Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: No effort should be spared for the children affected by conflict

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Colombo, 11 December 2009 - "Now that the dust is settling in post conflict Sri Lanka, we have to seize all opportunities to help children affected by the conflict to move forward, heal their trauma and resume their precious childhood. Everyone has a role to play," stated General (ret) Patrick Cammaert at a press conference concluding a five-day visit to Sri Lanka. The United Nations Special Envoy of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict was visiting the country to ascertain first hand the impact of the recent conflict on children. He also followed-up on the recommendations of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict including the issue of children associated with armed groups.

During his visit, General Cammaert met with government officials, civil society, UN agencies and NGOs in Colombo as well as with children and their care-givers in Batticaloa and Vavuniya.

"The Government of Sri Lanka is undertaking significant efforts to address the needs of internally displaced children and former child soldiers. However, more can and should be done. The United Nations and its partners are eager to support these efforts and to share their expertise in the best interest of the children concerned," he said as he was presenting the findings of his visit.

The Special Envoy stated the he had been reassured by Attorney General Mohan Peiris that the children formerly associated with armed groups were considered as victims and that they would not to be prosecuted.

General Cammaert spoke to children formerly associated with armed groups and their parents in several rehabilitation centers. He called for the length of their stay in the rehabilitation programs to be balanced with the time that they were in ranks of the armed groups. "A girl who has spent 5 days with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who has lost her siblings and whose mother is sick should be allowed to go back home immediately," he said. According to the Paris Principles and guidelines on child demobilization, the best option for children is the community based approach. "Best practices in other parts of the world show that children recover better from traumatic experiences when living with their loved ones".

The Special Envoy reported that several children declared that they feared re-recruitment in Ampara District. When he also raised concerns about isolated cases of new recruitments in that area, Members of the Government reaffirmed the zero tolerance policy with regard to child soldiering. They committed to continue to take all the necessary measures halt these unlawful practices.

With regard to children who were recruited by the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP), the Special Envoy received the assurance of Chief Minister Santhirakanthaln a.k.a Pillayan as well as Minister Muralidharan a.k.a, Karuna, that they will fully cooperate with the Police to expedite the remaining cases in accordance with the action plan signed with the Government and the UN in December 2008 to halt child recruitment.

General Cammaert also remarked on the potentially significant number of young people who were abducted by armed groups when they were minors and who are now above 18 years of age. He advised the Government of the need for dialogue on a policy that would take into account special needs of these young people who were victimized as children.

The Special Envoy welcomed the increased freedom of movement for the internally displaced population. He commended the ongoing child protection programs for children carried out by the Commissioner-General for rehabilitation in collaboration with the UN. He called on the various stakeholders to continue to pay particular attention to the special needs of the children in the camps and in their places of return including psycho-social support. "The aftermath of the conflict makes children extremely vulnerable," he warned. "Women and girls are particularly vulnerable and preventive measures have to be taken to protect them from any form of abuse such as sexual violence." He further advocated for the establishment of protection focal points and support services in all IDP and surrendee facilities.

"Hundreds of children are still missing or separated from their parents. They must be reunited as soon as possible", stated General Cammaert. He urged the Government to use all necessary means, including granting access to all IDP and surrendee facilities and registration data to UN specialized agencies and other partners such as ICRC and Save the Children. "Their partnership would accelerate family tracing and reunification of the unaccompanied and separated children who are still in the camps and other facilities," he added.

General Cammaert also emphasized that children and their communities need a safe protective environment in the zones of return. "Demining and rebuilding infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, housing and child protection services must be prioritized," he said. He called on the international community to urgently allocate adequate funds for such programs.

The Special Envoy concluded by calling on all Sri Lankans and the international community to recognize that children are the face of peace and should figure largely in community reconciliation efforts.

For further information:

Gordon Weiss Sri Lanka, UN Spokesman, Sri Lanka UN Office of the Resident Coordinator/Humanitarian Coordinator - Mobile: +94 - 773 207.505 - E-mail: weissg@un.org - Landline: +94 - 11.2580691 or 11.4528689 Ext.286

Laurence Gerard, Communications Officer, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) for Children Affected by Armed Conflict, United Nations, New York. Telephone: 1 212 963 0984. Cell phone: +1347-967-8606 - E-mail: gerardl@un.org (accompanying the Special Envoy)

Luca Solimeo, Associate Communication Officer, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children Affected by Armed Conflict - Telephone 1 917-367-3563 - E-mail: solimeo@un.org (in New York)