Rights: 250,000 Children Under the Gun Inter Press Service (Johannesburg) NEWS February 23, 2005 Posted to the web February 24, 2005 By Jennifer Mascia United Nations "The children are waiting," implored Olara Otunnu, the U.N. special representative for Children and Armed Conflict, during a daylong debate in the Security Council of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's recent report on underage soldiers. Quoting Bob Marley, although using lyrics slightly amended for the occasion, Otunnu urged the delegates in attendance to consider the plight of vulnerable children recruited into armed conflicts around the world: "Hear the Children Cryin'/From Mazar-i-Sharif to Jumla to Darfur/Won't you help to sing/Cause all they ever asked: Redemption Songs." Otunnu echoed the recommendations of the Feb. 9 report, calling for a strict compliance and enforcement regime that both protects children from forcible recruitment into armed conflicts and punishes the perpetrators of such offences. The regime would employ the use of targeted sanctions, including "travel restrictions on leaders and their exclusion from any governance structures and amnesty provisions, the imposition of arms embargoes, a ban on military assistance, and restriction on the flow of financial resources to the parties concerned." This proposed range of measures will be directed toward offending parties who commit the following six grave violations set forth by office of Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC): "Killing or maiming of children; recruiting or using child soldiers, attacks against schools or hospitals, rape and other grave sexual violence against children; abduction of children; and denial of humanitarian access for children." Rima Salah, deputy executive director of UNICEF, admitted difficulties with a monitoring and reporting mechanism in the past. She said the children's agency "will require sufficient resources.to develop appropriate guidance, methodology, and specific data tools and ensure the security and safety of staff," addressing the need for "full cooperation from governments if we are to be effective in fulfilling this mandate." The Feb. 9 report included a flow chart to report on and monitor children in armed conflict. Beginning at the ground level, information on abuses would be gathered by various NGOs, local governments and U.N. field officials. This information would then be referred to a Child Protection Network comprised of government institutions and U.N. entities, and eventually a Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting at the country level. After this stage it could reach the U.N. headquarters level, where it could be reviewed by the CAAC Task Force, and possibly referred for action to the Security Council or General Assembly. Otunnu said that a quarter million children continue to be exploited as "child soldiers -- used variously as combatants, porters, spies and sex slaves." In countries like Colombia, Sierra Leone and Liberia, children have both volunteered for and been conscripted into battle under the age of 15, which runs counter to guidelines established by the Geneva Conventions. "It is most important that the Council make good on its promise on this occasion," Otunnu said, noting that this is the third Security Council report documenting similar offences pertaining to child recruitment and abuse in conflict zones. Bolstering that need for action, Jo Becker, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, expressed concern that the issues addressed during Wednesday's meeting were the same issues that have been raised for the past three years, only to stop short of a cohesive plan of action that effectively cripples the ability of rebel groups to maintain child recruitment and abuse. In an interview with IPS, she pointed out that the issue of child soldiers could simply be added to the existing arms embargoes already on the Security Council agenda, as child soldier recruitment already occurs in four out of five countries slated for such embargoes. The question for the Security Council, she said, is unfortunately not a new one: "Are they actually going to act this year?" The report also lists countries in which offending parties continue to use children in situations of armed conflict. While acknowledging that the situation in many places has improved -- notably Afghanistan, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Timor Leste -- the report says that abduction and rape among youths under the age of 15 continues unabated in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote D'Ivoire, Somalia, and Burundi. The report also named Sudan, whose Janjaweed militias have apparently been responsible for acts deemed "genocide" by the United States. However, Colombia is the worst offender, with its three main rebel factions cited for censure, and more than 11,000 child soldiers. In total, 54 offending parties were placed on this year's list, "drawn from 11 situations of concern," according to Otunnu. Eight parties have been dropped from last year's report, while six have been added. The report is careful to differentiate between "offending parties" and the countries in which they are located, primarily because most recruitment is done by rebel groups fighting their central governments. Otunnu reported early progress in this "naming and shaming" campaign. He described how S. P. Tamilselvan, the head of the political wing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the main opposition group in Sri Lanka, had contacted him, "expressing their readiness to enter into dialogue, using the framework of the monitoring and reporting mechanism." Last year it was reported that 1,250 child soldiers populated LTTE ranks, and Otunnu called on their leaders to "embark on tangible action." Rogatien Biaou, the foreign minister of Benin, who currently holds the presidency of the Security Council, addressed a timetable for action in Sri Lanka, noting that every Security Council member showed the "political will" to implement a monitoring and reporting and subsequent enforcement regime by which individual offences could culminate in a possible referral to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Benin has put forth a draft resolution to be discussed on Friday, and according to HRW's Becker, a resolution is imminent. Inserted into Otunnu's remarks was a one-paragraph reference to the reports of abuse by U.N. peacekeeping soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which surfaced last year. Momentarily addressing the problem with more questions than answers, Otunnu called for a "fundamental and comprehensive review. What is the scope of this problem? What issues must be addressed?" An "across the board review" was necessary to "punish the offenders," he stated. Otunnu's rather vague remarks echo those of Kofi Annan on Feb. 16, when he expressed outrage and enunciated a "zero-tolerance policy" for such abuses in the field. When asked about possible reprimand for the peacekeepers, Annan admitted, "We are taking measures to tighten up," but said that he expects member governments to deal with inappropriate sexual conduct on their own soil, admiring the "action taken by the Moroccan government." Earlier this month Morocco arrested six U.N. peacekeeping soldiers suspected of sexual abuse.