5 July 2012
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Action Plan to End Recruitment of Child Soldiers in Myanmar


The action plan signed last week by the United Nations and the Government of Myanmar to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers by that country’s armed forces promised to set the war-torn nation’s children on the right path, the Organization’s senior official on the rights of children in armed conflict said today at a Headquarters press conference.

“I think it was an important and historic occasion,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, who had witnessed the 27 June signing in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar’s capital.  “We hope this will signal a transformation.”

While in Myanmar, Ms. Coomaraswamy had met with the country’s President, the Ministers for Defence and Social Welfare, congressional leaders, United Nations staff, representatives of non-governmental organizations and former child soldiers recruited from Yangon.

The result of five years of negotiation between the Myanmar Government and the United Nations, Ms. Coomaraswamy said the action plan gave Myanmar’s armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw, 18 months to take measurable steps to release and reintegrate children within their ranks and prevent their recruitment in the future, she said.  “This action plan is quite specific,” she added.  “We hope they will stick to this timetable.”

Among other things, the armed forces committed to immediately stopping and preventing the recruitment of children, to releasing and reintegrating underage recruits, with United Nations support, to strengthening recruitment vetting procedures as well as disciplinary action against perpetrators, and to granting the world body unimpeded access to military bases, prisons and other areas to check for the presence of children.

Ms. Coomaraswamy recalled that in 2007, Myanmar officials had established, in partnership with the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Committee for the Prevention of Military Recruitment of Under-aged Children, as well as a complaints system for victims seeking redress.  Those steps had been negotiated under the mandate of Security Council resolution 1612 (2005), which set up the United Nations-led monitoring and reporting mechanism to report on grave violations of children’s rights in situations of armed conflict and asked the Secretary-General to submit an annual list naming parties that committed such violations.  Myanmar’s armed forces and six non-State actors were among those named as recruiting and using children.

Stressing the need to negotiate the release of children from the ranks of non-State actors as part of ceasefire agreements, she called for greater resources and funding for ILO and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) programmes aimed at giving all former child soldiers and their families psychosocial, educational and economic support.

Referring to a similar action plan signed in Rome on 3 July by the United Nations and the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, she expressed hope that it would result in the prompt identification, release and reintegration of children serving in the Somali national armed forces, and that it would also apply to children recruited by the militant group Al-Shabaab.

“We hope that this will lead to the delisting of the Transitional Federal Government at some point,” she said.  The Transitional Federal Government had been on the Secretary-General’s list of parties recruiting and using children since 2007, and as a party killing and maiming them since 2001.  Full compliance with the action plan would result in the Government’s delisting.

Asked whether she had focused on the plight of Rohingya children evacuated from Rakhine, western Myanmar, to neighbouring Bangladesh due to sectarian violence, Ms. Coomaraswamy said she had not specifically looked at that situation, but during her visit, UNICEF had flown personnel there to address issues facing children in camps for the internally displaced.

When asked how the Myanmar authorities’ current detention of United Nations and other aid workers in Rakhine was impacting the Organization’s action plan to end child recruitment, she said the Government had shown “genuine and serious” commitment to being delisted.  Success depended on the ability to eliminate the food and cash incentives that recruiters gave children to join the armed forces.

As for a recent report by the Human Rights Council and other sources, claiming that the Free Syrian Army was recruiting children and using them as human shields, she said she was aware of the reports, adding that the Secretary-General’s June report on Syria cited allegations to that effect.  The United Nations had approached Free Syrian Army leader Colonel Riad Mousa al-Assad, who had denied the allegations.

Asked if the United Nations had spoken with the Government of Syria about its reported torture chambers for children, she said a team sent to the Syrian border to interview children had discovered “a horrible picture of torture” and visible signs of it on the bodies of those interviewed.  The world body had presented that information to the Government in Damascus and its Permanent Mission in New York, which claimed that the allegations were falsified.

On the plight of children allegedly tortured and injured by Government forces in Bahrain, she said the United Nations continued to watch the situation, but had not received many complaints, nor did it have the kind of information needed to approach the Bahraini authorities.

Asked whether the rebel groups Ansar Dine and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) in northern Mali were recruiting child soldiers, she said they clearly were, adding that she had briefed the Security Council on that matter.  United Nations actors, including UNICEF and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, had strengthened monitoring in northern Mali in an effort to establish a clearer picture of the situation.

Responding to a comment about the United States law that ostensibly prohibited aid to Governments that used child soldiers, she said it had been helpful in persuading such Governments to sign action plans with the United Nations.  The Organization was lobbying the Government of Yemen to follow suit, and to ensure that no national army would be recruiting children by 2015, she said.  “I think that’s a goal that’s really achievable.”

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For information media • not an official record