Use of Child Soldiers by Armed Groups in Eastern Chad

In research missions to eastern Chad in 2006, Human Rights Watch observed children who have been recruited into armed groups including the Chadian armed forces, the Sudanese rebel movements and Tora Boro militias.201 This is in direct violation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (generally known as the Child Soldiers Protocol), to which Chad is party;202 it establishes eighteen as the minimum age for direct participation in hostilities, for compulsory recruitment, and for any recruitment or use in hostilities by irregular armed groups.203

In November 2006, Human Rights Watch noted two under-aged soldiers in the company of two JEM field commanders in Bahai, Chad. Both field commanders identified the underage soldiers as their children, though they declined to state their ages. They said they believed their children would be safer by their side, in uniform, in the rebel movements, than they would be in their areas of origin in Darfur.204

Among Hisseine Bechir Hisseine’s Tora Boro force of approximately 100 fighters, Human Rights Watch noted four children, who were reported to be 11, 13, 15, and 16 years of age. Child soldiers observed by Human Rights Watch in the company of both ANT and Sudanese rebel forces in eastern Chad have typically been unarmed, but the 11-year-old was equipped with a functioning Galil automatic rife, the type used by the ANT. Small for his age, the 11-year-old rebel usually sat on someone’s lap while traveling in overcrowded rebel vehicles. According to a 42-year-old Dajo man in Bechir’s unit, the role of the child soldier in the militia unit was to make tea while in camp and to act as a scout in combat situations.

“If we hear that there are Janjaweed in the wadi , we can send the petites to see if this is true or not,” said the soldier. “Since he is a child, they will not kill him if they see him. Also, if someone is wounded during the fighting, [the child soldier] can go out and get him. If someone is killed and their weapon is on the ground, of course I would expect them to use it just like anyone else.”205

Because of their immaturity and lack of experience, child soldiers suffer casualties more often than their adult counterparts, and it is evident that children among the Tora Bora have suffered for their lack of experience. Two child soldiers in Bechir’s unit in Adé, one 13, the other 16, were reportedly killed in September when they mishandled a rocket-propelled grenade.206

The Child Soldiers Protocol obliges states to take all feasible measures to prevent the use and recruitment of children. Chad is also a party to the African Charter on the Welfare of the Child which requires states to take all measures that no child will take direct part in hostilities.207 Chad and Sudan are both obliged under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to protect children from all violations of international humanitarian law and to assist the recovery and social re-integration of child victims of armed conflict.208 The recruitment and use of children under the age of 15-years-old is defined as a war crime in the Statute of the International Criminal Court. Human Rights Watch is not aware of any action on the part of the Chadian authorities to prevent the use and recruitment of child soldiers by self-defense militia or by allied Sudanese rebel movements with bases in Chad.

201 In this report, the word “child” refers to anyone under the age of eighteen.

202 Adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly on May 25, 2000, A/RES/54/263 of May 25, 2000, entered into force on February 12, 2002. Chad ratified the Optional Protocol on August 28, 2002.

203 Article 4 of the Optional Protocol.

204 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bahai, Chad and Kariari, Sudan, October 31 to November 3, 2006.

205 Human Rights Watch interview, Chadian self-defense force soldier, Dogdoré, Chad, November 22, 2006.

206 Human Rights Watch, confidential communication, November 21, 2006.

207 OAU Doc. CAB/LEG/24.9/49 (1990), entered into force Nov. 29, 1999. Chad acceded to the Convention in March 2000. Article 22 provides: that States Parties (i) undertake to respect and ensure respect for rules of international humanitarian law applicable in armed conflicts which affect the child; (ii) shall take all necessary measures to ensure that no child shall take a direct part in hostilities and refrain in particular, from recruiting any child; (iii) shall, in accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian law, protect the civilian population in armed conflicts and shall take all feasible measures to ensure the protection and care of children who are affected by armed conflicts. Such rules shall also apply to children in situations of internal armed conflicts, tension and strife.

208 Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 38 and 39, ratified by Sudan on August 3, 1990 and Chad on October 2, 1990.