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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 972

Latest International Child Soldier Report Scrutinizes Sri Lanka

Daya Gamage – US National Correspondent Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 23 May (Asiantribune.com): “The government in Sri Lanka cannot escape responsibility for the abduction of children by the Karuna Group, a breakaway group of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that was linked to government armed forces.”

“The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) continued to recruit and use children, despite repeated commitments not to do so. Children in the east of the country were forcibly recruited and used by the Karuna group, a breakaway group of the LTTE, with the complicity of, and in some instances actively working with, the security forces.”

“Countries where children were recruited and used by paramilitaries, militias, civilian defense forces or armed groups linked to, supported by, or acting as proxies for governments.

Chad, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, India, Iran, Libya, Myanmar, Peru, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Uganda”

Above are three editorial determinations of the just released 2008 comprehensive report of child soldiers worldwide by the London-based Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers whose findings and data are extensively used by the U.S. State Department, the European Union, key states of the international community that have come forward to scrutinize Sri Lanka’s human rights record and, of course, the most influential International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGO) whose findings are often used by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to determine its foreign economic assistance program.

However, the Coalition makes the following determination:

“At a February 2007 ministerial meeting in Paris, Sri Lanka and 58 other states endorsed the Paris Commitments to protect children from unlawful recruitment or use by armed forces or armed groups and the Paris Principles and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups. The documents reaffirmed international standards and operational principles for protecting and assisting child soldiers and followed a wide-ranging global consultation jointly sponsored by the French government and UNICEF.

“The LTTE were listed as a party recruiting and using children in hostilities in the Annex to the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict between 2003 and 2007. The Karuna group was listed for child recruitment and use in 2006 and 2007.”

The Asian Tribune therefore presents the entire text of the Coalition’s 2008 Report on Sri Lanka for its government to take serious note of what an internationally-recognized and respected organization, whose findings are used by major donor countries, had to say about a serious international issue related to Sri Lanka.

The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers is an international coalition to stop the use of child soldiers, both girls and boys - to prevent their recruitment and use; to secure their demobilization; and to promote their rehabilitation and reintegration. It works to achieve this through advocacy and public education; research and monitoring; and network development and capacity building.

The Coalition's goal is to promote the adoption and adherence to national, regional and international legal standards (including the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict) prohibiting the military recruitment and use in hostilities of any person younger than eighteen years of age; and the recognition and enforcement of this standard by all armed groups, both governmental and non-governmental.

It was formed in May 1998 by leading international human rights and humanitarian organizations. It has regional and national networks in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. The International Coalition is based in London.

The Coalition's International Steering Committee member organizations are: Amnesty International, Defense for Children International, Human Rights Watch, International Federation Terre des Hommes, International Save the Children Alliance, Jesuit Refugee Service, and the Quaker United Nations Office-Geneva. It maintains active links with UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the International labor Organization.

The last Global Report was published by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (Coalition) in November 2004.

The report in its introduction says, “on the ground, the consensus would appear to be reflected most clearly by a decrease in the number of conflicts in which children are directly involved – from 27 in 2004 to 17 by the end of 2007. The Coalition’s research for this Global Report shows, however, that that this downward trend is more the result of conflicts ending than the impact of initiatives to end child soldier recruitment and use. Indeed, where armed conflict does exist, child soldiers will almost certainly be involved. The majority of these children are in non-state armed groups, but the record of some governments is also little improved.”

Following is the full text of the 2008 report:

Context

(Begin Text) In November 2005 Mahinda Rajapakse won presidential elections which had been marked by the LTTE’s obstruction of voting, especially in the north. In the following months there were almost daily attacks on security forces by the
LTTE, killings of high-profile public and military persons and increased death and injury to civilians (including children) in bomb attacks. Civilians, including children, were also killed and injured as a result of indiscriminate attacks by the Sri Lankan armed forces. Fighting escalated dramatically from May 2006, after a suicide bomb attack on the army commander in Colombo.

There was heavy fighting between government forces and the LTTE, in particular in the east of the island. In mid-July 2007 the government declared that it had won a victory in the east and that the area had been cleared of LTTE presence. Widespread extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and violations of international humanitarian law were committed against civilians and people not taking part in the fighting.

Between April 2006 and March 2007 more than 230,000 people were newly displaced, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

Around half of them were from Batticaloa district in the east. They reportedly faced pressure to return to their homes, including threats by local authorities that the assistance they were receiving would cease if they did not return.

The delivery of humanitarian and development assistance was subject to multiple challenges and constraints, which resulted in the scaling down of humanitarian and development support to the affected population, including to vulnerable children, and also in hampering access of independent observers and monitors to those affected areas.4

The Ceasefire Agreement of February 2002 collapsed in practice, although neither party formally renounced it. The leader of the LTTE in late November 2006 stated that the LTTE no longer felt bound by it. In mid-April 2007, the minister of defence was quoted as having said that the ceasefire no longer had meaning.6

The indiscriminate use of claymore and pressure mines and other methods of killing allegedly employed by the LTTE resulted in child casualties. On 15 June 2006, 65 civilians, including 14 children, were killed and 70 other civilians were injured by a claymore mine attack on a civilian bus in Anuradhapura district.7

A Sri Lankan Air Force aerial bombardment on 2 January 2007 killed seven displaced children and injured several others in Padahuthurai, Mannar district.8 Bombing and shelling by the security forces in other parts of the country, including Jaffna, Batticaloa, Mullaitivu and Killinochchi districts, resulted in destruction of schools and the death of and injury to teachers and students.

The European Union (EU) listed the LTTE as a “terrorist organization” in May 2006.
Subsequently, the LTTE said that they were not going to guarantee full security for EU citizens, thus pressuring EU states to withdraw their nationals from the country. This included those participating in the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), set up in 2002 to monitor the Ceasefire Agreement. Consequently, from around September 2006, the SLMM was functioning with only 30 monitors, half the original number, from Iceland and Norway. The independence of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and other constitutional bodies (including the Police Commission) was undermined in 2006 when – in the absence of a functioning Constitutional Council – the president of Sri Lanka directly appointed their members, contrary to the constitution.

The HRC and SLMM, together with UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), were among the organizations monitoring the recruitment and use of child soldiers. With the escalation of violence, all faced increasing obstacles to their work.

Government: National recruitment legislation and practice

Enlistment of soldiers to the armed forces was voluntary, and governed by the Soldiers Enlistment Regulations of 1955. Enlistments were conducted as either “recruits” or “directly enlisted soldiers”, at a minimum age of 18. All those who qualified for enlistment had to produce an authentic birth certificate.

According to the 1985 Mobilization and Supplementary Forces Act, the National Cadet
Corps was open to those over 16. It provided paramilitary and civil training to students, but cadets could not be called to active service and were not members of the armed forces. In February 2006 the Penal Code was amended to make “engaging/recruiting children for use in armed conflict” a crime punishable by 20 years’ imprisonment. Despite these provisions, there had so far been no arrests of cadres of the LTTE or Karuna group (see below) in relation to child recruitment.12 This was partly because the police often refused to accept complaints from parents of abducted children, despite parents having information about the identity of the abductors.

The government was repeatedly condemned for tolerating the aiding and abetting by the security forces of child recruitment by the Karuna group. In November 2006 a UN special advisor on children and armed conflict “found strong and credible evidence that certain elements of the government security forces are supporting and sometimes participating in the abductions and forced recruitment of children by the Karuna faction”.14 President Rajapakse and other Sri Lankan officials repeatedly promised that the government would investigate the allegations of state complicity and hold accountable any members of the security forces found to have violated the law. Human Rights Watch repeatedly asked the government for the results of the investigations and, in August 2007, questioned the sincerity of the government’s commitment to an investigation. A government committee was established in 2007 to investigate the allegations.

There were longstanding concerns about the treatment of children who “surrendered” to the security forces; in December 2006 the government was criticized for not making a distinction between children and adults. The government subsequently appointed a commissioner general for rehabilitation, and as of mid-2007 was developing a rehabilitation program in cooperation with UNICEF. This included setting up a rehabilitation centre for “child surrendees”, of whom there had been more than 60, all of whom had been recruited by the LTTE. As of that time, however, no specific program had been established for girls. A particular concern relating to formerly recruited children in the custody of the Sri Lankan security forces was their exposure to the media.

Concerns were raised that this public exposure resulted in stigmatization and increased the vulnerability of the child and their family. In July 2007 the Anglican bishop in Colombo expressed concern at the wider exposure of children to programs highlighting images of war after all schools in the country were called upon to hold ceremonies to celebrate the security forces’ military victory in the east.

Armed groups - Karuna group

The Karuna group broke away from the LTTE in March 2004, with an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 fighters, many of them under-18s. It was led by Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, known as Colonel Karuna; its political wing was the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP). It consisted mainly of former LTTE cadres from the east of the country.

On the verge of defeat at the hands of the LTTE in April 2004, Karuna disbanded his troops and sent thousands of under-age fighters home. Over the next two years, as he slowly regrouped and began to wage more effective attacks on LTTE forces in the east, the Karuna group resumed forcibly recruiting children. By the middle of 2006, this was occurring on a large scale.

By September 2007 there were reports of about 400 children recruited by the Karuna group. Their average age at the time of recruitment was about 16. Over 200 of those recruited as children were believed to remain with the group and over 150 of them were still below 18. All except one of the children were boys. In the period since November 2006 over 20 children had been released and ten re-recruited. The Karuna faction was also reported to have targeted for recruitment children who had returned home after previously being associated with the LTTE. It was likely that there was under-reporting of recruitment, as some children received a monthly allowance on completion of military training and impoverished families were therefore less inclined to report their recruitment.

International criticism of the Karuna group grew. In April 2007 UNICEF publicly criticized the group for stalling on its promises to end child recruitment after being deliberately misled when trying to visit the group’s camps to verify reports of child recruitment.22 The chairman of the UN Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict issued a statement strongly condemning and calling for an end to the recent recruitment and use of child soldiers. However, Karuna continued to deny that children were being recruited into his group.

Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)

According to some sources, the LTTE, which had recruited under-age fighters for many years, pledged on 18 June 2007 to rid its ranks of all under-18s by the end of 2007.25 The LTTE had previously made similar promises, but this was the first time that it had set a clear deadline.

However, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict reported that that the LTTE had assured her special advisor that they would accelerate the release of all children under the age of 17, but had not committed to the full release of children under 18.

The LTTE consistently denied that it knowingly recruited children and it claimed that children sought to join by disguising their age. However, there is overwhelming evidence of recruitment, often forced, throughout areas under LTTE control as well as from government-controlled areas in the north and east. The recruitment of children typically followed a pattern of increased recruitment during the season of temple festivals and a fall during periods of international condemnation.

As of September 2007 the total number of children known to have been recruited by the LTTE since January 2002 was well over six thousand, although the real number was thought to be much higher. Over the years the recruitment rate had fallen steadily, from almost 1,500 in 2002 to around 125 in the first nine months of 2007. Re-recruitment trends over this period fluctuated, with 30 children in 2002, about 70 in 2003, almost 300 in 2004, about a hundred each year in 2005 and 2006, and about 25 in the first nine months of 2007. With one exception (April) the number of children recruited each month during 2007 was always lower than the number released. By mid-2007 about 1,500 people recruited as children remained in LTTE ranks, of whom over 300 were still below 18. The average age of recruitment increased from 14 to 16 during the period 2002–7. Approximately one third of the children recruited by the LTTE were girls.

The LTTE’s “Child Protection Authority” reportedly put notices in the media to alert the public to its efforts to release under-age recruits. The LTTE said in July that because of the difficult situation it was not possible to assure safe release procedures for under-18s, thus delaying the process.30 It later claimed that all but 63 children in the north had been released by early October 2007 and that any names remaining on the UNICEF database were due to problems of verification as a result of the conflict.31 However, according to other sources, well over 200 children from the north remained unaccounted for.

There were further concerns that new villagebased military training, in which all civilians aged between 15 and 50 were compelled to participate, was being conducted in LTTE-controlled areas.

In addition, there were reports of a new type of six-month residential military training being run by the LTTE, after which people were allowed to continue their civilian lives, but had to remain available for military duties.

The LTTE’s efforts on releasing under-18s were likely to be linked to increased international condemnation, in particular the call for targeted sanctions by the UN Secretary-General. The UN Security Council’s Working Group on children and armed conflict on 10 May 2007 issued a strong condemnation of the LTTE but stopped short of recommending sanctions. In a direct communication to the LTTE, the chairman of the Working Group urged it to proceed immediately, in a transparent manner, to return the children to their families, to respect the neutrality of schools and to permit access to humanitarian actors in the zones under its control. The LTTE was also warned of possible further measures, should it not act in response to this message.

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR)

The Action Plan for Children Affected by War signed in 2003 by the government and the LTTE was intended to provide comprehensive support for conflict-affected children and included a framework for the release and reintegration of child soldiers. It provided, among other things, for three transit camps to be set up. However, the centre in Kilinochchi functioned for only a short time and the other two never opened.

In 2004 the transit centre in Kilinochchi was closed due to a lack of commitment on the part of the LTTE to release children as had been agreed in the Action Plan. By the end of 2004 the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, an organization closely linked to the LTTE, completed construction of an educational skills development training centre in Kilinochchi, and while the LTTE made commitments that they would not release children to the centre, it was found that they were doing so. In December 2006 the UN Secretary-General called on the LTTE to release children directly to their families as stipulated in the Action Plan, with adequate information sharing with UNICEF to ensure timely verification.

Developments

At a February 2007 ministerial meeting in Paris, Sri Lanka and 58 other states endorsed the Paris Commitments to protect children from unlawful recruitment or use by armed forces or armed groups and the Paris Principles and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups. The documents reaffirmed international standards and operational principles for protecting and assisting child soldiers and followed a wide-ranging global consultation jointly sponsored by the French government and UNICEF.

The LTTE were listed as a party recruiting and using children in hostilities in the Annex to the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict between 2003 and 2007. The Karuna group was listed for child recruitment and use in 2006 and 2007. (End Text)

- Asian Tribune -

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