Child Soldiers In Sri Lanka Not A “Closed” Issue
- UN report calls for continued investigations
By Easwaran Rutnam
The Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict recently adopted the ‘Draft Conclusions on the situation of children and armed conflict in Sri Lanka’ thereby removing Sri Lanka from the list of parties, which is found to recruit and use children in conflict.
A statement released by the External Affairs Ministry, and given wide publicity by the local media last month stated that Sri Lanka’s rehabilitation and reintegration of former child combatants and the delisting of the TMVP and the Iniya Bharathi Faction from Annex II (“Naming and Shaming List”) of the annual report of the Secretary- General contributed to this “positive” outcome.
However, in reality the child soldier issue is far from a “closed” issue despite the dossier on Sri Lanka being closed almost four years since the end of the war between the LTTE and the military.
In fact the ‘Draft Conclusions on the situation of children and armed conflict in Sri Lanka’ adopted by the Security Council Working Group in December 2012, stresses on the need for accountability and calls on the government to ensure that those responsible for violations and abuses committed during the armed conflict are held accountable, a part the External Affairs Ministry statement seemed to have conveniently ignored.
The LTTE, the TMVP led by Karuna Amman and later Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan (Pillayan) and Iniya Bharathi, were all once listed by the UN as those responsible for recruiting children for armed combat.
The ‘Draft Conclusions on the situation of children and armed conflict in Sri Lanka’ states that while welcoming the reconciliation process and the establishment of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and noting the presentation of its report, the Government must continue to investigate violations and abuses against children by all parties perpetrated in contravention of applicable national and international law during the armed conflict and also ensure that those responsible for violations and abuses committed during the armed conflict are held accountable.
“Urging the Government to continue to ensure effective implementation of its “zero tolerance” policy on child recruitment, including through continued investigations of each reported case of recruitment by all armed groups, followed by prosecutions of those responsible, and to ensure appropriate follow-up to the report of the National Child Protection Authority on Iniya Bharathi,” the report of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict adds.
Child Soldiers International, formerly The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, is a UK-based non-governmental organization that works to prevent and end the recruitment and use of child soldiers through research and advocacy.
When contacted by The Sunday Leader the Asia Program Manager of Child Soldiers International, Charu Hogg, said that delisting does not mean the UN and other agencies will not continue to monitor Sri Lanka on the child recruitment issue.
“De-listing of Sri Lanka from the UN Secretary General’s annual report on children and armed conflict does not mean the end of monitoring. In their conclusions, the UN Security Council Working Group stressed the need for accountability for violations committed against children during the armed conflict and encouraged the Government to combat impunity through the full investigation of such cases and prosecution of perpetrators,” she said.
Child Soldiers International has serious concerns about the legal framework and procedures for the ‘rehabilitation’ of ‘surrendees’ and children victims of abuse, established in Sri Lanka by two sets of Regulations adopted respectively in September 2006 and December 2008. This legal framework continues to remain in force.
“The treatment of former child soldiers who were under 18 at the time of recruitment but over 18 at the time of their surrender, as detailed by the 2006 Regulations, violates several international obligations to which the Sri Lankan government is bound,” she said.
The government had informed the UN last October that all former LTTE child soldiers who underwent rehabilitation had been freed.
Minister of Plantation Industries and Special Envoy of the President on Human Rights Mahinda Samarasinghe told the third committee of the 67th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York that with regards to the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-combatants, out of approximately 12,000 persons as of 1 October 2012, 10,985 persons, which included 594 LTTE child soldiers had been rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.
“Not a single child combatant remains in rehabilitative care or legal custody,” the Minister had said.
Child Soldiers International is not the only organization calling for accountability on the child soldiers’ issue. Human Rights Watch, a leading human rights group says the government’s failure to prosecute those responsible for child recruitment is an affront to the thousands of victims of child recruitment in Sri Lanka.
“Even though child soldiers are no longer being used in Sri Lanka, the government still has a responsibility to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the recruitment of children during the armed conflict. Not only has the government failed to investigate commanders responsible for recruiting children, it has appointed them to official government positions. To date, no one has been prosecuted for recruiting child soldiers, despite Sri Lanka’s “zero tolerance” policy and repeated appeals by the UN for accountability. In its final conclusions on Sri Lanka, adopted December 21, the Security Council working group again urged the government to investigate child recruitment cases and prosecute those responsible,” Jo Becker, Advocacy Director at the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch told The Sunday Leader.
On its part the Sri Lankan government had however last month assured the Security Council working group that progress was made in the criminal investigations of unresolved cases relating to five children.
The government felt it was unfair to remain listed as a country involved in child recruitment for armed combat purely on the basis of the case involving the five children.
In 2010 the annual report of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had stated that once a party is de-listed, ongoing monitoring and reporting of the situation is required as long as the Secretary-General remains concerned that such violations may recur.
He said the de-listed party must ensure continuous and unhindered access to the United Nations for monitoring and verification of compliance with commitments for a minimum period of one reporting cycle following de-listing, failing which it may be re-listed in the annexes, and the Security Council alerted to the non-compliance.
The US State Department Office of Global Criminal Justice (GCJ), formerly the Office of War Crimes Issues (WCI), led by Ambassador-at-Large Stephen Rapp, had submitted a report on Sri Lanka to the U.S Congress in April last year.
His report also noted that the LLRC recommends full investigations into the conscription of child soldiers by the LTTE and other political parties.
“In instances where there is prima facie evidence of conscription of children as combatants, any such alleged cases should be investigated and offenders must be brought to justice. In this regard, the complaints of alleged recruitment of children by illegal armed groups/groups affiliated with the LTTE or any political party should be investigated with a view to prosecuting the offenders to ensure that the practice would not occur in the future,” Rapp said in his report quoting the LLRC.
During the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Sri Lanka in Geneva last November, Sweden had called on the government to make every effort to ensure that those responsible for crimes against children, and in particularly concerning the recruitment of child soldiers, are brought to justice as soon as possible.
However it must be noted that the recommendation by Sweden was among the 98 recommendations rejected by the government.