|The Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict By H.E. Prasad Kariyawasam|
|Thursday, 15 February 2007 12:28|
On behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka let me first thank the member States of the Security Council for taking the initiative of establishing this Working Group pursuant to Resolution 1612 (2005). Mr. President, we particularly appreciate the leadership and the commitment of yourself and your country for this issue. We are also encouraged by the outcome of the recent "Free Children from War" Ministerial meeting held in Paris, and welcome the Paris Commitments, in particular paragraphs 16 and 18.
Let me also thank Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy and Ms. Rima Saleh and their respective teams who work tirelessly to ensure the success of this Working Group Meeting and its outcome.
In view of the importance placed by the Government of Sri Lanka on this Meeting, I am being assisted today by two senior public officials, Mr. C.R. de Silva, Solicitor -General of Sri Lanka and Mr. Yasantha Kodagoda, Deputy Solicitor-General.
Since independence, Sri Lanka has invested heavily on children. Free compulsory primary education leading towards free university education and free healthcare have been hallmarks of our efforts. This welfare regime for children underpins our commitment to protect and promote the rights of Children. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, continuing this tradition, soon after his election last year, unveiled a blue print for achieving peace and development which contains specific measures to strengthen the existing regime of protection and welfare of children. The Government has also reiterated our long held policy of zero tolerance towards recruitment and use of children in armed conflict both nationally, and internationally. In this context, we assure you and other members of the Working Group of our full cooperation in addressing issues of children and armed conflict as contained in Resolution 1612.
The report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in Sri Lanka, (S/2006/1006) dated 20th December 2006, provides details as to how developments in the conflict-affected regions in Sri Lanka impact the lives of children, and make recommendations for addressing concerns in this regard.
The Secretary-General in his successive reports, and as recognized by the Security Council in its several Resolutions as well, has maintained a primary focus on the recruitment and use of children as combatants due to its possible implications on international peace and security. In addition, Resolution 1612 also identifies a range of other abuses against children during conflict such as kidnapping, killing and maiming, rape and other sexual abuses, attacks on schools and hospitals and denial of humanitarian access to children.
In this backdrop, the Secretary-General has listed and armed group in my country, the LTTE, in Annex II of his Report, repeating its listing since 2003, as an offending party. In fact the LTTE has committed grave violations of International human rights and humanitarian norms for over two decades, specially abduction, recruitment and use of children during armed hostilities and engaging them in acts of terrorism. This Group has been proscribed in the United States. UK, Canada, EU and several other member States as a terrorist organization.
The violations and abuses attributed to the LTTE in the Report of the Secretary General under consideration by the Working Group today, have been substantiated by several non-governmental and civil society sources independently, as well as by Ambassador Allan Rock, the representative of SRSG who visited Sri Lanka recently. They have all enumerated that violations in Sri Lanka primarily fall into the category of recruitment and use of children as combatants. The LTTE has also resorted to other serious violations which come under other categories such as attacks on schools and hospitals, kidnapping, killing and maiming of children and denial of humanitarian access for children.
In this context, it is essential to recall that in May 1998, nine years ago, the LTTE gave a public undertaking to cease recruitment and use of children as combatants and to release children within its ranks, to Mr. Olara Otunnu, former Special representative of the Secretary-General who visited Sri Lanka and met the LTTE leadership. This commitment was never implemented, and violations by the LTTE have even intensified in the years that followed. After the conclusion of the Ceasefire Agreement with the Government, the LTTE in 2003 entered into an action plan with UNICEF on children affected by armed conflict. In terms of this action plan, the LTTE undertook to cease the recruitment and use of children in combat and release those children already in its ranks.
This action plan generated hope among the affected families that their children would be re-united with them and would be allowed to commence normal life. The international community believed that the LTTE would mend its behaviour and fulfill its commitments. However, the LTTE demonstrated, once again, that it had only scant respect for international human rights and humanitarian norms, and its obligations under the action plan. There were some symbolic gestures with exaggerated claims of release of a substantial number of children, but this could not be independently verified by independent actors. Instead, the LTTE once again intensified recruitment and also started a calibrated campaign of re-recruitment of children released by its breakaway group in the East. There are reports that several children released by this breakaway group were maimed or killed by the LTTE for their refusal to be re-recruited.
The Government is fully committed to rehabilitate and reintegrate child combatants who escape from the forced captivity of the LTTE, through the provision of a protective environment as well as family reunification and vocational training. A new legal regime has been introduced in this regard, and pursuant to these regulations, a rehabilitation camp has already been established. Authorities are also seeking alternatives for those children who are reluctant to return to their homes fearing reprisal by the LTTE.
When President Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected in November 2005, he invited the LTTE to resume negotiations with the Government to discuss core political issues on the basis of his readiness to provide maximum possible devolution of power to the North and the East of the country. This overture also had at its core, the interest of securing the release of children suffering in LTTE ranks.
Two rounds of talks with the LTTE were held in February and October 2006 respectively. At these talks, the Government also placed the issue of recruitment of children on the agenda. However, the LTTE was interested only on issues which had short-term military and tactical gains for the organization. The desire of the Government to discuss the core issue of a political solution and other humanitarian concerns as well as child recruitment was ignored and the LTTE left the peace talks, and began attacking civilian and military targets. This callous act has compelled the Government to take defensive military action. To date, the LTTE continues to tread the path of violence and terror, flouting all international norms especially concerning involvement of children in armed conflict.
It is all but clear now that all efforts so far by the Government of Sri Lanka and the international community to have the LTTE cease this abominable practice, and release children within its ranks have regrettably failed. The LTTE's consistent refusal in this regard appears to be a clear signal that it intends to prolong the conflict for which the use of children in its ranks appear as an essential component of its strategy of terror.
In this backdrop, my delegation considers the report of the Secretary-General S/2006/1006 dated 20th December 2006 timely and relevant. The report rightly identifies the LTTE as a repeated offender, and calls upon the Security Council to undertake targeted measures against the political and military leadership of the LTTE. It is important that the Working Group recognizes the urgency of the call of the Secretary-General made in paragraph 63 of his report, and recommends to the Security Council the adoption of targeted measures against the LTTE.
We believe that only concrete punitive measures would deter the LTTE from committing grave violations against children. Such measures will also inspire confidence and provide solace to the long- suffering people in the North and the East, who have lost their children to the LTTE as its cannon fodder. No exhortatory or normative measures will have any effect on the conduct of the LTTE as much as specific targeted punitive measures.
It is also important to realize that only such measures will make the LTTE realize the futility of continuing to follow the path of violence and terrorism, and make them negotiate a political solution to the conflict with the Government. In this context, I wish to reiterate my Government's support to the call made by the UN Secretary-General for the undertaking of targeted measures against the LTTE political and military leadership.
In considering specific targeted measures, we believe that the Security Council will consider those measures which would have an immediate and enduring impact on the LTTE. We urge the Working Group therefore, to consider recommending to the Council, the following specific targeted measures:
(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;
(c). to impose travel restrictions on LTTE leaders, cadres and persons acting on their behalf, to prevent their entry into or transit through the territories of UN member States;
(d). to deny access to foreign chanceries by 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.
It is our firm view that such measures and any further action that the Working Group may deem appropriate to recommend to the Security Council are justifiable in the light of continued and repeated violation of international humanitarian law by the LTTE including the provision of Resolution 1612, and other universally accepted human rights and humanitarian norms.
My delegation would now like to reflect on other abuses and violations described in the Secretary General's report, which were not specifically attributed to the LTTE. These fall into two broad categories.
The first pertains to reported alleged human rights violations by the Government Security Forces. As you are aware, all state agents are subject to intense scrutiny of international human rights mechanisms. Sri Lanka is a party to all eight-core human rights instruments and has a policy of open and consultative engagement with UN human rights mechanisms, freely inviting UN representatives to visit Sri Lanka. Therefore, any violation of human rights by Government Security Forces is subject to scrutiny, both nationally and internationally. In addition, most of these alleged human rights violations since August 2005 are now slated for investigation and inquiry by a Commission of Inquiry. The Government of Sri Lanka, in consultation with the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva has invited an International Independent Group of Eminent Persons to observe the proceedings of the Commission to ensure that such proceedings meet with necessary international norms and standards. With wide-ranging powers vested in its members, this Group is scheduled to have its first meeting with the Commission on 12th February 2007.
The second category of attributions pertains to abduction and recruitment of children by a breakaway group of the LTTE called Karuna faction and to the alleged involvement of some elements of Government Security Forces in some of such incidents. The Government is pleased that this breakaway group of the LTTE referred to in the report, is already working with the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and UNICEF. The Government welcomes the reported commitment of this Group given to the Special Representative and unreservedly condemns the alleged instances of abduction, recruitment and use of children by that Group. The Government will take necessary action to investigate the allegations made against this Group.
Regarding the specific attributions made against some elements of the Security Forces, the Government of Sri Lanka wishes to emphasise that it has been the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka not to take part in or condone child abductions. Furthermore, the Government observes that these allegations against some elements of the Security Forces are based on unreliable and unverified hearsay material. In the circumstances, it is the view of the Government that it would be unsafe for the Security Council Working Group to act on such unsubstantiated material. However, as a responsible member of the international community, and in keeping with the Government's policy, the Government has decided to adopt necessary measures to cause an independent and credible investigation into these allegations. The Government is determined to enforce the rule of law without fear or favour against those who may be found to have been involved in child abductions.
It would be pertinent to note that the Government of Sri Lanka has consistently and successfully prosecuted persons including Security Forces and Police personnel, in respect of their involvement in committing human rights violations including child abductions occurring in the context of conflict situations. It reflects the Government's consistent policy and commitment to prosecute Security Forces and Police personnel who are found to have committed human rights violations including child abductions in conflict situations. This is a clear manifestation of the Government's commitment to efficaciously give effect to its obligations under international law.
The Government of Sri Lanka follows a consistent policy of constructive engagement with the UN and the international community. In demonstration of this commitment, we pursue cooperative dialogue with the relevant bodies of the United Nations and the international community. The Government accords the highest priority to the promotion and protection of human rights, and will continue to take all possible measures to advance the cause of children. Therefore, it is our wish to remain actively engaged with this Working Group and its members. Mr. President, our presence in this chamber today is a manifestation of our earnest expectation that the Security Council will take resolute action to help Sri Lanka to eliminate the scourge of child combatants.
Thank you, Mr. President.