Use of child soldiers by rebels in Syria widespread: more evidence, inadequate response

December 9, 2012 — 8 Comments

Since the start of our campaign to stop the use of child soldiers by the Syrian rebels – prompted by the images of the child at the massacre of Saraqeb – we have unearthed further disturbing evidence suggesting the use of child soldiers is widespread amongst rebel groups. It also appears that communications equipment provided by the US and UK governments to help Syrian “activists” is being used by jihadi groups to publicise their abuses and show off how they have brainwashed children.

Here is video from a rebel media channel in Deir ez-Zor which illustrates the point succinctly. The video has been translated by MEMRI (an Israeli body) – we have confirmed the accuracy of the translation. The boy is shown as digging his own grave as he has been persuaded to engage in a martyrdom operation:

Eretz Zen, has put together a video montage here:

Here is another video from a rebel media outlet of a boy in al-Bukamal, Deir ez-Zor pledging to fight to the death:

From watching footage from rebel media it is clear some rebels are making a special effort to bring very young, impressionable children to their sectarian, jihadi ideology. It is highly regrettable that governments such as those of the US, UK, France, Germany, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have chosen to support the Sunni extremist insurgency with training, money, equipment and arms. That millions of dollars can be found to provide war criminals with ‘communications equipment,’ but no money is apparently available to prevent the use of child soldiers, is a scandal.

New York-based Human Rights Watch have now published some of the information they have gathered on the use of child soldiers by US-backed forces in Syria. They state:

Countries financing or supplying arms to opposition groups should urge the FSA to prohibit the use of those under 18 for military purposes, whether as active combatants or in support roles.

(It is worth comparing this response from Human Rights Watch, which is a member of the so-called ‘R2P’ coalition, to their stance on Joseph Kony where they called forThe arrest of LRA leaders,” the deployment of “well-trained, capable troops,” and the use of “military special forces or specially trained police units.”)

The truth is the FSA have been ‘urged’ on numerous occasions to end this practice and they have made commitments – and just as quickly broken them. As the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria said in a report (quoted by HRW) it

“note[d] with concern reports that children under 18 are fighting and performing auxiliary roles for anti-Government armed groups.” It added that, “The commission received assurances from Colonel Riad al-Asaad that an FSA policy not to use children in combat is in place. There is evidence to suggest, however, that this policy is not uniformly being adhered to by the FSA and other anti-Government armed groups.”

Indeed, the video evidence suggests that the battalion bringing the child onto the battlefield at Saraqeb is the Liwa’ Dir3 al-Jabal (Mountain Shield Battalion) which was formed as part of the “Free Syrian Army” in May 2012, explicitly under the leadership of Riad al-Asaad:

We note that UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake has issued a statement to the effect that:

Following reports by Human Rights Watch and others this week that Syrian children are being killed and maimed by cluster bombs and used as fighters and guards” UNICEF “renews its plea to all parties in this conflict that children be protected at all times.

“It is more than disturbing – it is outrageous and unacceptable to see the rights of children being violated in these ways… The longer this goes on, the more lasting the damage to children, to their future and thus the future of Syria itself.”

Hear, hear to that. But why do we hear so little condemnation of the western countries who have organised an opposition council which has as its unifying principle that there will be no more cease fires and no negotiations?

We are pleased that the UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict is now intending to monitor the use of child solders by the rebels, which should lead to this matter being considered by the UN Security Council – a consideration which can not come soon enough in our opinion.

But the question many people will want answered is – what on earth is any country doing ‘financing or supplying arms to opposition groups’ that use child soldiers (not to mention executing prisoners, using terrorist tactics, urging sectarianism and genocide, kidnapping and murdering civilians)?

Although many countries have laws against the use of child soldiers and this matter is subject to UN Security Council resolutions western political leaders, who appear to occupy a different moral universe to ‘normal’ people, are at odds with public opinion on this issue.

President Obama has (for the third year in a row) issued a memo under which all sanctions imposed under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 will be waived – in this case for Libya, South Sudan, and Yemen, and portions of the law’s requirements will be lifted for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Memo of Justification for this waiver does not appear to have been released to the public but Obama has a right to issue a waiver in the ‘national interest’. What ‘national interest’ can justify the US providing weapons to countries which use child soldiers?

It is important that people demand of their representatives, their governments and the UN Security Council that absolutely no support should be given to either States or non-State parties who use child soldiers and that an end be put to the pervasive practice of allowing the so-called ‘national interest’ to trump human rights.

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