Use of child soldiers continues in Myanmar and Burundi, says top UN official

Radhika Coomaraswamy

7 December 2007 – Despite calls to stop the abominable practice, children continue to be recruited and used as child soldiers in Myanmar and Burundi, according to the United Nations envoy for children in armed conflict who has just presented two new reports on the issue.

“The issue of recruitment and use of children continues to be a problem in Myanmar both with regard to the Government and various non-state actors,” stated Radhika Coomaraswamy, who yesterday presented the report of the Secretary-General on the situation of children and armed conflict in Myanmar to the Security Council Working Group dealing with the matter.

Although there has been progress in terms of dialogue with the Myanmar Government and two non-State actors, the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the report notes that “State and non-State actors continue to be implicated in grave child rights violations.”

Ms. Coomaraswamy also raised concerns about the issue of access for UN monitors in Myanmar, stating that “the Government should provide the UN country team with free access to conflict areas and to recruitment centres so that monitoring and reporting can be performed effectively and all the information can be verified.”

Among other issues cited were difficulties with age verification, reports of children convicted and sentenced for desertion, and lack of humanitarian access. “Children are the first to be affected by a humanitarian crisis,” she said. “There is a real urgency for a humanitarian needs assessment in the conflict areas in order to devise proper programmatic responses for the most vulnerable.”

However, she stressed that the efforts of the Working Group and the monitoring and reporting mechanism established by the Council had already led to commitments by some parties to stop the recruitment and use of children.

The Government has adopted directives that explicitly prohibit the recruitment of children under 18 and set up a high-level Committee for the Prevention of Military Recruitment of Underage Children, she noted. The KNU and the KNPP have also signed deeds of commitment that are currently being finalized.

With regard to Burundi, Ms. Coomaraswamy condemned new reported cases of recruitment and use of children by the Forces Nationales de Libération (FNL). She also criticized the attitude of armed groups that have been recruiting children by promising them demobilization benefits for which they were not eligible.

In addition, she deplored the alarming increase of cases of rape and sexual violence in the country, a concern that was also raised by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his recent report on Burundi. “The 80 per cent rise in reported cases show that [the] dawning of peace has unfortunately not heralded a more secure environment for women, boys and girls in Burundi,” she stated.

Ms. Coomaraswamy was pleased to note that the UN system had begun a series of activities together with Government ministries to address this problem, and called for sustained political will and commitment to fight impunity for such crimes.

Mr. Ban’s Executive Representative for Burundi told reporters in New York today that the UN is aware that there are under-age persons among the alleged FNL dissidents, and stressed that the UN is ready, willing and able to take care of those identified as children.

“We have sent that message to the FNL, to the Government, that if there are children among these alleged dissidents, we would be prepared to take care of their needs and they should not be in the camps,” Youssef Mahmoud stated.

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