Politically motivated focus on child soldiers said detrimental to peace

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 12 April 2005, 19:41 GMT]
Addressing the 61st Session of UN Commission on Human Rights (CHR 61), Ms. Karen Parker, J.D., a human rights lawyer and chief delegate for International Educational Development - Humanitarian Law Project, an NGO accredited by the United Nations Economic and Social Council, warned Monday that politically motivated focus on child soldiers without genuine consideration for the children themselves is detrimental to peace. Ms. Parker urged the UN Commission to give full support to Sri Lankan peace process facilitated by the Norwegian Government.

Karen Parker, J.D.
Ms. Karen Parker (Library Photo)
Ms. Parker, a San Francisco based attorney, testifies regularly at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva and serves as an expert witness in legal disputes involving the application of armed conflict law.

She has been an advocate for victims of rights abuses including Ugandan refugees, World War II comfort women of Japan, and child slavery in Saudi Arabia. She is responsible, in part, for the evolution of international law in such areas as economic sanctions, weaponry, environment as a human right, and the rights of the disabled.

Parker has long defended the right of the Tamil peoples to self-determination.

Full text of the statemet by Parker follows:

Sixty-first session
Agenda item 13


"International Educational Development/Humanitarian Law Project, because of our emphasis on humanitarian law, has a particular interest in the situation of children affected by armed conflict. We welcome the continued work of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, M. Olara A. Otunnu, and his latest report to this Commission. (E/CN.4/2005/77).

"We have also commented on provisions in the Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child that unfairly discriminate between national armed forces and insurgent armed groups – many of which are functioning in the defense of self-determination. National armed forces are allowed to recruit soldiers who are 16, as long as they are “voluntary” while insurgent armed groups cannot recruit persons under the age of 18 or use them in hostilities – even if voluntary. We consider that these provisions contravene the right to equal rights and equality under the law, and in certain circumstances, have a negative effect on the right to self-determination. We also emphasize that the Geneva Conventions requires full combatant rights and duties for soldiers from age 15.

"We are concerned focusing on child soldiers can be politically motivated without any genuine consideration for the children themselves. For example, there are many accusations that the opposition force in Sri Lanka has recruited children under age 18, but most accusers are silent about child recruitment by the government forces. Key Sri Lankan politicians have themselves commented on this clearly biased approach, including former Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, who in a 1998 address in Parliament stated: “The security forces are campaigning in schools, to encourage 15 year old school children to join the army. When I comment on this, they call me a traitor.” He also pointed out that a government recruitment campaign was launched while Mr. Otunnu was visiting the country.

"Those accusing the LTTE of recruiting below the legal age often fail to address the thousands upon thousands of Tamil children who are victims of war – they have been killed by government attacks on their homes, schools and playgrounds; they have lost their parents and other family members; they are homeless or displaced; they flee the government-controlled areas for Tamil-controlled areas due to abuses. This is a far greater problem in the Tamil areas than the child-soldier one. At present, the Commission can best help these children by giving full support for the peace process undertaken by the parties to the conflict with mediation by the Norwegian government."

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External Links:
: The Karen Parker Archive


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