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New ISIS video shows training of child soldiers in Iraq

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By: Nick Logan

WARNING: This story contains details and images that some readers may find disturbing. Discretion is advised.

Keeping with its pattern of documenting its own war crimes on video and using that footage as propaganda, ISIS has posted a video online depicting the training of child soldiers.

Almost three dozen boys, all of whom would only be in elementary or middle school if they lived in Canada, are depicted learning martial arts, how to disarm or capture an enemy fighter, and how to endure brute force.

Scene after scene shows an adult trainer punching and kicking boys — in their sides, their legs and in their abdomens — while the young recruits hardly flinch and wait for to be dealt another blow.
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The video is called The Blood of Jihad Part 2. The first part appeared online in October and depicted the training and graduation of adult recruits.

Descriptions of both videos indicate the training camps were somewhere in Iraq’s Ninawa province, bordering Syria, much of which ISIS has controlled for months and considers a part of its self-proclaimed caliphate.

The training was similar to what’s seen in this latest video, except all of these soldiers are much smaller and much more vulnerable.

“It does show the kind of audacity that they have,” said Dr. Shelly Whitman, executive director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative at Halifax’s Dalhousie University. “And, it speaks to… [ISIS] being clear about this being a multi-generational war.”

READ MORE: Is the world ready to deal with a generation of ISIS child soldiers?

Posted to YouTube (but later removed) and other sites on Monday, the training video is not nearly as “brutal” as other ISIS propaganda videos or even other examples of what child soldiers in other conflicts have had to go through, Whitman told Global News.

“If you look at [this video], there are some elements that are not all that different than us taking our kids to learn martial arts,” she said. “I could see kids looking at that and thinking that that’s pretty cool, that they look a bit like they’re making them into little ninjas.”

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ISIS wants to appeal to young recruits and “prioritizes children as a vehicle for ensuring long-term loyalty, adherence to their ideology and a cadre of devoted fighters that will see violence as a way of life,” a United Nations panel investigating war crimes in the Syrian conflict concluded.

What’s not clear from this video is whether the children were recruited or kidnapped before being trained and indoctrinated.

Earlier this year in Syria, ISIS abducted more than 150 Kurdish boys, held them in a school in Aleppo province and showed them videos of beheadings and attacks, while subjecting them to daily instruction on militant ideology for five months, the U.N. and Kurdish officials said. The boys were later released.

In Raqqa province, an anti-ISIS activist collective has documented the presence of at least five known youth training camps, one specifically for children under 16 in the town of Tabqa.

The video released Monday clearly glorifies children becoming jihadis. But, Whitman explained we’re not likely seeing all the whole picture.

“I’m sure there are worse elements of their training than what they demonstrated on that video,” she said in a phone interview.

Viewers also don’t see the horrific acts child soldiers have to carry out once they finish training.

READ MORE:Why you should be concerned about ISIS recruiting children (June 25)

The UN panel reported “ISIS fighters under 18 years of age are said to have performed the role of executioner. A 16-year-old fighter reportedly cut the throats of two soldiers, captured from Tabqa airbase in late August 2014.”

“We still need to recognize that they are children, no matter how people are using them,” Whitman said. “Even when children become soldiers, we want you to recognize that they’re children first and a child soldier second.”

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Although the government has only approved Canadian Forces taking part in airstrikes, and a small contingent of troops to train Kurdish fighters in Iraq, Whitman said she’s “sure we’re going to go beyond that” if Canada is committed to eliminating ISIS.

And if that means Canadian boots on the ground, she said soldiers need to be prepared to encounter children on the battlefield.

“[I]t’s going to have different implications, from a psychological perspective, on our troops,” she said. “If they’re not prepared for this, it’ll have an impact on them… and that has an impact, when they come home, on their own family.”

-With files from The Associated Press


Celebrating women of excellence

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By: DalNews

Dalhousie had particular cause to be proud of some of its outstanding faculty this week.

On Wednesday, 19 women were honoured during the 25th Annual Progress Women of Excellence Awards held at the World Trade and Convention Centre in Halifax. Among them were Dal’s very own Shelly Whitman, executive director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, and Sherry Stewart, professor of Psychiatry, Psychology/Neuroscience and Community Health and Epidemiology at Dalhousie University and the founding director of the Centre for Addictions Research at Dal (CARD).

The two faculty members, celebrated in the awards’ “Education and Research” category, were joined by six other recipients who are Dal alumni.

The awards were presented by the Canadian Progress Club Halifax Cornwallis, a charitable women’s foundation that is dedicated to helping those in need in the HRM. The event also doubled as a fundraiser in support of Phoenix Youth, a non-profit community-based safe haven homeless youth.

“I feel very honoured to have been chosen to receive this among the other women who did,” says Dr. Stewart. “One of my colleagues in the Psychology department, Christine Chambers, won it in the past, and she’s a very outstanding researcher, so I knew that it wouldn’t be easy and that the competition would likely be difficult.”

Saluting excellence

Both Dr. Stewart and Dr. Whitman were recognized for their work in education and research and boast extensive experience and accomplishments.

A Nova Scotia native, Dr. Stewart completed her undergraduate degree at Dalhousie and went on to pursue graduate school at McGill University, where she focused her research on anxiety sensitivity and alcohol abuse in young people. She returned to Dal in 1993 for a faculty position and continued her research on substance use, abnormal behaviour, mental health and addictive disorders. Her grant-funded research has been instrumental in improving understanding, prevention and treatment in her fields of study. In addition to her recent award, Dr. Stewart has gained local, national and international recognition for her work and is regarded as one of the top two most productive clinical psychology professors in Canada.

For Dr. Whitman, her professional career began with the opportunity to work with Ambassador Stephen Lewis on the OAU Rwanda Genocide Report. Equipped with a PhD in International Law and Human Rights, Dr. Whitman went on to work with UNICEF on various projects including gender, peace building and children in armed conflict, was hired by the former President of Botswana to lead research for the Inter-Congolese Dialogue, and spent four years at the University of Botswana lecturing in political science. Shortly after returning to Canada in 2006, she became deputy director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dal and later the executive director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative which physically moved to the university in January of 2010.

Despite their numerous successes, both women remain humble and focused on what’s next. Dr. Whitman is working with Dallaire Digital Ambassadors to shape online dialogues around children in armed conflict and will be traveling to New York in December to launch an e-learning course that has been developed with the UN Institute for Training and Research. The initiative also recently visited the U.S. State Department to share its work on child soldiers.

“I think what pleases me the most is that I don’t see it as an award for ‘Shelly Whitman’; I see it as an award for my office and for our work,” says Dr. Whitman. “One of the challenges is that we’re known around the world, but in Halifax, people don’t even realize that there’s this world-class initiative housed right here.”

At the same time, Dr. Stewart is equally busy. Alongside a team of researchers, she recently launched Dal’s Caring Campus Initiative that aims to reduce alcohol and drug misuse among first-year university students. She also has three upcoming research projects to fill her time: one which has received pilot funding from Dalhousie and two which are under review for grants.

“When I talk about the success that I’ve had in research, one of the things that’s really good about Dal is the quality of students that we have,” Dr. Stewart says. “We can’t do good research without students who help us in the lab, help us have the exciting ideas and contribute their own past experiences to the kind of work that we’re doing. It’s really the great students that we have at Dalhousie, and we’re very lucky.”

Outstanding alumni

In addition to Dr. Stewart and Dr. Whitman, six alumni were honoured at the awards. (As noted, Dr. Stewart, BSc’87, is also an alum.) They are:

  • Christa Brothers (LLB’96), litigation partner with Stewart McKelvey
  • Ann Mellema (MBA’96), director, programs governance with Irving Shipbuilding
  • Mary Vingoe (BA’76), freelance director and playwright
  • Vicki Grant (BA’82), writer
  • Elana Liberman (LLM’04), owner/CEO of Cyclone Studios Inc.
  • Dr. Elaine Gordon Cragg (DDS’69), doctor of dental surgery and past recipient of the Dalhousie Alumni A. Gordon Archibald Award.

Removing children from the battlefield

Dallaire Initiative aims to train security forces on dealing with child soldiers

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By: Darrell Cole

AMHERST – An organization based in Halifax is working to eliminate the use of child soldiers in conflict around the globe.

Speaking to members of the Amherst Rotary Club during its Remembrance Day observations, Josh Boyter of the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative said his organization is working to train security forces in trouble spots how to handle child soldiers and how to stop their recruitment by warring groups.

“Our ambitious mission is to progressively end the use of child soldiers through a security sector approach,” Boyter told Rotarians. “We are moving toward this goal by conducting ground-breaking research, conducting high level advocacy and facilitating practical scenario-based training for security sector actors.”

Boyter said the Dallaire initiative is different than others working to eliminate the use of child soldiers in that it is prevention oriented. While demobilizing and re-integrating child soldiers is imperative, it’s important for the international community to move beyond fixing what’s broken to dealing with the problem as a whole.

He said his organization is working to stop child recruitment before it starts during times of conflict and before. The initiative is partnering with security forces since it’s the military, peacekeepers and police that often come in contact with child soldiers without knowing how to deal with them.

Security forces have an important role to play in child protection, he said, but they are seldom given concrete tools to do this task effectively.

Boyter said the Dallaire initiative provides child soldier specific rules of engagement for security personnel as well as standard operating procedures.

A child soldier is someone 18 years old or younger and goes beyond children carrying guns and ammunition to include those who are forced to serve in peripheral roles like cooks, porters, scouts and spys.

“The use of child soldiers has led to contemporary conflicts being drawn out longer and sometimes leading to incidents of mass atrocities,” Boyter said. “It’s an issue being faced by militaries across the globe, including our own most recently in Afghanistan. Children now, more so than ever in the past, are being used because of their youth and perceived tactical advantages.”

Child soldiers are popular weapons of war, Boyter said, because they are vulnerable, plentiful and easy to manipulate. He said they are also cheap to maintain and unaware of the repercussions of their actions.

“Above all they propose a serious moral challenge to their enemies and men and women like us who are charged with protecting them,” he said, adding soldiers and security personnel are unsure of what to do when they come up a child soldier on the field of battle or at checkpoints.

Boyter said the initiative has approached this issue through research, advocacy and training, which he added is the cornerstone of the group’s work.

In 2013, the initiative started a long-term project with Sierra Leone that provides child-specific training to every member of that country’s armed forces. That country, which saw a vicious civil war end just over a decade ago, is now working with other countries including Somalia to provide training on how to prevent recruitment of child soldiers and how to deal with those children they engage on the battlefield.

This is also being put to practice in the issue of piracy off the coast of Somalia, where in many cases child soldiers are used by warlords to seize shipping.

He said research is also continuing in various areas including the use of children as early warning indicator for mass atrocities, the role of women in peacekeeping, the role of religious leaders and chaplains on the issue of child soldiers, the use of the Internet and the recruiting of child soldiers and the use of children in Maritime piracy.

Don’t lose sight of future threats as Canada remembers the past

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By: LGen Roméo Dallaire and Dr. Shelly Whitman

Roméo Dallaire is a retired lieutenant-general, retired Senator, celebrated humanitarian and founder of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative; Dr. Shelly Whitman is the Executive Director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

One hundred years ago, our young country paid a devastatingly high price through the lives of its men and women in uniform. Unbeknownst at the onset of the war, Canada would confront a battle like no other it had faced before.

It was in the trenches where Canada forged one of its most defining moments – the capturing of Vimy Ridge. Where others had failed, Canada succeeded. It was not by shear numbers or by overwhelming force that Vimy was taken. It was through the development of carefully crafted strategy combined with the innovative tactic of the creeping artillery barrage that Canada gained recognition and respect.

Our soldiers, when faced with what appeared as insurmountable challenges, answered the call with innovation and leadership that resulted in success.

As a new world order emerged with the completion of the Second World War, it was the efforts of a Canadian, Lester B. Pearson, who would help define one of our most enduring responses to conflict in the modern era – peacekeeping. Throughout the Cold War and beyond its completion, blue berets, many wearing the Canadian patch, would be seen and lead in pivotal conflicts around the globe, from Bosnia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda.

Today we bear witness to a new era of war. Conflict is now characterized by low intensity, intrastate struggles, with multiple armed groups engaging each other, high civilian casualties and the horrific use of children as weapons of war. These contemporary conflicts, much like the First World War one hundred years ago, present challenges like none that Canada and the world have faced.

One characteristic in particular that has defined these new wars is the use of child soldiers. Children are perceived by those who use them as cheap to operate, plentiful and easy to manipulate. We are now witnessing the evolution of this phenomenon with groups such as ISIS, who openly flaunt their use of children as weapons and speak of preparing for war that will last for generations.

Twenty years ago, Canada faced child soldiers in Rwanda’s genocide, and had neither the preparation, tools, nor tactics to effectively address this unfathomable threat. Unfortunately, the brave men and women who served valiantly in Afghanistan had the same grave experience. It is for this reason that we have founded an organization focused on preparing the security sector to prevent the use of children as weapons of war and thereby reducing harm to both soldiers and the children.

As a strong middle power, Canada has a role to play. Canada has, in its recent past, helped to develop critical international norms and institutions to protect the human rights of those who are threatened. Canada helped pioneer the International Criminal Court and the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, and it is a Canadian initiative that is creating the tools and tactics for the security sector to prevent the recruitment and use of children as weapons of war worldwide.

As with Vimy Ridge, Canada can be a leader in this era of new conflicts, particularly in the prevention of the use and recruitment of child soldiers. Remembrance Day is not only a time to reflect on the sacrifices of the past but also the sacrifices of our military today. Canada can empower its troops with the necessary tools and tactics needed to ensure that they are prepared for today’s conflict realities and anticipating the threats and demands of the future. The opportunity is now, it is time to take bold and decisive action. We need to reclaim our position as innovators in resolving conflicts.

To End the Use of Child Soldiers Look to the Security Sector

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By: LGen Roméo Dallaire (Ret’d) and Dr. Shelly Whitman

While new wars bear a frightening multitude of distinct characteristics, there is perhaps no more grotesque hallmark of 21st Century conflict than the growing involvement of children in political violence and war. If in the past children were made to fight in spite of their youth, they are now being made to fight because of their youth.

The Paris Principles definition of a child soldiers is “… any person below 18 years of age who is or has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking or has taken a direct part in hostilities.” This definition recognizes the multiple roles children undertake and stages of their childhood in which children are engaged with armed forces and groups.

The deliberate use of children by armed groups is predicated upon their agility, impressionability and underdeveloped sense of morality, children bestow strategic and tactical advantages to those commanders willing to use them. While state forces are still engaged in modern conflicts, the field of battle has become vastly more complex. Modern conflicts are unique due to the extensive presence and deliberate tactical use of child soldiers. Conflicts where child soldiers are engaged tend to be longer and more severe- demonstrating horrific abuses of human rights and brutal violence.

The international community’s reaction to this disturbing phenomenon has been largely reactive; focusing upon disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of child soldiers only after conflict has subsided. The global discussion surrounding child soldiers is most often directed toward generic child protection strategy. By framing the issue of children in armed conflict as a specific priority concern for those engaged in creating and maintaining peace and security, we can empower those actors to develop better policies and strategies to not only limit or prevent child soldier recruitment, but to improve security sector interactions with children during actual armed conflict, with the ultimate aim of avoiding fatalities on all sides – the child and the peacekeeper.

If armed groups led by adults are willing to recruit and use children to fight their battles, it is not a far step to picture the number of other human rights abuses they will commit to achieve their goals. As such, the recruitment of children as weapons of war points towards larger, systemic issues. This includes the breakdown of a country’s social fabric or institutions and implies the long-term, generational aspect of the conflict and the possibility of future mass atrocities. We need to be prepared to recognize the recruitment and use of children as soldiers as a key early warning indicator that is deserving of appropriate attention.

The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative (the Dallaire Initiative) aims to progressively eradicate the use of child soldiers, through a preventative security sector approach. The Initiative believes that the international solution to the issue of children used as weapons of war must include the security sector. By developing tactics and strategies that counteract the ways in which child soldiers are used by armed groups, we remove the strategic advantage that armed groups associate with their use. To develop these tools, a multifaceted approach incorporating rigorous research, high-level advocacy and in-class and scenario-based training must be taken. The abuse of children as instruments of war is a reality that cannot be resolved on the day you face them in the field. It takes preparation and preparedness that recognizes the practical realities faced.

To further illustrate the need for preparation by the security sector, it must be understood that when child soldiers are deployed against a professional armed force, they present a new set of dilemmas. For instance, if a security sector actor were reluctant to return fire against a child, and this reluctance results in a colleague’s death, he or she may be blamed for the casualty and their professionalism questioned. On the other hand, if he or she were to return fire, thereby killing a child soldier, they may return to base only to be stigmatized as a child killer by the community, their peers and in their own mind. It is for this reason that doctrinal guidance and clear preparatory training on the subject of interacting with child soldiers may effectively cede the strategic advantage of using child soldiers by opposing forces.

The international community is beginning to recognize the need for the security sector to be included in the solution on child soldiery. On March 7th, UN Security Council Resolution 2143, which the Dallaire Initiative played a role in its early drafts, stipulated the critical importance of “providing military, police and civilian peacekeepers with adequate pre-deployment and in-mission training on mission-specific child protection issues.” Further to this, UN Sec Res on Sec. Sector Reform 2151—the first stand alone resolution on this topic passed by the United Nations Security Council—encourages nations rebuilding after conflict must take appropriate measures to protect children and ensure security sector actors are well equipped to do so.

Failing to incorporate the security sector in the solution on the recruitment and use of children will precipitate renewed conflict and the continued use of children as weapons of war. The inclusion of the Dallaire Initiative’s training of security sector actors contributes to a holistic global prevention strategy. By relegating children as a “thematic priority” that is separate from overall security sector reform and conflict prevention efforts, the international community dooms itself to piecemeal solutions.

We need to focus on protecting children in times of peace and not wait until war erupts to witness the abuse of children. If we can tackle the problem of child soldiers, country by country, and complement already existing efforts on the social, economic and development fronts, we can create momentum that will lead to tangible change. Until today, the international community has appeared to be more interested in addressing the symptoms of new wars, rather than diagnosing those challenges that actually qualify a war as being “new.” If we are to collectively triumph over these threats, we must empower the security sector to assist in addressing the root causes of violence and this includes incorporating children into the broader agenda of achieving peace and security.