|Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict by H.E. Prasad Kariyawasam|
|Thursday, 21 February 2008 12:03|
Distinguished members of the Working Group
First, I would like to convey our appreciation to you, Mr. Chairman, for the leadership you and your country have been providing to the issue of children and armed conflict. I thank other members of the Working Group for working diligently for the shared objective of bringing an end to the detestable practice of recruitment and use of children by armed groups. Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and her staff also deserve credit for the manner in which they work effectively with member States concerned, with the aim of better implementing Resolution 1612.
The meeting today is an occasion to review the implementation of the Conclusions and Recommendations adopted by the Working Group on 10 May 2007, as well as Security Council Resolution 1612. We have before us the report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in Sri Lanka (S/2007/758) and the annual report of the Secretary General (A/62/609–S/2007/757). The latter has listed the two non-state actors in Sri Lanka, the LTTE and the Karuna Faction in its Annex II. The listing of the LTTE has been repeated since 2003 as a persistent and repeat violator.
Since independence 60 years ago, all successive governments in Sri Lanka have been committed towards creating a protective environment for children to live in dignity and to enjoy their rights with care and support of their families. The blueprint for peace and development in Sri Lanka initiated by the government of His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa also demonstrates this commitment by advancing child-centered social development programmes, further augmenting free healthcare, and free education that has been the hallmark of Sri Lanka’s child welfare policies for long years.
However, the benefits of such child-oriented social programmes are negated when children are used in armed conflict by non-state actors and are made to suffer other forms of abuse. The Government’s unequivocal condemnation of recruitment and use of children for violent purposes as the most serious violation of human rights of children is grounded in this deep rooted concern and is therefore the basis of our call for international measures against persistent perpetrators of such crimes.
Let me therefore, in this context, once again reiterate Sri Lanka’s commitment to zero-tolerance on recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, by whomsoever.
The report of the Secretary-General on Sri Lanka (S/2007/758) raises concerns on: the status of investigation by the Committee of Inquiry into Allegations of Abduction and Recruitment; prevention of other grave violations and abuses against children in armed conflict; provision of protective accommodation and rehabilitation of child combatants who surrendered to Sri Lanka Security Forces or are otherwise separated from armed groups; and protection of complainants, witnesses and victims.
Pursuant to the Conclusions and Recommendations adopted by the Working Group on 10 May 2007, both this report and Secretary-General’s annual report single out the terrorist group LTTE as the persistent and recalcitrant violator in Sri Lanka, calling unequivocally for the adoption of targeted punitive measures against this group.
To facilitate the Working Group to make considered recommendations on the situation of children and armed conflict in Sri Lanka, my delegation wishes to share our views as a constructive contribution to this process. An Aide Memoire will be forwarded to the members of the Working Group, responding comprehensively to all issues referred to in the Secretary-General’s Report on Children and Armed Conflict in Sri Lanka (S/2007/758) including specific allegations in relation to Government functionaries, and remedial preventive and punitive action being taken.
As a manifestation of the importance which the Government of Sri Lanka attaches to this issue, I am assisted at this meeting by a high-level delegation from Sri Lanka comprising of senior officials who are directly involved in addressing this issue on the ground. Here with me today are Hon. C.R. de Silva, the Attorney-General of Sri Lanka, Mr Suhadha Gamlath, Secretary Justice, and Mr Yasantha Kodagoda, Deputy Solicitor-General.
Let me now address some concerns that relate to the Government of Sri Lanka.
With regard to grave abuses and violations during the reporting period attributed to all parties including elements of the Security Forces, in the report, we would like to clarify that these incidents are already under investigation by law enforcement and other relevant authorities, and action will be taken against any person found to have been responsible. The government will not condone any violations or abuses committed by anyone. It is important in this regard, to emphasize that Sri Lankan Security Forces have not targeted civilians and will not attack civilians or civilian institutions deliberately at any time. Furthermore, Sri Lankan Security Forces have always taken steps to protect civilians and civilian institutions in the course of operations against terrorists and terrorist infrastructure. This was clearly demonstrated in the recent military operations carried out in Vaharai and Thoppigala.
Following the commitment made to the UN Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict in February 2007, and pursuant to its recommendation that the government investigates allegations concerning complicity of certain elements of the Sri Lanka Security Forces in the abetment to abduct and recruit children by the Karuna faction of the LTTE, a decision was taken by the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Human Rights (IMCHR) to establish a committee to inquire into these allegations. Accordingly a high-level inter-ministerial Committee to inquire into allegations of abduction and recruitment of children for use in armed conflict was appointed under the chairmanship of Secretary Justice in August 2007.
This Committee has been tasked, among other matters, with initiating inquiries into, and monitoring of investigations into allegations made in connection with the abduction and recruitment of children by the LTTE and the Karuna Faction, and allegations against certain elements of the Security Forces. It has also been mandated to monitor and make recommendations to ensure that children who are released have access to adequate facilities for rehabilitation and reintegration into society. The committee has held regular meetings in the discharge of its mandate.
The Committee, having carefully considered all relevant material with regard to the abduction and recruitment of children by armed groups and its observations during field visits, found that:
(a) the situation with regard to child abductions has improved in a tangible manner after eviction of the LTTE from the Eastern Province;
(b) there were no complaints recorded by law enforcement authorities in 2008 relating to abduction or recruitment of children by any armed group in the Eastern Province.
The Committee also observed the preventive measures taken by law enforcement agencies to preclude access by armed groups to schools for the purpose of recruiting children.
The Committee had identified steps that should be taken to advance the welfare of children, prevention of their involvement in armed conflict and rehabilitation, and vocational education that would make them productive members of society. As part of its mandate, the Committee is creating awareness that Sri Lanka’s criminal law makes recruitment and deployment of children in armed conflict an offence punishable by 30 years of imprisonment. In addition, the Committee intends to support the functioning of the three-tier state-cum-civil society monitoring mechanisms established for the protection of the rights of children and in particular those affected by armed conflict. The work of this Committee manifests the Government’s determination to address the issue comprehensively.
The Committee will continue with follow-up visits in the near future to cause further examination of alleged incidents of abduction and recruitment of children by armed groups. Following the completion of the Committee’s work, the Government will share with the Working Group, the Committee’s findings and action taken thereon by the authorities.
Both the annual report of the Secretary-General and his report on Sri Lanka (S/2007/758) refer to the need for the government to take measures regarding rehabilitation and reintegration of children who have surrendered to the Security Forces or who have otherwise separated from armed groups. The reports emphasize that action is still required by the Government to address the situation of children who sought special protection and surrendered to the Government Forces and who are currently being housed in state maintained rehabilitation facilities.
Let me inform the members of the Working Group in this regard that authorities have already commenced rehabilitation and re-integration process of children separated from armed groups. These include holistic approach of providing formal education and vocational training and psycho-social support. It is important to note that these children are being treated as victims and not as suspects in detention for their involvement in criminal or terrorist activities.
The Government takes all possible measures to provide a secure environment and attend to rehabilitation of children with the aim of reintegrating children into society. The Commissioner-General for Rehabilitation appointed by the government works closely with child protection agencies as well as other agencies and partner organisations to put in place a long-term protection programme which could ensure provision of education, vocational training, life skills and facilitation of their reintegration with families. Such measures include the provision of livelihood support to facilitate reintegration. All these measures require considerable financial resources.
In this regard, let me also draw your attention to an important recommendation made by the Secretary General, which calls for “adequate resources and funding to be made available by donors to national Governments, the United Nations and partners to support the rehabilitation and reintegration of all children…”. This is a useful recommendation which needs re-endorsement by the Working Group for its expeditious implementation.
With regard to protection of victims, witnesses and complainants, the government is expected to present to the Parliament a Bill titled “The Assistance and Protection to Victims of Crime and Witnesses.” The policy framework of this proposed law has been approved by the Cabinet of Ministers on the basis of a draft bill prepared by the Attorney-General. This Bill provides for protection and assistance including compensation, reparation and restitution, and contains additional measures for the protection of child victims and child witnesses.
It has been almost a decade since the terrorist group LTTE, gave a public undertaking to cease recruitment and use of children as combatants and release children within its ranks, to the former Special Representative of the Secretary-General. This commitment, however, was never implemented by the LTTE and the Secretary-General, therefore, has continued to identify the LTTE as a repeated violator. This terrorist group continues recruitment and use of children as combatants.
In this regard it is important to note that in the recent past, the LTTE has adopted new strategies to avoid international censure while continuing use of children as combatants. The LTTE achieves this objective by forcibly submitting children to weapons training and thereafter returning the children to their normal environment, so that the combat trained children could be used for combat purposes as and when the need arises. Evidence has now transpired that the LTTE does not permit children to pursue and successfully complete secondary education until and unless they undergo this weapons training. Local and international agencies compiling statistics on child recruitment do not seem to have taken cognisance of this new strategy adopted by the LTTE.
We believe that only targeted measures would deter the LTTE from continuing to perpetrate grave violations against children, and inspire confidence among the long-suffering people in the North and the East. Mere exhortatory and normative measures will not have any positive effect on the conduct of the LTTE as much as specific punitive measures.
We are of the firm view that only specific targeted measures will make the LTTE realize the futility of continuing to follow a path of violence and compel them to renounce terrorism, lay down arms, and take part in a political process leading towards a peaceful settlement of the conflict.
The Security Council should consider taking measures which would have an immediate and enduring impact on the LTTE.
We urge the Working Group to call upon the LTTE to forthwith,
(a) release all child combatants within the ranks of the LTTE,
(b) discharge combatants recruited to the LTTE when they were children,
(c) terminate compulsory combat and weapons training being provided to school children
We also urge the Working Group as we did at its last meeting, to consider recommending to the Security Council, specific targeted measures which, among others, could include at least some of the following:
(a) to freeze funds and other financial assets or economic resources of LTTE leaders and cadres including funds derived from property owned or controlled directly or indirectly, by them or by persons acting on their behalf or at their discretion;
(b) to ban the provision of funds, financial assets and economic resources, and a ban on provision of financial or other related services, directly or indirectly, for the benefit of members of the LTTE or its front organizations;
(d) to deny access to foreign chanceries to LTTE leaders, cadres and persons acting on their behalf;
(e) to prevent direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of arms and related material to the LTTE including weapons and ammunition, technical advice, assistance or training related to armed activities or recruitment for such activities;
(f) to prohibit any trade, commercial and financial transactions with the LTTE and its representatives.
It is our view that these specific targeted measures that the Working Group may recommend to the Security Council are necessary and justifiable in the light of the LTTE’s continued violation of Resolution 1612, and other human rights and humanitarian norms. Such resolute action by the Security Council would no doubt compel the LTTE to mend their ways and prevent them from abusing and exploiting children for armed conflict.
My delegation will be pleased to respond to any questions or clarifications that the members of the Working Group may wish to raise during this meeting.