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Real legacy of the Arab Spring is the “dramatic” rise in the number of child soldiers

Real legacy of the Arab Spring is the “dramatic” rise in the number of child soldiers, warns the IUNW.

Real legacy of the Arab Spring is the “dramatic” rise in the number of child soldiers

•    Saudi Arabia, Iran and UAE criticised for using child soldier mercenaries in conflicts
•    Call for new international body to pay reparations

The real legacy of the Arab Spring is the “dramatic” rise in the number of child soldiers who are being treated like a commodity of war, contravening international law, warns human rights group.

The group, International United Nations Watch, believe that alongside the proliferation of child soldiers in conflicts, has been a failure of the international community to hold those responsible to account. 

In their latest report, The Case for Child Soldier Reparations, the London based campaign group sets out how the current legislation, which is supposed to protect children from being used as combatants, has failed and recommends the creation of an international reparations body, that can hold those guilty of training, or using child soldiers to account.

“…since 2011, state-failure and civil strife have allowed militias operating in North Africa (Libya) and the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, Yemen) to enlist children en-mass. Other states in the region have facilitated this barbarous practice by recruiting and transporting children on behalf of their allies, as well as by providing weapons and ammunition, engaging in war by proxy,” it says. 

It goes on: “In Yemen, child soldiers were often brought from Sudan, including Darfur, fighting on the ground as mercenaries. The New York Times reported in December 2018 that Riyadh offered impoverished Sudanese families up to $10,000 to send their children to fight in Yemen. The report said that children made up at least 20 per cent - and sometimes 40 per cent - of the Sudanese battalion in Yemen. Many had been brought in from the Darfur region of the west of Sudan, where some 300,000 people were killed and 1.2 million displaced during years of conflict. Such reports were echoed by Al Jazeera in April 2019. ‘I came because they told us we will be working in a kitchen and making 3,000 Saudi Riyals,’ a minor is quoted as saying, suggesting that this practice is prolonged and sustained despite international condemnation.”

The report also highlights how some children have been abducted from their families in one country, then trained and are forced to fight in another.

“For instance, children abducted by ISIL in Iraq, have been transferred to Syria, and then sold, trained and used by armed groups in a number of theatres across the region. The transnational and transborder operation of such armed groups raises the complexity of detecting, investigating, arresting, prosecuting and detaining perpetrators.” 

Emmy Aisha, a Spokesperson for the IUNW commented: “Over the last decade, the phenomenon of child soldiers has changed. Prior to the Arab Spring, the use of minors was largely limited or contained in localised conflicts as we saw in Rwanda and Sudan. This is no longer the case. 

“Young people are being taken from their families in one country, either under the pretext of securing a better life or are simply being abducted. They are then subjected to brutal and inhuman training, before being deployed in other countries as part of armed militias. We see examples of this Syria, Yemen and Libya. 

"In these countries, we have seen child fighters being treated like a commodity, paid for by states including Saudi Arabia, Iran and the UAE, and deployed to fight in a deadly proxy struggle between these powers. This is in direct violation of international law."

The report recognises the legal dilemma when a child soldier is the “perpetrator of violence” as in the case of the US Special Forces Sargent Nathan Ross, who was shot in Afghanistan by a 14-year old boy. But says: “Ultimately, the pertinent question over the last decade is whether child soldiers are first and foremost combatants or first and foremost children.” 

The report’s author’s Professor Joanna Dimopoulou and Dr Dimitrios Tsarapasan conclude that under international law they are children first, “…despite the fact that some of the children have participated in horrendous acts of war, it should not be forgotten that before they were soldiers, they were victims”. 

The report has already won applause from one of the UK’s most respected legal figures. Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who served as Lord Chancellor to both Margaret Thatcher and John Major, commented: “This is a fascinating paper with a clear survey of the difficult area of international law on the protection of children against becoming involved in military and related operations in international, national and proxy related conflict. The difficulty is illustrated by defining what a child in this context means. I commend the conclusion with its recommendations as to possible progress. The terrible extent of the present danger to children worldwide makes this a timely contribution to an approach to a problem for all of us who love the world’s children.”
It concludes by arguing that the use and problem of child soldiers require the international community to take tough action against those responsible for their recruitment and use. It also recommends that the victims are paid reparations and suggests this could be done by expanding the remit and resources of the International Criminal Court, or by creating a new body that would focus on supporting child soldiers. 

Ms Aisha concluded: “Current international laws aimed at deterring the use of children in war are failing. Legally children are prohibited from taking any part in war, yet estimates suggest there are somewhere between 100-250 thousand children and young people being used as combatants or auxiliaries and the problem is getting worse. The trade is being fuelled by rich countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and the UAE who use these kids in the proxy battles across the MENA region. 

“Children and their families are being duped into thinking they are leaving home for a better life, or are being abducted and forced to become soldiers. This appalling practice will not stop without a concerted effort by the international community and this means either empowering the International Criminal Court, or setting up a new organisation that will go after those guilty of exploiting children in this way. This will mean going after both the commanders of the militias or armed forces using them and importantly after the paymasters, be they individuals, groups or states. 

"Importantly, sanctions against the perpetrators must go beyond punishment, but acknowledge the harm suffered and compensate those whose lives have been so massively and immeasurably damaged." 

Notes to Editors
International United Nations Watch (IUNW) is an international platform aiming to support and advance human rights standards, everywhere, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. 

IUNW brings together political campaigners, unionists, and human rights activists to promote, support, and advance human rights standards. That includes both civil and political rights, as well as economic social and cultural rights. 

To this end, the IUNW systematically monitors UN member states to ensure they adhere to standards of rights to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, defined by International Human Rights Law. 

IUNW also monitors UN organs and agencies to ensure that the principles set by the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are upheld and advanced at all times and to the same standard.  

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To read full report, click here.