Global Policy Forum

U.N. Voices Concern on Child Soldiers in Somalia

A presidential statement has signaled that the UN Security Council may move to create a new targeted sanctions regime. The regime would target groups committing serious human rights violations against children in conflict. In the meantime, there is evidence that the U.S.-backed Somali transitional government continues to use child soldiers. This evidence has called into question whether U.S. aid to Somalia contravenes international law. Nonetheless, child rights activists hailed the presidential statement as "the first step" to offering greater protection to children in armed conflict. Absent from reports was consideration of the effectiveness and legality of targeted sanctions.



By Jeffrey Gettleman

June 16, 2010


HARGEISA, Somalia - As the United Nations Security Council expressed a "deep concern" on Wednesday over the continued use of child soldiers and a "readiness" to adopt sanctions against individuals who deploy them, an American lawmaker warned that the United States might have broken several laws by providing assistance to the Somali military, which uses children in conflict.

The United Nations lists the Somali government as one of the "most persistent violators" in the world of using child soldiers, and this week The New York Times documented several child soldiers, some as young as 12, toting assault rifles and working for the Somali transitional government in Mogadishu, Somalia's capital.

While the American government has expressed concern about the matter, it has given the Somali military millions of dollars in arms and paid soldiers' salaries. On Wednesday, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said that assistance might violate the Child Soldier Prevention provision of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008; the Durbin-Coburn Child Soldiers Accountability Act; and the Durbin-Coburn Human Rights Enforcement Act.

"I recognize that the Somali Transitional Federal Government is trying to bring some measure of stability to that war-torn country," he wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton dated June 16. "However, it should not do so on the backs of its precious children, and certainly not with the help of the American taxpayer."

Carolyn Vadino, a State Department spokeswoman, said, "We continually press the Transitional Federal Government to make certain that they do not use child soldiers." She also said the American government took "appropriate steps" to verify that the Somali soldiers it was helping pay were 18 or older.

Few young people in Somalia have birth certificates. One American official said the American government had gone as far as asking doctors to look over young Somali recruits before they boarded airplanes to take them outside Somalia for training. But still, the official said, several armed children were seen scampering behind tanks during a recent battle - and they were fighting for the government.

On Wednesday, the Security Council held a long-scheduled meeting on child soldiers and issued a presidential statement expressing its "readiness to adopt targeted and graduated" sanctions against commanders who deploy under-age combatants.

"This is the first step," Radhika Coomaraswamy, the United Nations' special representative for children and armed conflict, said by telephone from New York. "For the last two or three years, the Security Council has not focused on this issue. Now at least they are showing the readiness for sanctions."

Measures are already in place in a limited number of conflicts, as in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But the agreement Wednesday would make it a blanket provision in all the conflicts the Council monitors, said Marco A. Morales, the spokesman for the mission of Mexico, which pushed through the change in its role as this month's Council president.

Several international treaties cover the issue. While the American government has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which presses countries not to deploy soldiers younger than 15, the American government has ratified an optional protocol to that convention eschewing the recruitment and the use of child soldiers.

Also on Wednesday, Somalia's president, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, said he was ordering the army chief "to conduct a full review" on the issue of child soldiers.

He said "the Somali government has not and will not knowingly recruit under-aged youth for the national security forces," and the "president also instructed the army to demobilize any under-age recruits without delay."

Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting from the United Nations.




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