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U.N. Spotlights Child Soldiers

(New York) - Governments and armed groups using child soldiers are under new scrutiny by the U.N. Security Council and must take immediate action to end child recruitment, Human Rights Watch said today.

Following a full-day debate on children and armed conflict on January 14, the Security Council today adopted a range of measures demanding accountability from parties to armed conflict that recruit or use children as soldiers.

"Governments and armed groups using child soldiers have been put on notice," said Jo Becker, Children's Rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "The Security Council is demanding concrete progress in ending the use of children in war."

At the Security Council's request, a report submitted at the end of 2002 by the Secretary General for the first time included an explicit list of parties to armed conflict that recruit or use children in violation of their international obligations. This list, limited to situations on the Security Council's agenda, included parties to conflict in Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia and Somalia. The report also mentioned the use of child soldiers in several countries not on the Security Council's agenda, including Burma, Colombia, Sri Lanka and Uganda.

Today, the Security Council took several additional steps. It:

  • Stated that the Security Council and/or the Secretary General will enter into dialogue with parties to armed conflict that are recruiting or using child soldiers in order to develop "clear and time bound action plans" to end the practice;
  • Called on parties to armed conflict named in a special annex to the Secretary General's report (which includes 23 parties to armed conflict in Afghanistan, Burundi, the DRC, Liberia and Somalia) to provide information on steps they have taken to end the recruitment or use of child soldiers;
  • Requested the Secretary General to report by October 31 on progress made by parties to armed conflict that recruit or use child soldiers in violation of their international obligations. This progress report applies to both the five countries on the Secretary General's annex and the other parties named in the Secretary General's report, including Burma, Colombia, Sri Lanka and others;
  • Said it would consider additional measures, which it did not specify, in cases where insufficient progress is made.

"Governments and groups that fail to end the use of child soldiers should face clear consequences," said Becker. "The Security Council should use its authority to impose arms embargoes and other targeted sanctions against continuing offenders."

Human Rights Watch noted that while large-scale demobilizations of child soldiers have taken place in Sierra Leone and Sudan, children continue to be recruited and used in armed conflict in at least twenty countries around the world. Situations of particular concern include:

  • Burma, which is believed to have the largest number of child soldiers in the world. An investigation by Human Rights Watch last year found widespread forced recruitment of boys as young as 11 by Burma's national army, as well as recruitment by armed opposition groups;
  • Northern Uganda, where over the past 15 years, the rebel Lord's Resistance Army has abducted between 10,000 and 16,000 children from northern Uganda to serve as soldiers. Abductions have sharply increased in recent months as a result of a Ugandan military offensive against the LRA;
  • Colombia, where guerrilla and government-linked paramilitaries have engaged thousands of children in the country's long-running civil war; and
  • Sri Lanka, where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam allegedly continue to recruit both boys and girls, despite numerous agreements to end the use of child soldiers.

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