Thursday, November 24, 2011

Child soldiers: New Somali Government commits to ending child recruitment

UN Office of the SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict

Mogadishu, 23 November 2011- Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, secured a commitment from the Prime Minister and President of Somalia to enter a process to end recruitment and use of children by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Mogadishu today. The SRSG was also able to speak with child escapees from Al-Shabaab as well as with the AMISOM Force Commander.

"Completion of an action plan will ensure that the TFG is child-free," said SRSG Coomaraswamy, "and allow the United Nations to remove the Government from the 'list of shame' of parties that commit grave violations against children."

In Villa Somalia, President Sharif Sheik Ahmed, Prime Minister Dr. Abduli Mohammed Ali, and Minister of Defense Hussein Arab Essa recommitted the TFG to the signing and implementation of a Security Council mandated plan to end the recruitment and use of children by its forces, and pledged to immediately nominate military and civilian focal points within the Government to work with the United Nations towards this end.

In downtown Mogadishu, SRSG Coomaraswamy visited a camp where Al Shabaab defectors and surrendees are held, including some 37 former Al Shabaab child soldiers. There, she met Ismael (name changed), a 16 year old boy who had managed to escape the armed group after being trained as a suicide bomber and crippled by fighting between the Al Shabaab and TFG forces.

"Ismael's case highlights the fact that children associated with Al Shabaab are victims. They must be transferred rapidly to civilian child protection actors, and be separated as soon as possible from adult Al Shabaab ex-combatants in order to begin the transition back to civilian life," said SRSG Coomaraswamy.

The United Nations is currently supporting programmes for the reintegration of children associated with armed forces and groups, and stands ready to provide continued support. These programmes promote rehabilitation of children through counselling, back to school initiatives and skills based training, including family reunification.

The AMISOM Force Commander, Gen. Fred Mugisha, reiterated the force's commitment to protecting civilians, and children in particular, during AMISOM operations. He pledged to continue to provide maximum support for efforts to identify and separate children from the TFG forces, including through the appointment of a child protection advisor in AMISOM.

Ms. Coomaraswamy urged all United Nations partners to work closely with the TFG, AMISOM, and donors to step up prevention of child recruitment and the release and reintegration of children formerly associated with armed forces and groups. "With Mogadishu more secure following the withdrawal of Al Shabaab, the onus is on the international community to assist the Government's efforts toward stability," said SRSG Coomaraswamy.

Both the Somali Government and Al Shabaab are listed in the United Nations Secretary-General's Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict for recruiting and using child soldiers. In accordance with Security Council resolution 1612 (2005), listed parties must sign and implement action plans to end this grave violation or face the possibility of Security Council sanctions. In June of this year, the Security Council expanded the criteria for sanctionable offenses in Somalia to include grave violations against children.

Earlier this week, SRSG Coomaraswamy signed an action plan and secured commitments for the end of recruitment and use of children by the CPJP and UFDR, both rebel groups in the Central African Republic.