|Children and Armed Conflict|
|Tuesday, 12 July 2011 16:27|
Statement by H.E. Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona, Ambassador and Permanent
UN Security Council Open Debate
Children and Armed Conflict
To deprive a child of his smiles and dreams and compact it
Let me join the previous speakers in thanking Germany for convening this open debate under its Presidency and warmly welcome His Excellency, Guido Westerwelle, the Foreign Minister. The useful work done by the Secretary-General’s Office, the Working Group, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, the UNICEF and other associated agencies will add substantial value in addressing this issue so vitally important to our times.
Sri Lanka endorses the three side events that were organized by the Permanent Mission of Germany in association with the Office of the SRSG, the Permanent Mission of Canada and the UN Programme on Youth (UNPY) in June. They incrementally advanced our understanding of these issues. The relevant discussions underlined the urgency of concerted action at the national and international levels to contain and halt the repugnant practice of child recruitment for armed combat. To deprive a child of his smiles and dreams and compact it with gore and machine guns is an appalling indictment of the values of certain groups and individuals.
However, Sri Lanka has serious reservations about the Report of the Conflict Dynamics International that was launched under the auspices of the Permanent Mission of Canada and the Permanent Mission of Germany. For instance, its assertion that individuals implicated in crimes against children in the area of armed conflict continue to hold high-government positions is sadly incomplete and misleading. The Government had consistently encouraged former armed groups to denounce violence and enter the democratic process as a part of the reconciliation effort. Following this approach, the TMVP, a breakaway faction of the terrorist LTTE, ceased to be an armed group, and entered the political process as a registered party. Like in other countries, where former terrorist groups have transformed themselves into legitimate political parties, the TMVP has also joined the democratic process. They have released all child combatants under a tripartite action plan with the UNICEF and the Government. The adult cadres are very much part of the democratic process which has had a salutary impact. It appears that the Report will stoke up embers of a bitter past and politicize the issue of accountability related to child recruitment. Unfortunately, these detailed underlying realities have been ignored.
This debate takes place against the backdrop of the increasing frequency and intensity of the identified six grave violations against children in armed conflict. Children are the most vulnerable and they therefore require conscious protection. We therefore, welcome the recommendations in the Report, of adopting targeted measures against persistent perpetrators of grave violations against children. In Sri Lanka, it was clear that the child soldiers of the LTTE were cannon fodder for the movement which were sent to early graves.
On the recommendation of filing systematic information on violations against children in reports and recommendations to sanctions committees, we would like to urge the Council and the Working Group to ensure that the information so collected is objective, accurate, reliable and verified by experts, including forensic experts and in an open and transparent manner with all the members represented in the Country Task Forces where they exist. Paragraph 3 of resolution 1612 which clearly states that the TFMR must work in close consultation with the country concerned must be strictly adhered to. We add this note recalling Sri Lanka’s unpleasant experience with the Global Horizontal Note from 1st May to 31st July 2009. Many reports had been made to the Council without reference to the country Task Force. Inaccurate reporting would cast doubt on the credibility of both reporting sources and the SG’s report itself.
The progress made by Sri Lanka in realizing its policy of “zero tolerance” in the case of child recruitment including the rehabilitation and re-integration of former child combatants under its campaign of “Bring Back the Child” is by any standard, salutary.
According to an UNICEF report made public recently, over 60% of the LTTE’s fighting force from 1983 - 2002 consisted of boys and girls under 18 years, including orphans harvested after the Tsunami. UNICEF recorded over 5,700 cases of child recruitment by the LTTE from 2003 to 2009. Others have suggested a figure closer to 20,000. Child soldiers were often deployed to attack villagers with machetes, used as suicide bombers, especially, the girls (hundreds of such attacks were launched.). In the final stages of the conflict, children were thrown up in large numbers as cannon fodder. More than one generation of children was sacrificed to realize a megalomaniac’s terrorist dream. These are our children!
Let me briefly outline action taken by the Government of Sri Lanka on this vital issue:
• Sri Lanka voluntarily submitted to the monitoring process and established the Sri Lanka Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting in July 2006 in terms of resolution 1612.
• Sri Lanka fully cooperated with the SRSG, the Working Group and UNICEF on this issue.
• During the entire conflict period, essential services such as healthcare and education were provided unimpeded to all affected communities in the North and the East sometimes under difficult conditions. Since 2006, the Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance (CCHA), an apex consultative body overseeing a coordinated humanitarian response was established, heeding the request made by the Co-Chairs to the peace process, Japan, United States, the European Union and Norway. The Committee also comprised the Minister for Disaster management and Human Rights, Secretaries of the Ministries of Nation Building, Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services, Health, Education, Foreign Affairs, the Commissioner General of Essential Services, the Government Agents of the North and the East together with the Ambassadors of the US, Japan, the EU, Norway and UN agencies UNHCR, UNICEF, UNOCHA, WHO, WFP, FAO, ILO, UNDSS, ECHO, ICRC and CHA.
• At the end of the conflict, 594 child combatants (231 girls and 363 boys) between 12-18 years) were taken into custody by Government forces.
• A special Gazette issued by H.E. the President of Sri Lanka in 2009 on Child Rehabilitation, was based on the CRC and the Paris Principles.
• Adopting the principle of restorative justice and not retributive justice, these children were placed in institutional rehabilitation and received access to education, vocational training, heath care and psychosocial support. Even though one child had confessed to killing 126 civilians.
• 273 child combatants (154 male and 119 female) were given the opportunity to continue with their formal education at the Hindu College in Colombo in close cooperation with the Ministry of Education prior to their reintegration with their families. Following reunification with their families they were also given the freedom to gain admission to a school of their choice.
• 35 children have returned to the Hindu College in Colombo to continue their junior and senior high school education.
• 321 children (209 males and 112 females) opted to undertake vocational training conducted by the Vocational Training Authority of Sri Lanka.
• Following their rehabilitation process they were all reunited with their families in May 2010. These institutionally rehabilitated former child soldiers are now continuing community-based rehabilitation. The rehabilitation and reintegration of child soldiers was a priority for Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka managed this process with its extremely limited resources and in effective partnership with the UNICEF. Our rapid progress has been acknowledged today.
• Among the adult beneficiaries who were once recruited as children, a system called the “Catch-up education Programme” has been initiated in liaison with the Ministry of Education to enable them to continue their formal education. In 2010, 175 beneficiaries (130 males and 45 females completed the national Grade 10 examination (the O/Ls) while 361 beneficiaries completed the national Grade 12 examination (the A/Ls). 91 passed their O/Ls and 222 passed the A/Ls.
• In 2011 46 beneficiaries are preparing for their O/Ls while 302 beneficiaries are preparing for their A/L/s.
• Tremendous progress is being made in child tracing and family reunions. According to a recently released UNICEF study, 64% of the missing Tamil children had been recruited by the LTTE. Many may have died in mosquito infested jungles.
• In the post-conflict phase, significant attention is being paid to restoring and rebuilding schools and the release of schools to the educational authorities. Over 135 schools in the North that were abandoned have now been rehabilitated and are functioning normally. Sri Lanka provides free education to all its children without distinction from kindergarten to University level.
• Recognizing that children formerly associated with armed groups continue to be highly vulnerable, the monitoring of the re-integrated former combatants will continue. The government recognizes that these children should be, placed under the purview of the Department of Social Services. Children are an asset and Sri Lanka will invest heavily in their future as it had done in the past.
Sri Lanka has a dedicated institution, the National Child Protection Authority, doing significant work in child protection issues. Sri Lanka’s experience in ensuring the overall wellbeing of children in conflict zones is unique. I note that even during the height of the conflict, the Government agreed to a cessation of hostilities to ensure that the national qualifying examinations (Grade 10 Ordinary Level Examination and the Grade 12 Advanced Level Examinations) were held in the conflict zones to enable students to sit these examinations every year. This also included the uninterrupted holding of the Grade 5 National Scholarship Examination in these areas. As to whether the terrorist LTTE permitted the children to sit the examinations is another matter.
Sri Lanka is also unique because once again we were able to agree to cease hostilities to ensure that the polio vaccination programme was carried out in the conflict zones. It is precisely in recognition of these dedicated efforts, that the UNICEF in its State of the World’s Children 2008, documented and commended Sri Lanka as the best achiever in our sub-region despite a long-standing conflict. UNICEF had also commended Sri Lanka in its publication entitled, “Progress for Children: Achieving the MDGs with Equity”, Number 9, September 2010.
Unfortunately, despite the progress outlined above, Sri Lanka continues to remain on the “Naming and Shaming List” of the SG’s Annexes. The unresolved cases relating to five children appears to be the reason for this. In comparison with other situations in the world, this would appear to be trite and unreasonable.
The individual allegedly responsible for the situation of above children was indicted for criminal intimidation, an offence under Section 486 of the Penal Code. He pleaded guilty and was convicted and sentenced to two years rigorous imprisonment, suspended for ten years with a fine of SLRS. 250,000 on November 22, 2010.
We call on the Council and the Working Group to undertake a holistic and fair assessment of the Sri Lankan case and de-list Sri Lanka from “the naming and shaming list.” Sri Lanka now has a member in the Rights of the Child Committee and we intend to play a very active role.
It is pertinent to recall in this context a proposal made by a civil society representative Ms. Carla Stea at the meeting convened on June 30. She proposed that the Council consider adopting “an Honours list” for countries that have registered appreciable progress in addressing issues of former child soldiers, especially those countries that are also parties to the CRC. The three tier categorization maintained in the methodology of the annual US Trafficking in Persons Report is also relevant and instructive in this context. Such a corresponding list we believe is forward looking and constructive. It would also encourage more countries with the problem of child recruitment to be willing partners to signing action plans.
We also agree with the views expressed by some delegations (Thailand and Pakistan) during the side event held on June 30, 2011 that the discourse on the issue of children and armed conflict should involve the wider UN membership for it to be truly meaningful. Furthermore the mandate only covers only situations of armed conflict. Limiting the discussion to the Security Council and allowing the non-Security Council Members to speak on the issue only during open debates really does not accord the issue the seriousness, the focus and attention it deserves among the wider membership. Broadening the space of this debate would bode well in terms of ensuring collective responsibility and effective monitoring.
I thank you, Mr. President.