Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Free the (Women Fighters And) Children?

The UN News Service reports:

Although the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) does not seem to be recruiting children in Uganda, women and children are still present in its ranks, and the rebel group is allegedly enlisting young people from neighbouring countries, according to a United Nations report released today. The LRA, which has fought a civil war with the Ugandan Government since the mid-1980s, became notorious during the conflict for abducting as many as 25,000 children and using them as fighters and porters. The children were often subject to extreme violence shortly after abduction, with many girls allocated to officers in a form of institutional rape. 'Owing to the apparent absence of LRA from Ugandan territory, there have been no recent cases of recruitment and use of Ugandan children, or other grave violations against children attributable to LRA,' Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon writes in a new report to the Security Council. 'However, children and women are still present in the LRA ranks, and there has been no movement on their release,' he adds. In addition, he notes there are reports alleging that the group has been recruiting children from southern Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR).
The detailed UN Report can be read here.

At a glance, I'm wondering: what does Ban Ki-moon think the presence of women in the LRA ranks has to do with the problem of child recruitment? While recruiting children is a war crime, enlisting adult women is not.


hank_F_M said...

I have some doubt that any reform in the LRA extends beyond Public Relations.

But the Secretary General’s concrete first hand example example was:

In one case, three boys from the Sudan and the CAR who escaped from the LRA reported that they had been forced to work for the group as porters.

There is probably a serious child labor issue, but I thought that contract logistics workers, even abducted ones, were civilians not soldiers.

Diodotus said...

You raise an interesting point, so I checked out the language to be sure: does international law ban all use of children in fighting forces, or only their use in combat. The relevant law is the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The LRA would be covered by Article 4(1) which reads:

“Armed groups that are distinct from the armed forces of a State should not, under any circumstances, recruit or use in hostilities persons under the age of 18 years.”

I read this as, not only can you not use in combat, but you can’t recruit children in any capacity. Which makes sense to me, since once associated with a fighting force, they (like other non-combatant soldiers) nonetheless lose civilian status in the sense of becoming legitimate military objectives. So the norm is, you can’t forcibly exposed children to that kind of risk.

But here’s something interesting – the legal standard is actually much looser for states. Articles 1-3 which regulate state conduct only ban the use of children in combat, and regulates (but does not ban entirely) their recruitment. So the treaty locks in a double-standard between states and non-state fighting forces as well.

Full text of the convention can be found here:

hank_F_M said...

Thank you, It does make a sort of sense.

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