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.

Canada should be a leader in the fight against Ebola

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By: Dr. James Orbinski, LGen Roméo Dallaire (Ret’d) and Frank Chalk

James Orbinski MD is Research Chair and Professor in Global Health at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, in Waterloo, Canada;

Roméo Dallaire is the founder of the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, a retired lieutenant-general and former Liberal Senator and Force Commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda;

Frank Chalk is the director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University.

The Ebola epidemic now sweeping through West Africa is the most devastating single outbreak of the disease in history. The United Nations Security Council took the remarkable step last Thursday of declaring the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa a ‘threat to international peace and security.’ Such determinations are taken extremely seriously, highlighting the profound danger Ebola presents not only to West Africans but also to the entire world, which will feel the ripple effects of this crisis unless urgent action is taken.

That danger is all the more acute given the recent history of brutal civil war in that region which killed more than 250,000 people, destroyed the innocence of thousands of children who were enlisted as child soldiers and laid entire national infrastructures to waste. These nations have been clawing their way back toward peace and prosperity for over a decade. But dead bodies once again litter the streets of Liberia and Sierra Leone as Ebola wreaks its havoc, wiping away years of hard-earned progress.

As well as the accelerating Ebola death toll, entire health systems are collapsing causing women, men and children to die of treatable diseases like malaria because they can’t access care. The World Bank warns, unless urgent action is taken, the economic impact of this epidemic will be ‘catastrophic,’ erasing up to $800-million of productivity in a region where most people subsist on less than $2 a day. The impact of such devastation will not be limited to West Africa and will be felt by the global community as a whole.

Yet, instead of rushing forward and responding to this unprecedented humanitarian calamity, the world has effectively cordoned off West Africa and fallen back to defend its own borders. Flights to the region are grounded, industry and aid workers have left and strained governments are abandoned to their own, limited means. In Sierra Leone, police officers, military personnel and volunteers have been working tirelessly, with very little support or resources, to bring this epidemic under control.

Much like the war period a decade ago, children are once again the most vulnerable. Imagine scenes of children dying in the streets, mothers having to abandon their children to their own devices as they are confined in quarantine centres, street children with no options of sanitation or proper care. Do we not value Africans as worthy of our support?

Many organizations, such as the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations are engaged, but on a practical, hands-on patient care level, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), is providing the bulk of Ebola treatment facilities in the entire region. And MSF is overwhelmed. It is vital that others now join to work with affected governments and their health and security sectors to provide a more comprehensive solution to affected communities.

This is a growing disaster that cannot be overcome with speeches and funding pledges. The Ebola epidemic requires concrete and immediately practical commitment in the form of delivered resources: the greatest need is for medical personnel, logistical support and Ebola treatment centers. If we fail to address this crisis adequately we run the very real risk of having all the investment and development efforts to date become null and void.

Encouragingly, the United States has pledged such a response in Liberia, promising up to 3,000 medical military staff as other countries including the UK, China and Cuba are coming forward with much smaller contributions. While this represents a welcome shift, the crisis in West Africa still demands a far greater response, particularly in Sierra Leone and Guinea where the United States is not intervening.

Here, Canada can work in tandem with others, to provide and ensure similar interventions. Canada should reinforce and support the practical Ebola response capacity of West African governments. Again: the greatest need is for medical personnel, logistical support and Ebola treatment centers. We have ample capacity and resources to do this. Given our experience with SARS, this would also be an ideal opportunity to provide material and public health support from our provincial and federal ministries of health to West African nations.

Canada and the global community are confronted with an historic moment. This unprecedented disaster is different than any other outbreak the world has seen in modern history. Canada has the ability, and therefore the responsibility, to do more. Such momentous challenges demand momentous action by our leaders.

The time to act is now.

Child Soldiers and Security Sector Reform: A Sierra Leonean Case Study

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By: Carl Conradi 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. Indeed, not only do youths suffer disproportionate victimisation at the hands of unscrupulous belligerents – they are also subject to unprecedented levels of forced or coerced recruitment. 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.

However, while it is undoubtedly unacceptable, the choice to incorporate children into fighting forces is not altogether irrational. On account of their agility, impressionability, and underdeveloped sense of morality, children bestow numerous strategic and tactical advantages to those commanders willing to use them.

In particular, when deployed against a professional armed force, children present a vexing moral dilemma – one that may result in fatal hesitation and/or subsequent post-traumatic stress. For instance, if a security sector actor were reluctant to return fire against a child – and said reluctance resulted in a colleague’s death – he or she might be blamed for the casualty. On the other hand, if he or she were to return fire, thereby eliminating a child soldier, they may return to base only to be stigmatised as a child killer.

In light of this quandary, if state armies are not afforded adequate doctrinal guidance and clear preparatory training on the subject of child soldiers, they may well become increasingly loathe to participate in new operations involving children, thereby effectively ceding the strategic advantage to persons who use boys and girls for political purposes.

Fortunately, the international community appears to be gradually taking note of the role that children should play in security sector reform (SSR). Indeed, as recently as March 7, 2014, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2143 on children and armed conflict, in which states expressed their clear conviction that “the protection of children in armed conflict should be an important aspect of any comprehensive strategy to resolve conflict and build peace.” More specifically, the Security Council 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.”

On April 28, 2014, the Dallaire Initiative proposed new language related to UN Security Council Resolution 2151 on SSR to the Council President, then held by the Permanent Representative of Nigeria. The proposed language states that nations rebuilding after conflict must take appropriate measures to protect children and ensure security sector actors are well equipped to do so. If states fail in this task, the situation could precipitate into renewed conflict and give rise to the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative – a global partnership whose mission is to eradicate the recruitment and use of child soldiers worldwide – was one of several agencies that contributed language to the abovementioned resolution. As an ally of the security sector and keen proponent of SSR, the Dallaire Initiative is driven by five related principles in its work.  Namely:

  1. SSR should empower security sector actors to prevent conflict – not simply to respond to it;
  2. SSR should acknowledge and preempt the needs – and security problems posed by – the most vulnerable sections of society (including children);
  3. SSR should strengthen functional relationships between and within the security sector, government, and civil society;
  4. SSR should be context-specific, whilst acknowledging its regional and international ramifications;
  5. SSR should be a dynamic and responsive process.

Unhappily, SSR programmes that satisfy these five vital criteria are few and far between. Yet the Dallaire Initiative’s recent intervention in Sierra Leone may provide some insight as to how such reforms can be institutionalised in practice.

During its brutal 11-year civil war, Sierra Leone was home to some 10,000 child soldiers. Although the country subsequently enacted strict legislation prohibiting the army from recruiting or using child soldiers, there is still a significant risk of returning to such practices should violence ever resurface.

Indeed, according to the UN Development Programme’s 2011 Human Development Index, Sierra Leone ranks 180th out of 187 surveyed countries. 67 percent of Sierra Leoneans live beneath the poverty, 30 percent of primary school-aged children are not receiving an education, and 70 percent of youths are either unemployed or underemployed. This combination of poor social indicators – and the fact that Sierra Leone is situated in a corner of West Africa that continues to experience high rates of child recruitment – suggests that young Sierra Leoneans remain at markedly high risk of recruitment into militias and armed gangs.

Acknowledging this worrisome potential, in 2012 the Dallaire Initiative began to collaborate with the Government of Sierra Leone to develop and pilot a comprehensive training programme for all members of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF), the Sierra Leone Police Service (SLP), and the Sierra Leonean Prison Services (SLPS). This course would aim to provide security personnel with the requisite standard operating procedures to both respond to incidences of child soldiering and to prevent child recruitment in the first instance. As in all of the Dallaire Initiative’s trainings, the subject of child soldiers would not be presented as a humanitarian issue in isolation of the broader security challenges that children may pose during war. Rather, the Dallaire Initiative would demonstrate how children can be a security problem, in and of themselves.

When the training finally debuted, it was conducted with mixed audiences of soldiers, police and prison personnel. This was a deliberate choice, as the Dallaire Initiative firmly believes in the importance of intra-security sector collaboration and information sharing. As in the civilian world, different strata of the security sector have different capacities and responsibilities, and often employ dramatically different vocabularies to describe their given operations (e.g., civilians speak of “awareness-raising campaigns,” security sector actors talk of “PSYOPS”). Without being adequately briefed on these differences, security sector actors face the prospect of having large numbers of at-risk children fall within the interstices of their respective operational purviews.

An interesting new addition also occurred, in which the Office of National Security – the main security coordinating body in the country – requested to be a participant in the training delivered. Such an inclusion proved to be innovative but also critical. The coordination role of this body has now been enhanced while also helping to raise awareness that the “early warning indicators of the recruitment and use of children by armed groups” is key to the prevention of future conflict in Sierra Leone.

Since the training’s debut, the Dallaire Initiative has evolved the curriculum so as to render it of more explicit value to RSLAF troops deployed on peace operations abroad (particularly in Somalia, where the religious-ideological nature of children’s recruitment presents several idiosyncratic challenges not experienced in Sierra Leone). Importantly, the Dallaire Initiative is also conducting training-of-trainer activities among members of the RSLAF, SLPS, SLP, and the Office of National Security to ensure that the course is locally owned, customizable, and sustainable. In these crucial ways, the Dallaire Initiative has been able to garner the full and enthusiastic support of Sierra Leone’s government.

Ultimately, the Dallaire Initiative acknowledges that SSR is a difficult and long-term undertaking. Yet it is not its difficulty – nor the investment that it demands – that explains why SSR is so seldom effective. 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 security sector actors to address the root causes of societal violence; and as the Dallaire Initiative asserts, one such root cause has been the failure to incorporate children into the broader SSR agenda.

Carl Conradi is Programme Officer and Shelly Whitman the Executive Director at the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

We must end the use of child soldiers — by any means

International promises to end the use of child soldiers have not translated into sufficient action. We must do more.

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

As we recognize February 12, the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers, we must move beyond words on pages to preventative action in the field.

In South Sudan, $1.2 billion U.S. was budgeted for the Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR) — once again picking up the pieces after war and placing time, money and resources solely on reactive solutions. Yet when conflict erupted in South Sudan in December, we once again witnessed the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

At this moment there are more than 55 state and non-state armed groups operating on three continents that are using child soldiers. Amongst this group, 32 are persistent perpetrators that have been on this list for at least five years in a row. Seven of these persistent perpetrators are state armies — nation states using children in their military. Despite numerous international legal mechanisms that exist, children are still being recruited with impunity. Ongoing conflicts in Central African Republic, Mali, South Sudan, the DRC, Syria and Somalia illustrate the extent to which children are still used as weapons of war and mass atrocities.

Bosco “The Terminator” Ntaganda, notorious rebel leader in Congo, has been sitting in an ICC prison since March of last year. Thomas Lubanga was found guilty in 2012 and sentenced to 14 years in prison for the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting of children under the age of 15 years and using them to participate actively in hostilities — it took six years to bring him to justice. International law is slow, and while it is essential it must not be the only tool employed to end the use of child soldiers globally.

We must use all means at our disposal to recognize early warning indicators of youth recruitment and abuse and take a holistic approach to preventing the use of child soldiers. This means not relegating the issue of child soldiers as a “minor” or “secondary” problem to the conflict, but seeing how fundamentally child soldier recruitment and use is directly linked to the severity and impact of conflict.

The responsibility to end the use of child soldiers cannot rest solely with the humanitarian sector or at the level of UN resolutions. It requires the inclusion of new actors, not traditionally thought to have a role to play in preventing of the use of child soldiers, such as police forces, judicial authorities, religious leaders, as well as the military. These actors must be prepared to recognize opportunities to intervene, trained on appropriate interventions, empowered to act and encouraged to collaborate with the humanitarian sector.

If we had acted in 2004, 2007, 2012 … when the first signs of recruitment of children were taking place in the Central African Republic, perhaps many lives could have been saved and we’d be talking about children thriving rather than people being lynched in the streets of Bangui.

The abuse of children in conflict has long-term consequences and leads to a cycle of violence that if not addressed can always provide a spark to future conflicts. Action must be taken in times of peace in fragile states — recognizing the connections between child labour, trafficking, piracy, and criminal activities to child soldiery. We must not wait until conflict breaks out before we intervene and only concentrate efforts on rehabilitating those that we have failed to protect, but rather we must work across the full spectrum of actors, to find new solutions for prevention. We must be bold in this effort for the attainment of peace, it is our responsibility to the world’s children.

Lt General Romeo Dallaire is a former UN Force Commander for UNAMIR and now a Canadian Senator. Dr.Shelly Whitman is Executive Director of the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

Child soldiers are early warning of genocide to come

In the Central African Republic and elsewhere, the widespread use of child soldiers was a tragic precursor to the atrocities that followed.

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By: Shelly Whitman

It has come to this. Another land-locked African nation sits on the precipice of mass atrocity, just as Rwanda did 20 years ago. There have been many warning signs, yet we seem to have failed in keeping our promise of “never again.”

The Central African Republic (CAR) has been in conflict for well over a decade and recent reports have characterized the situation as a potential genocide. The country suffers from porous borders, an ever-changing kaleidoscope of armed groups and militias, regular coup attempts and an abhorrent human rights environment that moves closer to mass atrocity each day. But it is youth who are disproportionally affected in this conflict; boys and girls who are being used as child soldiers.

The abuse of children is symptomatic of more complex issues within society at large, such as the breakdown of institutions and security. In a 2009 report on children and armed conflict, the UN Secretary-General writes that in the Central African Republic“children are the primary victims of the conflict, often recruited, forcibly displaced or abducted, and lacking access to basic life necessities such as food and clean water, or health and education services.”

Today, upwards of 6,000 child soldiers are estimated to be participating in the conflict, a number which is thought to have doubled over the past year. We have seen this before. Twenty years earlier, children played a central role in the killing of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus during the Rwandan genocide. The similar abuse, mobilization and use of children in CAR is chilling.

The recruitment and use of children as soldiers is an early warning mechanism that points to the potential for mass atrocity and sustained conflict. We have not only seen this in Rwanda – and now CAR – but also in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria and Sri Lanka, to name only a few. Reports of the use of child soldiers date back as far as 2001 in the CAR.

The international community continues to view the abuse of children as a tragedy but it fails to actively recognize how their use as child soldiers is linked to the severity of conflict and potentially genocide. Children play an active role in conflict – though often through coercion or force – and we need to devise effective solutions to prevent their use as soldiers and to also prevent mass atrocities such as those that are gripping CAR.

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) explicitly outlines our responsibility to prevent mass atrocities, but also applies to the prevention of the use of child soldiers. In CAR, the abuse of children and their use as soldiers are signs that point to the potential genocide. It is time we understood this as the early warning it is – in CAR and Rwanda, we failed to do so.

A proactive, preventative approach to mass atrocities and child soldier use must be adopted. It is no longer acceptable to merely pick up the pieces after the tragedies occur – we must be willing to be bold and act positively. Never again do we wish to sit back and watch child soldiers being recruited and never again do we wish to sit back and witness genocide.

Shelly Whitman is Executive Director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

Romeo Dallaire and Shelly Whitman: Remember the child soldiers killed in battle, too

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By: Romeo Dallaire and Shelly Whitman

November is a month of remembrance. It is a month when we should take the time to remember the military men and women who have lost their lives serving to protect others from conflict. At this time we need to also remember those men and women in police uniforms that represent our country in peacekeeping missions. Currently, Canada has deployed personnel in 13 United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world.

I served as the Force Commander for the UNAMIR mission in Rwanda nearly 20 years ago, where I was first exposed to the use of children in armed combat. My troops and I were faced with traumatic moral dilemmas that will impact us for a lifetime. At that time, we were unprepared for the situation we faced in Rwanda and today, 20 years later, military men and women are still as unprepared to face the systemic use of children in war. One only needs to turn on the news to see that children are still being used as a weapon in Mali, Central African Republic, Sudan, Somalia, the DRC and even Syria.

This November, we must also remember those child soldiers lost in battle. However, children rarely enter the conversation in this manner on Remembrance Day — they are forgotten. The UN estimates that 250,000 children, boys and girls, are currently being used as child soldiers. We will never know how many of them have been killed or lost in battles. This is despite the fact that children are not responsible for the creation of wars in which they suffer.

Child soldiers are both a humanitarian and security challenge. Militaries and law enforcement agencies have a tremendously valuable role to play in child protection, yet they are seldom given concrete tools to affect this task responsibly. Confronting children on the frontlines creates a moral dilemma; you are not confronting a man or woman who is equal in age, strength, training and understanding.

I have often referred to child soldiers as being a “weapons system.” It is an effective system insofar as professionally trained security sector personnel are largely unaware of how they should interact with kids on the battlefield. For example, what should one do if one were to encounter a checkpoint manned exclusively by children? What should one do if a pregnant girl soldier presents herself at one’s base to be demobilised? If we are to neutralize this child soldier weapons system – we must demonstrate to adult commanders that their use of children is actually a tactical and strategic disadvantage. This requires preparation and training to confront the issue and not continuing to ignore or deny this reality.

We have yet to fully explore the impact of such interactions on military and police personnel who encounter children in armed groups. Those who are faced with the no-win situation of making split second decisions that can impact the lives of your personnel, as well as the child you are encountering. How does one face their own children upon return to a Canadian setting after such an experience?

It is because of this phenomenon that I’m in Sierra Leone today, my first visit back to the country since 2001 when I was sent as Special Advisor for Children in Armed Conflict to meet with children in demobilization camps. At the time, it was estimated that more than 10,000 children had been used as soldiers during the civil conflict. This time I am back with my Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative staff to educate, train and prepare security sector actors in Sierra Leone to ensure that soldiers are prepared for this moral dilemma. At the same time we are seeking to ensure that the attitudes and behaviours on the use of child soldiers are forever altered to prevent any future recruitment. This includes educating children on understanding this risk, the realities and their abilities to self-protect.

While the effective disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of former child soldiers is undoubtedly a critical exercise, it is imperative for the international community to move beyond the familiar task of fixing the broken, towards protection of the whole. In order to do so we need to work to prevent child recruitment in the first instance, during times of both peace and conflict. We need to be proactive and not reactive.

Child soldiers are a reality on the battlefield today. The entire world should be outraged at this phenomenon and at a minimum take the time to remember those children who have died and been lost this November 11th as well as appreciate the impact it has here on our troops at home.

Canada, Syria, Iran, North Korea: Together against arms control

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By: Matt Campbell

Last Wednesday, our closest ally and the world’s largest arms exporter became the latest country to sign the Arms Trade Treaty. “This is about keeping weapons out of the hands of terrorists and rogue actors,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said as he explained the Obama administration’s decision. “This is about promoting international peace and global security.”

Over the past six months, 113 nations have signed onto the agreement, which will oversee the global arms trade and interrupt the steady flow of weapons into the hands of human rights abusers.

The idea is simple: we stop exporting guns, ammunition, tanks and aircraft to countries that intend to use them against children or civilians, creating new humanitarian thresholds, and in the process we make it more difficult for those regimes to commit mass atrocities like what we’re seeing in Syria today.

For decades, the illicit trade of small arms and other weapons has fuelled armed conflicts around the world. Countries like Somalia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo continue to bear the scars and instability caused by arms proliferation. Traffickers enable warlords like Joseph Kony in Central Africa, and Thomas Lubanga in the Congo to recruit child soldiers – itself a crime against humanity. Millions have been displaced, forced to flee their homes and take refuge in foreign lands thanks to the widespread availability of these weapons.

The statistics are alarming. In the past year alone, NGOs estimate that more than half a million people have lost their lives to armed violence. Governments – especially those governments that allow weapons manufacturers to export overseas – have a responsibility to do all they can to prevent this from happening.

One small problem: Canada hasn’t signed on. We’ve refused. What’s worse, our foreign minister has repeatedly rejected the idea in the House of Commons. In June, when asked whether Canada would join, Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird shot back: “We don’t want to see the NDP and Liberals try to bring in through the back door a long gun registry that will only hurt law-abiding hunters and farmers. This is what the Liberals and the NDP want to do next election, and I can ensure you we won’t let them get away with it.”

The notion that an international treaty designed to halt mass atrocities could somehow affect domestic gun ownership laws is ludicrous – no matter what Canada’s recreational firearms lobby claims. He couldn’t be further from the truth. If we’re to take his comments seriously, Mr. Baird is either incompetent or he’s being facetious.

In fact, with Mr. Kerry’s signature, Canada is now the only NATO country that has not signed the Treaty. Germany, France, the United Kingdom and now the United States all support it. Given Canada’s record as a leader in humanitarian disarmament – the Responsibility to Protect, peacekeeping and the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty come to mind – our refusal to join is embarrassing.

Canada is increasingly isolated and alone; in the company of Iran, Syria and North Korea – not exactly champions of human rights.

Earlier this week, Mr. Baird had an opportunity to make amends during his UN General Assembly speech in New York. Quoting Roman philosopher Cicero, Somali poet Gaarriye and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, Mr. Baird pleaded with those in attendance to take action. “We are not here to achieve results for governments or political leaders. We are here to protect and defend…”

Yet he pledged nothing on disarmament. While our friends and allies used this opportunity to promote the Treaty, Mr. Baird ignored it altogether.

Tomorrow will mark six months since the Arms Trade Treaty was first adopted by the United Nations. In those six months, a quarter of a million lives have been lost due to armed violence. It’s time to get on with it. The minister needs a ticket back to New York. It’s time to sign.

Matt Campbell is a former aide to Roméo Dallaire and Michael Ignatieff and former director of communications for The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative at Dalhousie University.

Once a recruiter, Sierra Leone a leader in preventing child soldiers

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By: LGen Roméo Dallaire and Dr. Shelly Whitman

With French warplanes bombing Timbuktu, the recent announcement by Sierra Leonean President Ernest Koroma that his country would contribute more than 600 troops to the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) went largely unnoticed in the West.

This announcement, however, shows that Sierra Leone truly has turned a corner in its movement toward the consolidation of peace. It’s been 11 years since the end of the West African nation’s civil war, a bloody conflict that displaced more than 2.5 million people and claimed the lives of 50,000 citizens.

Moreover, an estimated 10,000 children were the victims of military recruitment by all sides to the conflict, comprising more than half of the fighting forces.

The long-term impacts of the use of child soldiers is still being felt in places like Sierra Leone, which continues to struggle with this legacy. It is palpable. You can feel it in the streets. As one young man recounted to us on our drive from Lungi to the ferry crossing into Freetown, “Welcome to Sierra Leone. Security is perfect, for now. Tomorrow one does not know.”

Things are improving. Over the past decade, Sierra Leone has demobilized ex-combatants, conducted two free and fair democratic elections, hosted a UN-mandated special court to prosecute those responsible for recruiting child soldiers and conducting mass atrocities, and is now engaged in the first attempt to train all of its security personnel on the prevention of the use of children in armed conflict and their interaction with child soldiers, a project of which my organization is a partner. It is not insignificant that many of Sierra Leone’s soldiers are themselves former child soldiers.

Still, it is hard to believe that just over a decade ago Sierra Leone had Nigerian peacekeepers on its soil, attempting to bring an end to the conflict. Sierra Leone’s commitment to send troops to Mali underscores the transition it has made from conflict-zone to troop-contributing country to African Union peacekeeping missions, as it also has contributed troops to the UNAMID force in Sudan, another hotspot for the military recruitment of children. It is currently preparing for participation in an AU mission (AMISOM) in Somalia.

This progress is partly due to the professionalization of its military by allied countries, including the U.K. and Canada. Its decision now to train its troops to prevent the use of child soldiers will be critical in conflicts where child soldiers are a significant and, at times, primary weapon of war, such as Mali. Preparing for this interaction must be at the top of the security agenda. Ttroop-contributing countries from Africa understand this reality far more intimately than their Western counterparts.

AU peacekeeping missions and regional partners such as ECOWAS and AFISMA will continue to be major players in conflicts on the continent as the UN and Western Nations continue to scale back their commitments on the continent, a trend which has continued since the early 1990s.

As such, commitments to support training and professionalization of the AU and ECOWAS troops must be a priority for Canada and other Western nations. This preparation includes understanding how to prevent and react to the interaction with child soldiers.

If Sierra Leone understands the importance of such training and preparation, surely the West can offer support through funding and resources.

Prevention of the use of children as soldiers needs to be recognized as a significant step in preventing and dealing with armed conflict – an early warning indicator that has yet to be taken seriously by those who have the mandate to do so.

As one former child soldier said to us in Freetown: “We are tired of people coming here to take our stories, who then leave and nothing changes. We want to own the change and ensure the future of our country never sees children used in war again.”

The children of Sierra Leone, Mali, Sudan, and Somalia deserve nothing less.

Senator Roméo Dallaire is a retired lieutenant-general and former Force Commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda. Dr. Shelly Whitman is the executive director of The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative. February 12 is the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers.

Child pirates are everybody’s problem

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

Dealing with piracy is proving to be an increasing problem for the world. International law gives navies the authority to deal with piracy on the high seas. But since piracy is a crime, the prosecution of the pirates must be conducted under the national criminal law of that state, including all the procedural and legal safeguards that must apply. This has proved extremely difficult for Western governments, since our required standards of justice, including right to counsel, speedy trial and standards of proof, are often difficult to comply with on a warship thousands of kilometres from the courts involved. When you add the fact that many of these pirates are under 18, the problem becomes legally almost insurmountable.

The outbreak of piracy in the Horn of Africa highlights the fact that, in that region (as well as in many of the other areas where piracy is a problem), more than half the population is under 18. About a third of the pirates captured recently are reported to be 14 or 15. This is not surprising when you consider the parallel problem of child soldiers in many of the conflicts around the globe. Like child soldiers, child pirates are plentiful, easily indoctrinated, armed, fearless, cheap and viewed as expendable by the adults that employ them. In addition, it must be remembered that child pirates are often coerced into joining or have very few alternative options for survival.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a child is anyone under 18. Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act requires that those under 18 be handled differently from adults when charged with serious crimes. Canada and other countries are signatories to the International Labour Organization Convention 182 for the elimination of the worst forms of child labour. The employment of children in criminal activities is considered to be one of the worst forms of child labour.

You can see the problem. Once you’ve apprehended a group of suspected pirates that includes children, the “child pirates” must be handled differently from the adults. If you arrest them and try them, you must do so in accordance with the appropriate Canadian legal standards for dealing with juvenile crime. But if you decide to catch and release, then you’re putting children back into one of the worst forms of child labour, something you’ve agreed not to do. So what are your options?

Fortunately, the situation has potential solutions. Along with the efforts to eliminate the use of child soldiers, there’s an increasing international mobilization against the use of children for criminal purposes. To date, the view has been that employing children in criminal activities is a national problem. Piracy, however, is seen as an international crime of international concern, so the problem of child pirates is everybody’s problem.

From an anti-piracy point of view, this is advantageous, because it can accomplish two aims.

First, it provides a legal justification for removing children from the pirate gangs, and putting them into schools and programs, funded by the international community, where they can be given education and training. This will potentially cut off the supply of new recruits into the piracy business at a considerably cheaper cost than the $12-billion that piracy is currently costing the world economy.

Second, it provides a mechanism for going after the financiers of piracy. While international law currently allows states to take action against piracy at sea, there are no effective mechanisms for charging those who support the piratical activities. Instead, judicial proceedings for piracy cases have criminalized the children who’ve been caught, a seemingly cowardly and misguided effort. But the employment of children in armed conflict and criminal enterprises is something for which there are potential legal remedies available. The International Criminal Court has the power to prosecute cases involving those who employ children in armed conflict. Expanding the jurisdiction to include the arming of children for use in international criminal activities could be a first step in making the pirate leaders and financiers subject to prosecution as international criminals. The key may lie in our ability to make connections between non-state armed group activity and piracy gangs.

On the eve of Feb. 12, the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers, it’s important to remember those who work for the elimination of the use of children by armed groups and criminal organizations. They are looking at the issue of child piracy as a way of bringing the problem into the international sphere. The solution to piracy must take place on land. If children are a key engine to the piracy gangs, then criminalizing and vigorously pursuing those who employ children in piracy activities, much like the efforts to pursue leaders who recruit and use child soldiers, could give the international shipping community and the anti-piracy forces the hammer they’ve been looking for to drive piracy from the seas.

Senator Roméo Dallaire is a retired lieutenant-general and former commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda. Hugh Williamson is an adjunct professor with Dalhousie University’s Marine Affairs Program and project manager for Dalhousie’s Marine Piracy Project. Shelly Whitman is director of the Child Soldiers Initiative, founded by Mr. Dallaire.