stabilization of conflict affected areas.

She highlighted recent developments in preventing grave human rights abuses against children in armed conflict, including the signature of plans of action between the United Nations and the Central African Republic, Myanmar, Somalia and South Sudan, to halt and prevent the use of children during conflict. Nepal, she added, was removed from the UN Secretary-General’s list of countries that recruit children.

“More long-term and sustainable support for reintegration of conflict-affected children is needed, including through swift support to the implementation of action plans between the UN and parties listed in the annexes of the SG’s annual report on children and armed conflict,” Zerrougui said.

12 September 2012