Uganda

Uganda: The immediate release and protection of child soldiers must be central to ongoing peace talks

"The recruitment or use of children by armed forces and armed groups is a breach of international humanitarian law, a violation of international human rights law and a war crime under international criminal law". Victoria Forbes Adam, Director, International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, Paris Meeting "Free Children from War", 5 and 6 February.

Uganda was among 58 governments which endorsed the text of the "Paris Commitments" at a conference in Paris on 5 and 6 February. The Paris Commitments pledge governments to spare no effort to end the unlawful recruitment and use of children by armed forces or groups.

At the Paris meeting the Uganda Government's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, expressed concern for the plight of children involved in armed conflict. He made a public commitment to comply with the provisions of the Optional Protocol. Uganda has ratified the protocol and set 18 as the minimum age for all military recruitment. The Protocol calls on states to end the use of under-18s in hostilities, sets 18 as the age for conscription into national armed forces and prohibits the recruitment or use of under-18s by armed groups.

12 February marked the fifth anniversary of the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. The Protocol has been ratified by 114 countries including Uganda.

The Uganda Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers has welcomed the Uganda government's commitment to end the recruitment or use of child soldiers and makes the following recommendations to the Ugandan government and the Lords Resistance Army (LRA).

1. Both parties should include former child soldiers, and those who represent them, as participants in the peace process. It is essential that more efforts be made to seek the registration, the release and the reintegration of children involved in the armed conflict. Discussions should be initiated on children's rights and their needs for peace and reconciliation.

2. The LRA leadership must order the immediate and unconditional release of all children from its ranks.

3. A comprehensive Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program should be at the centre of the peace agenda and child soldiers should receive special attention so that their reintegration needs are adequately provided for.

4. The government of Uganda should fulfill its treaty obligations on the care and protection of children by ensuring that former LRA child soldiers are not reintegrated into the national army, but disarmed, demobilized and properly reintegrated into the community.

BACKGROUND

The Paris Commitments define a child associated with an armed force or group as any person below 18 years of age recruited or used in any capacity, including but not limited to boys and girls used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking or has taken a direct part in hostilities.

It is believed that over 25,000 children have been abducted by the LRA in the last two decades. An estimated 1,500 children are still with the LRA while another 10,000 children remain unaccounted for. While the LRA is led by a handful of men, most of its troops are children forced to join its ranks. Young people who are abducted undergo brutal indoctrination rituals at the hands of their captors and are then forced to commit acts of violence, including killing neighbours, other children or even their own parents or relatives, looting, and burning houses. In addition girls have been raped and forced into sexual servitude in the LRA. As a result many of them have become child mothers.

The United People's Defence Force (UPDF) and Local Defence Units (LDUs) have also reportedly recruited and used children and committed sexual abuses against them.

Peace talks between the Uganda government and the LRA and brokered by the Sudanese government are particularly important for children affected by the conflict. If their needs are fully taken into account, former child soldiers should be not only disarmed, but also given an opportunity to receive education, training and psychosocial treatment. Indeed a peaceful society will help to promote the observance of children's' rights for healthy and balanced growth and development.

However, the peace talks currently underway in Juba, Southern Sudan have not yet established a framework where children are protected. The Uganda Coalition to stop the use of Child Soldiers (CSC) urges parties to the conflict, religious and civil society groups, and the international community to take immediate measures to ensure that the protection of war-affected children is central to ongoing peace discussions.

The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers works to prevent the recruitment and use of children as soldiers, to secure their demobilization and to promote their reintegration into society. The International Secretariat is based in London, with regional and national coalitions active throughout the world. The Uganda Coalition, chaired by Concerned Parents Association and hosted by Save the Children in Uganda, has more than 20 national and international member organizations. It has been active since 2003. The Uganda Coalition provides a forum for collecting and sharing information on child soldiers with member organizations and partners. It provides opportunities for members to carry out joint advocacy activities to end the use of child soldiers in Uganda.

For further information please contact: [Sylvia Opinia 0772332353/041532095 - Liaison Officer - Concerned Parents Association-Uganda - National Coordinator-Uganda Coalition to stop the use of child soldiers E-mail:cpauganda@yahoo.com or Daisey Machulezi - Advisor on Child Protection- Save the Children in Uganda - 0772494627, E-mail: d.maculezi@sciug.org ]