|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict
on Agreement with Chad to End Use of Child Soldiers
The United Nations envoy on children and armed conflict today commended the Government of Chad for recently signing an agreement with the world body on ending the use of child soldiers in the central African country’s security forces.
Just back from her 12-19 June visit to that country, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, told reporters at a Headquarters press conference that the Government had pledged to release any remaining children within the Chadian National Forces (ANT) and recently integrated armed groups, and to establish mechanisms to monitor and prevent the recruitment and use of children in the future.
The Chadian Government had also agreed that the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other agencies could pay surprise visits to its military facilities, she said. Thus far, some 1,000 children had been released. The 14 June agreement, or action plan, was a significant step towards removing Chad from the Secretary-General’s list of countries involved in child soldiering, drafted in line with Security Council resolution 1379 (2001).
While in the Chadian capitol of N’Djamena, Ms. Coomaraswamy had met with President Idriss Deby and a host of senior ministers. She also had met with staff from UNICEF, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the United Nations country team, all of whom she praised for doing extraordinary work under “such difficult circumstances”. Having met also with local civil society representatives and refugee children in the Iridimi camp, she said “please don’t forget about us” had been a constant refrain.
She said she had been troubled by a conversation with one demobilized young boy, who told her that he was considering rejoining an armed group because now, with no one to fight, he did not have anything to do. With that in mind, she said that her Office, along with UNICEF, would be closely monitoring the Government’s reintegration strategies and would specifically be following up on education and vocational training programmes.
“The real challenge is making sure children are not re-recruited,” she said, adding that the United Nations would also be monitoring “informal” demobilization — the release of child soldiers by rebel groups — to ensure that those children made it to rehabilitation centres and were then returned to their families.
As she travelled through north-eastern Chad, Ms. Coomaraswamy said she had repeatedly asked questions about sexual violence against women and had been warned just as often not to talk too much about it because, apparently to some, abducting women, raping and marrying them was a cultural practice. “This is just appalling,” she told correspondents, noting: “Chad has signed international agreements on this, so there should be zero tolerance.” She planned to report what she had seen and heard to Margot Wallström, the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.
Responding to a related question, she said that while violations against children in the east had decreased, she was still very concerned about the situation in the Chad-Sudan-Central African Republic border region, particularly because the United Nations did not have an official monitoring presence there.
Citing reports that the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) was operating in the tri-border region, she said she was encouraged by the stated commitment of the Chadian Government and the African Union to monitor the region. She added that reports of ongoing child soldiering in the Central African Republic were alarming, and she planned to carry through with her scheduled visit to that country in October for a first-hand assessment of the situation there.
Taking a question about the dire situation of women and children in some regions of Mexico, where that Government was locked in deadly struggle against violent drug cartels, she said that issue was a troubling but difficult one for her and the other special envoys. Indeed, their mandates required them to deal with their respective subjects “as affected by conflict”. That designation implied a State’s obligations under the Geneva Convention, and there were obvious concerns about whether the tenets of that treaty applied in this case. “It’s challenging […] perhaps this is not the correct prism through which this issue should be viewed,” she said, adding that a “war” against drug gangs, as the correspondent had called it, might be considered a criminal procedure matter.
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