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UN: Sanction LTTE, Karuna Group for Child Soldiers

Government Fails to Investigate Its Forces’ Complicity in Child Abductions

(New York) - The UN Security Council should impose sanctions on armed groups in Sri Lanka for using children in their forces, Human Rights Watch said today.

The UN Security Council’s working group on children and armed conflict meets today for the second time since February 2007 to consider violations against children committed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Sri Lankan government forces, and the Karuna group, an armed group that split from the LTTE in 2004 and now cooperates with Sri Lankan forces.

“The LTTE and the Karuna group continue to use children to fight their battles in clear violation of international law and Security Council resolutions,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch. “The Security Council should punish their brazen violations with concrete action.”

Human Rights Watch also called upon the UN Security Council to publicly condemn the Sri Lankan government for failing to investigate cases of child abduction and recruitment in government-controlled territory, and the complicity of its security forces in abductions by the Karuna group.

Human Rights Watch urged the Security Council to give both the LTTE and the Karuna group 30 days to release all children in their ranks and end all new recruitment. If they fail to do so, the Security Council should impose arms embargoes, and travel bans and asset freezes on the leadership.

Human Rights Watch noted that while reported cases of child recruitment by the LTTE have dropped significantly over the past nine months, the LTTE failed to release all children from its ranks by December 31, 2007, a deadline it agreed to under the terms of an action plan signed on October 15, 2007.

On January 31, 2008, UNICEF reported 1,430 outstanding cases of LTTE child recruitment, including at least 196 children still under the age of 18 in the LTTE ranks.

“The LTTE has ignored repeated appeals to end its use of child soldiers,” said Becker. “The time for Security Council action is now.”

In a report on children and armed conflict worldwide made public in January, the UN secretary-general listed the LTTE for the fifth consecutive time since 2002 for violating international standards regarding the recruitment and use of child soldiers. It listed the Karuna group for the second time.

In a separate report specifically on Sri Lanka issued in December, the secretary-general noted that the Karuna group continued to abduct children, and had failed to effectively engage with the United Nations to end child recruitment.

Human Rights Watch is recommending Security Council sanctions against the Karuna group for the first time, due to its continual violations of international standards.

“The UN has put the Karuna group on notice, but the Karuna group has refused to end its recruitment and use of child soldiers,” said Becker. “It must be held accountable for these continuing violations.”

Human Rights Watch also criticized the Sri Lankan government for failing to thoroughly investigate cases of abduction and complicity of security forces in child abduction by the Karuna group. Reports by the secretary-general, the Special Advisor to the Special Representative to the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict Allan Rock, and Human Rights Watch have all found complicity by Sri Lankan security forces in the abduction of children by the Karuna group.

The secretary-general’s report on Sri Lanka found that children continue to be sighted in government-controlled territory and at the offices of the Karuna group’s political party, the Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP).

Members of a government committee appointed by Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe to investigate abductions and child recruitment visited Batticaloa last week, but reportedly met only with government officials and stayed for only four hours.

“For over a year, the Sri Lankan government has been promising to investigate the well-documented complicity between its own forces and the abduction of children by the Karuna group,” said Becker. “Its failure to conduct a credible investigation in a timely way is simply unacceptable.”

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