Tuesday, March 13, 2012

South Sudan: South Sudan’s army signs pact with UN to release all children in its ranks

SPLA troops in South Sudan. Photo: IRIN/Hannah McNeish

UN - 12 March 2012 –
The Sudanese People’s Liberation Army of South Sudan (SPLA) today signed an agreement with the United Nations renewing its commitment to release all children within its ranks.

Since 2005, the SPLA has been listed on the UN Secretary-General’s list of parties to conflict who recruit and use children. Although the action plan represents a renewal of commitments made in 2009, the SPLA, as a national army, is signing for the first time. The agreement also requires that all militias that are being incorporated into the SPLA are child-free.

“This is an important day for South Sudan – the world’s newest country. Not only does this action plan ensure the Government’s commitment that the SPLA will have no children within its ranks, but all armed groups who have accepted amnesty with the Government must also release their children,” said the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy.

“For this agreement to make a real difference for children, implementation is a must,” she added in her remarks at the signing ceremony in Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

The agreement – known as the ‘action plan’ – ensures that a transparent system is in place for disciplinary action against those in command who recruit children within the SPLA. It also improves communication among commanders to make sure that the practice of child recruitment is halted and responsibility for child protection is understood on all levels.

“This is an excellent example of the newest nation’s army moving in the right direction concerning the protection and well-being of children in South Sudan,” said Yasmin Ali Haque, Representative of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in the country. “The next step is to ensure that the reintegration of these children is successful and sustainable,” she added.

The agreement, which also institutionalizes child protection within the SPLA, was signed by the Ministry of Defense, the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), UNICEF and Ms. Coomaraswamy, who arrived in the country today.

During her visit the Special Representative will travel to Jonglei state, where she hopes to meet with the Lou Nuer and Murle communities to discuss child protection issues, including child soldiers and child abduction.

Meanwhile, Jonglei just began the process of civilian disarmament today, with UNMISS stating that it will provide support by collecting weapons held illegally and monitoring developments in the region.

“The widespread possession, and use, of illegal weapons by the communities and the proliferation of small arms constitutes a significant threat to peace and security in South Sudan, and is seriously exacerbating inter-communal violence in Jonglei,” said the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of UNMISS, Hilde F. Johnson.

UNMISS, which will have both its peacekeepers and civilian teams present in Jonglei to monitor developments, stressed in a news release that the disarmament process will only be successful if it is carried out as part of a comprehensive approach to peace, justice and reconciliation, and includes protection of the communities by security forces.

“UNMISS will support a peaceful civilian disarmament process which involves communities voluntarily giving up their illegal weapons following sensitization from local community leaders and government officials,” Ms. Johnson said, adding that the mission was encouraged by the Government’s strategy.

“It is now critical that all stakeholders cooperate to make sure that the strategy is implemented as intended,” she added.

UNMISS urged community leaders, Government officials and security forces to do their utmost to ensure that the disarmament process happens in an orderly and safe manner, with respect for basic human rights.

Ms. Johnson also reiterated her call on Government authorities and communities in Jonglei to show a commitment to peace. “I urge the communities to work with the peace committee for Jonglei to bring an end to the violence. A proactive reconciliation process and peaceful disarmament is the only way forward to maintain peace and security for the people of the area.”

Deadly clashes between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities in late December and early January displaced tens of thousands of civilians in Jonglei and prompted UN agencies to launch a major humanitarian operation to assist those in need.