|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference to Launch Report on Recruitment, Other Conflict-Related
Violations against Children in Mali
Armed groups recruiting child soldiers in Mali have capitalized on the desperation of impoverished families by offering large sums of money and free education, the author of a civil society report on the situation of children in the conflict-torn African nation said today at Headquarters.
“Children are so small that the uniforms hang off their sleeves, and because they can’t carry their guns, they drag them,” said Layal Sarrouh of Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict ‑ a network of international non-governmental organizations striving to protect children in war zones ‑ at a press conference to launch the report. Introducing “Where are they…?”, the first major publication of its kind since the start of the Mali conflict in January 2012, she noted that children there were suffering grave violations such as recruitment and use by armed groups, rape and sexual violence, killings and maiming, and attacks on schools.
She said four armed groups were implicated in those violations ‑ Ansar Dine, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). Boys as young as seven years old had been recruited by all four groups and used in combat, notably since January 2013, she said, adding that some had been killed and injured. They had also been brainwashed, she said, recalling the words of a community member: “The child I knew yesterday, who played and listened to music, now returns and says ‘Music is haram;… if you kill a miscreant you will have a place in paradise.’”
A statement like that from a child had a significant impact, she continued, noting that most of the schools in northern Mali were now closed. About 200,000 children remaining in the north were unable to receive education, and even among those who had fled in search of learning in the south, 27 per cent could not continue their studies. That was tragic in light of Mali’s recent progress, she said, citing the country’s having attained the Millennium Development Goal on Education in 2009, six years ahead of the deadline. “Much of that hard work has been undone now because of the insecurity and conflict,” she said.
Underlining also the lack of capacity and expertise on the ground, she blamed scarce funding, pointing out that in 2012, the education sector had received a mere 6.4 per cent of the funds required while the child-protection sector had received just 15 per cent. In 2013 so far, both sectors had received about 13 per cent of their needs. In addition, there was a lack of monitoring and documentation, she said, noting in that regard that military actors had an important role to play, including the deployment of a peacekeeping force in Mali, scheduled for next month.
Accompanying Ms. Sarrouh were Ioannis Vrailas, Deputy Head of the European Union delegation to the United Nations, and Frank Williams, Director and United Nations Representative of World Vision International’s New York City office. Mr. Williams said his non-governmental organization had been operating in Mali for more than 30 years. He strongly commended the report, saying it provided strategic and practical suggestions for all stakeholders. It also challenged the United Nations to establish a policy of excluding countries listed on the Secretary-General’s annex on Children and Armed Conflict when forming peacekeeping missions.
World Vision paid particular attention to the critical sectors of child protection, food security and education for children, he said, noting that his staff had completed its first assessment with an exclusive focus on child protection among internally displaced persons at a camp in Mali’s capital, Bamako. The assessment affirmed the findings of the Watchlist report, he added.
Mr. Vrailas said the European Union’s training mission in Mali was now preparing to train a second battalion. The training programme paid specific attention to human rights and international humanitarian law, with a particular focus on gender- and children-related issues. Regarding the prevention of human rights violations, the European Union had agreed to finance human rights observers of the African Union, who would be deployed shortly. In addition, it was financing civil society human rights observers in Mali.
Regarding the reported recruitment and use of children in northern Mali, he said the European Union stood ready to consider options, including financial support for specific programmes aimed at deterring such practices, and addressing the specific needs of former child combatants. Recalling a high-level donor conference held in Brussels on 15 May, he said the total amount pledged exceeded €3.25 billion, with European Union institutions alone announcing €520 million, including €54 million for humanitarian assistance. Together with the Governments of Mali and France, the bloc would be submitting a proposal to establish a follow-up mechanism on the pledges.
Asked about the successful outcome of the donor conference and the seemingly contradictory low rate of pledge fulfilment, Ms. Sarrouh said the donor conference had focused primarily on development work, and the rates cited in the report were based on a consolidated humanitarian appeal, which was a separate funding channel.
Mr. Vrailas added that development activities would eventually have a positive impact on humanitarian work, including child protection.
Asked about the European Union’s position on incorporating listed child-soldier recruiters into United Nations peacekeeping operations, namely Chad, Mr. Vrailas said it would be unfair to single out that country, adding that the issue must be addressed in a more comprehensive manner.
To a question about Chadian troops in Mali having detained children for more than three weeks, Ms. Sarrouh stressed the importance of all forces having standard operating protocols in place because detaining children was not illegal under international law.
Pressed to elaborate on the scope of deployment and training of human rights monitors, Mr. Vrailas said cooperation among all stakeholders was vital in order to avoid duplication because there were never enough monitors.
Ms. Sarrouh added that Malian troops were undergoing training, including a one-hour course on child protection. That was a first step, but there was an urgent need for expansion. Human rights monitors were trained to document human rights violations, but not child-protection violations, she said, stressing the need for advisers with the training to carry out that delicate work.
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