UNITED NATIONS, Sept 26 – States and armed groups that refuse to stop recruiting child soldiers must be subject to tougher pressure in the form of sanctions, France’s ambassador for human rights has said.
Francois Zimeray will make that case on Monday at a meeting at the United Nations on the sidelines of the General Assembly, which will focus on follow-up to a 2007 Paris conference on ways to end the use of child soldiers.
A UN Security Council working group on child soldiers has envisioned tighter political sanctions on those countries blacklisted for committing grave violations with respect to the use of children in armed conflict.
But the process is bogged down in red tape, and makes implementation difficult.
“We are going to ask that the sanctions mechanism be simplified to step up the pressure on the combatants, so that it can be made more effective. Right now, it’s ridiculously complex,” Zimeray told AFP in an interview.
The French envoy however noted that the system is not useless.
“It has a real deterrent effect — no country wants to be on that blacklist,” he said in New York ahead of Monday’s meeting.
“We are regularly recording demobilizations of child soldiers, battalion by battalion, and that is due to the fear of sanctions.”
Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Uganda are all on the blacklist for past or present offenses.
Along with political sanctions, the threat of legal action via the International Court of Justice is another means of bringing violators in line, Zimeray says.
“After 80 missions as ambassador for human rights, I can say that even the most hardened combatants begin to comprehend the very real prospect of being tried in an international court — even those who fear nothing,” he said.
So far, about 100 countries have signed on to the commitment to end the practice of recruiting child soldiers that was reached at the 2007 Paris conference.
“We’re working to see these principles become universal, and we should reach the 100-country mark this year,” Zimeray said.
Among the latest nations to commit are Angola, the Comoros, Costa Rica and Kuwait.
China, Russia and Pakistan have so far refused to sign on.
“Resistance can be attributed to several factors: some do not want children involved in suicide attacks to be seen as child soldiers,” Zimeray said, while others see any commitment as unwanted interference in their internal affairs.
France’s foreign ministry funds several operations aimed at demobilizing child soldiers forced to fight and helping those youths return to normal life.
“In Africa’s Great Lakes region, we have cooperation attaches in place who specialize in devising policies geared toward the demobilization of child soldiers,” Zimeray said.
Such policies include training for soldiers and officials in the tenets of humanitarian law and human rights, he added.
“The right of a child to his or her childhood must be established and enforced, as must the clear, unequivocal idea that the recruitment of children for military ends is a war crime,” the French envoy said.
He cited Uganda as a recent success story, and said Sri Lanka had made real progress in reintroducing former child soldiers into regular society.
“On the ground in Myanmar, Colombia, Sri Lanka and DR Congo, there are different approaches,” he said, highlighting the usefulness of the exchange of “best practices” between nations.
The UN estimates there are 250,000 child soldiers around the world.