Geneva, 30 April 2015
After four years of dialogue with Geneva Call, the East Kurdistan Defence Forces (YRK) and the Women’s Defence Forces (HPJ)—also known as the Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PJAK)—have signed Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment protecting children in armed conflict. On 25 April 2015, in the Kurdish region of Iraq, a delegation from Geneva Call met with the highest representatives of the YRK–HPJ to formalize this commitment.
Although a de facto bilateral cease-fire has been in effect since 2011, the movement is still militarily active, operational and can call on several thousand combatants. It has been fighting for self-determination for the Kurds in Iran since the late 1990s, and some of its combatants are currently alongside other Kurdish armed groups fighting against Islamic State on Mount Sinjar.
The YRK–HPJ has admitted to having young combatants fighting in its ranks in the past; by signing this commitment it has publicly formalized its current policy of preventing children under 18 years old from taking part in hostilities and of protecting them from the effects of the armed conflict. The YRK–HPJ has activated a provision in the Deed of Commitment: a new category of non-militarily active YRK–HPJ membership will be created; youths aged between 16 and 18 will only be allowed to join this category and solely on a voluntarily basis.
“We will make every effort to ensure that all 16–18-year-olds are separated and kept away from combat zones,” said Aryan Are (HPJ). “We are signing this Deed of Commitment because we believe that the future of our society requires respect for human dignity and educated children, especially in a region where violations of human rights and humanitarian norms are common.”
Elisabeth Decrey Warner, Geneva Call’s president, added, “We are very pleased to have received this commitment today, from a region which is severely affected by armed conflict and violence. Children are particularly at risk during wartime and it is essential to ensure their protection, education and respect for their lives. Such a commitment is certainly a challenge, but we believe joint efforts will help protect them.”
Geneva Call and the YRK–HPJ have already discussed an implementation plan: Geneva Call will monitor YRK–HPJ’s commitment and will provide training, and training material for dissemination, to the movement’s combatants on YRK–HPJ’s obligations. In 2010, the YRK–HPJ also signed the Deed of Commitment banning AP mines, and it is now the sixth Iranian armed non-State actor to prohibit the use of children in hostilities.
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