Children used as child soldiers in South Sudan

NAIROBI, Kenya — The use of child soldiers — teenage boys dressed in military uniforms and carrying assault rifles — is commonplace in South Sudan and will be the subject of U.N. Security Council discussions in September, the top U.N. official for children and armed conflict said. South Sudan has suffered from decades of conflict, and the U.N. official, Leila Zerrougui, said the country had cut down on the use of children in combat until massive violence broke out in December.

Zerrougui said that when she visited the rebel commander David Yau Yau in June, there were child soldiers alongside him when he greeted her. “We are seeing that the ongoing violation against children is a trend and is committed by both sides.”

She also said that the use of child soldiers in Somalia — especially by opposition militias like al-Shabab — is high. She called the practice unacceptable and underscored the need to advocate an end to children in combat.

Human Rights Watch said South Sudan’s government used children in fighting in August in Bentiu and Rubkona. Witnesses told the group that they saw dozens of armed children in military uniform. The group said members of the military and government in Bentiu acknowledged that their forces include children, but those officials said the children have been seeking work.

“South Sudan’s army has returned to a terrible practice, once again throwing children into the battlefields,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Civilian and military leaders should immediately remove all children from their ranks and return them to their families.”

The group said it spoke to a 12-year-old boy who said a government soldier ordered him and other children in Rubkona to shoot at opposition forces. A 14-year-old said he was in battle and lay on the ground “whenever I heard shelling.”

– edited from The Associated Press, August 21, 2014
PeaceMeal Sept/October 2014

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Muslim officials condemn abductions of girls

The abduction in April of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria by the Muslim extremist group Boko Haram is now generating worldwide attention and condemnation. Muslim leaders in various countries have criticized Boko Haram’s leader for using Islamic teachings as his justification for threatening to sell the girls into slavery. Others have focused on what they view as a slow response by Nigeria’s government to the crisis.

Some of the reactions to the crisis:

EGYPT: Religious Endowments Minister Mohammed Mohktar Gomaa said “the actions by Boko Haram are pure terrorism, with no relation to Islam, especially the kidnapping of the girls.”

Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb of the Cairo-based Al-Azhar, one of Sunni Islam’s most prestigious institutions, said the abductions “completely contradict Islam and its principles of tolerance.”

PAKISTAN: Dawn, an English language newspaper, published an opinion piece that takes Nigeria to task for not moving against Boko Haram. “The popular upsurge in Nigeria in the wake of the latest unspeakable atrocity provides some scope for hoping that the state will finally act decisively to obliterate the growing menace,” wrote columnist Mahir Ali.

INDONESIA: In the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, the Jakarta Post published an editorial condemning the Boko Haram leader for “wrongly” citing Islamic teaching as his excuse for selling the abducted girls into slavery. Recalling the Taliban’s shooting of 15-year-old Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai in 2012 because of her outspokenness in defense of girls’ right to an education, the editorial said: “Malala’s message needs to be conveyed to all people who use their power to block children’s access to education. It is saddening that religion is misused to terrorize people and to kill the future leaders of the world.”

– edited from The Associated Press, May 7, 2014
PeaceMeal, May/June 2014

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Historic verdict condemns Congolese warlord

The International Criminal Court at The Hague found Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo guilty of war crimes on March 14 in its first-ever ruling after a decade of work limited largely to Africa. Lubanga, 51, was found guilty of recruiting and deploying child soldiers during a five-year conflict until 2003. An estimated 60,000 people were killed in the violence, part of much wider bloodshed in central Africa.

Lubanga denied all charges. One of his co-accused remains a serving army general in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is an indication of the political limitations on the court. The ICC was set up to provide a permanent forum after ad hoc tribunals were used to prosecute those responsible for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and for the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s.

But the court can work only with the assent of political leaders who refer perpetrators to its judgment. That is the only way to initiate some prosecutions, since countries including Syria, Russia, China and the United States are not a parties to the Rome Statute which created the court in 2002. Reed Brody, counsel for Human Rights Watch, noted, “Those countries with political power and their allies have been shielded from the court.”

Navi Pillay, a former ICC judge, who now heads the U.N. human rights agency and has been a severe critic of leaders in Syria, Sudan and elsewhere, stressed that the Lubanga verdict was a “major milestone in the fight against impunity. Two decades ago, international justice was an empty threat,” she said. “Since then a great deal has been achieved.”

At The Hague, ICC Presiding Judge Adrian Fulford said in reading the court’s historic first judgment that the prosecution had proved beyond reasonable doubt that Lubanga was guilty of conscripting and enlisting boys and girls under the age of 15 years. Children were forced into camps where they were placed under harsh training and brutally punished. Soldiers and army commanders under Lubanga’s authority used girls as domestic workers and subjected them to rape and other sexual violence. He could face up to life imprisonment, although an appeal can be filed within 30 days.

George Mukundi of the South Africa-based Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, said of the Lubanga verdict: “What we Africans are saying is, yes, it’s useful and good ... But we would also like to see justice done ... in other cases around the world.”

As one example, governments and rights groups level war crimes accusations against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for cracking down on protesters. The U.N. estimates that some 9,000 Syrians have died in violence since an uprising against Assad began a year ago. U.N. officials and independent rights groups have amassed evidence from refugees of deliberate killings of civilian demonstrators by Syrian forces and of mass torture. But the ICC cannot act because of political deadlock among major powers on the U.N. Security Council.

Among those sought by the ICC is Uganda's Joseph Kony, whose Lord’s Resistance Army led a 20-year reign of terror, employing child soldiers and hacking limbs off victims. Now believed to be in hiding in a neighboring state, he made headlines in March after a YouTube video by an American filmmaker became a social media sensation, winning celebrity endorsements for Uganda and its U.S. ally to do more to capture the elusive Kony.

– edited from Reuters, March 14, 2012
PeaceMeal, March/April 2012

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Satellite project gives peace a better chance in Sudan

The Satellite Sentinel Project is a new human rights initiative that may be the stuff of which peace is made. Its mission is “to prevent the crime of genocide worldwide through effective early warning and cooperation with victimized peoples to carry out non-violent prevention initiatives.” For the first time in history, SSP intends to provide peace groups with the capacity to monitor active and potential war zones via commercial satellites. The brainchild of actor and director George Clooney, the goal of the Satellite Sentinel Project is nothing less than to help stop wars and war crimes in their bloody tracks. It is an unprecedented effort led by Not on Our Watch, an advocacy group of leading Hollywood figures, and the anti-genocide Enough Project of the Center for American Progress. Partners also include the United Nations, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Google.

The Sentinel Project’s satellites are currently monitoring the border area between North Sudan and oil-rich South Sudan, which have been engaged in an intermittent civil war for 50 years. An uneasy truce has prevailed since 2005, but a January referendum in South Sudan to secede from the north held the potential for further war. In the referendum, over 99 percent of all voters cast ballots in favor of independence.

Border villages in the south reportedly have been bombed, though the north has denied responsibility. This situation underscores the potential value of independent groups being able to provide pictures of the smoking guns. The satellites will also be able to document such features of war as burned villages, masses of people fleeing and movements of troops and tanks.

“We want to let potential perpetrators of genocide and other war crimes know that we’re watching, the world is watching,” Clooney said in a prepared statement. “War criminals thrive in the dark. It’s a lot harder to commit mass atrocities in the glare of the media spotlight.

“This is the first time satellites have been deployed to deter rather than merely document war crimes,” according to Jonathan Hutson, communications director of the Enough Project. “Prospective war criminals are on notice that we can, for example, detect fresh mass graves from 480 miles up and alert the world in a matter of hours.”

This may be a historic moment for peacemaking. And it could help give peace a chance in Sudan.


– edited from an article by Frederick Clarkson of the Progressive Media Project, affiliated with The Progressive magazine
PeaceMeal, March/April 2010

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Sudan signs ceasefire deal with main Darfur rebels

DOHA/KHARTOUM – Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir officially signed a ceasefire deal February 23 with Darfur’s most powerful rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, that is intended to lead to a broader peace pact. Khartoum will offer the JEM government posts and integrate them into Sudan’s army as part of a future peace deal to end fighting in western Sudan, according to documents setting out the terms of negotiations. The documents signed in Doha, capital of Qatar, were the first concrete sign that the government of Sudan is prepared to share power with its bitter foe in Darfur — a development that could alienate existing allies there and complicate preparations for elections in April. Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, whose country sponsored talks leading to the deal, said Qatar would contribute $1 billion to a fund to reconstruct Sudan.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s press office issued a statement welcoming the deal, saying it was “an important step toward an inclusive and comprehensive peace agreement for Darfur, which will address the underlying causes of the conflict and the concerns of all Darfurian communities.”

On February 20, President Bashir canceled death sentences handed out to more than 100 men accused of taking part in a 2008 JEM attack on Khartoum, the capital, and promised to free 30 percent of them “immediately.” Nevertheless, the signing was clouded by a JEM allegation that they had been attacked by government forces just the day before. Sudan’s army denied being involved in any clashes with the JEM and the rebel report was not confirmed by independent sources.

The initial framework included a promise to reach a final peace agreement by March 15, in advance of the elections. That deadline, considered unrealistic, has passed. JEM’s negotiator Ahmed Tugud said his group would push for a delay in elections, and both the JEM and other rebels say elections would be a farce if held amid conflict. Other rebels, chief among them the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) led by Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, rejected the peace framework altogether.

The United Nations estimates that as many as 300,000 people have died since the JEM and the SLA began a revolt in Darfur in 2003, accusing Khartoum of neglecting the region. Khartoum rejects that figure.

– edited from Reuters, February 23, 2010
PeaceMeal, March/April 2010

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Cracking down on ‘conflict minerals’

The deadliest conflict since World War II, in which 5.4 million people have died and 200,000 women have been raped, rages far from Iraq and Afghanistan. It is in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where murderous militias are battling for control of valuable minerals such as tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold — minerals essential to the worldwide production of consumer electronics. Congolese, in other words, are dying in extraordinary numbers for our cellphones and video games, digital cameras and laptop computers.

Most consumers are unaware that these gadgets often have their beginnings in Congo’s torment. Not only are militia-controlled mines the cause of continuing warfare, but they are hellish places to work. Much of the mining is done by local villagers forced into labor against their will — and, in some cases, by enslaved children — with few or no safety measures or precautions taken.

The international community has imposed a series of arms embargoes and sanctions in an effort to weaken the militias; the U.N. Security Council recently extended its embargo. High-powered weapons, however, remain readily available, and violence is undiminished. It’s time to turn to the businesses that profit from Congo’s “conflict minerals” and to figure out a way — as was done with conflict diamonds — that they can certify which mines in Congo are operating legally and safely. A handful of companies have voluntarily begun to research and take steps on the issue, including Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel Corp., Dell Inc. and Motorola Inc. They deserve encouragement, but individual corporate efforts are not a sufficient substitute for national policy.

Two bills pending in Congress could start the process. A House bill is aimed at the middlemen — the smelters — that receive raw minerals from Congo and neighboring countries they’re routed through. Under the bill, smelters — most of which are located in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia — would have to agree to be audited in order to export to the U.S. And after two years of auditing, they would have to certify whether their products contain conflict minerals. A Senate bill would require publicly traded companies to disclose the origins of the minerals they use and, if the source is Congo or a neighboring country, the name of the mine.

Both bills raise questions, such as who would do the auditing and how the certification process would work. But the fact that legislation is pending in Washington already has put pressure on mine officials in Africa, according to human rights activists. It won’t be easy, but certifying minerals as “conflict free” can be done. We did it with diamonds. We can do it with minerals, too.

This Los Angeles Times editorial was published December 15, 2009.
– PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2010

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Sudan’s young endure ‘unspeakable’ abuse

Children in Sudan are press-ganged, coerced to join armed groups, raped and used as forced labor or sex slaves, according to a new report compiled by six humanitarian groups. The report, “Sudan’s Children at a Crossroads,” concentrates mainly on Darfur, where a conflict has been raging for four years, and southern Sudan, emerging from 20 years of war.

“Children in Sudan continue to endure some of the most inhumane treatment found anywhere in the world,” according to Kathleen Hunt, chair of the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict. “Despite the end of the war in the south and recent signs of hope for a strengthened peacekeeping force in Darfur, many Sudanese children are not faring any better than they were four years ago,” Hunt said.

In Darfur, most rebel and militia groups recruit children, including the pro-government Arab militias known as the Janjaweed, the rebel Justice and Equality Movement, and the Sudan Liberation Army. Sudan’s government armed forces have also recently incorporated children from other armed groups into its ranks

While reports of rape and maiming are prevalent in Darfur, Sudanese girls from other areas have been forced into prostitution or into domestic service in and out of Sudan. Boys as young as 4 or 5 years old “have been trafficked to Arab Gulf countries to work as camel jockeys and beggars,” Watchlist said.

Education is also a horror in many parts of the country, with the south having the lowest rate in the world of only 25 percent of youth in school. Some children walk for two hours to school and untrained teachers work for low or no pay.

Francis Mading Deng, a former Sudanese foreign minister, U.N. envoy for displaced people, and now a professor at Johns Hopkins University, said that children and civilians could only be spared through a political solution to the ongoing conflict.

– edited from Reuters Limited
PeaceMeal, July/August 2007

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UN warns of Darfur catastrophe

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called the conflict in Darfur the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. An estimated 400,000 people have been killed since the current conflict began, and at least 2 million others displaced from their homes. The refugees are now having spill-over effects on neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic as well.

The crisis in Darfur is the most violent and bloody period in a long history of turbulent relations between three African nations – Chad, Libya, and Sudan, which have fought more than 40 years for control over the central Sahara and the savanna grasslands in the greater Chad basin. There are also ethnic (Arab/non-Arab) and sectarian (Muslim/Christian) aspects to the conflict.

The current violence broke out in February 2003, when rebels from minority tribes took up arms to demand an equal share of national resources. This prompted a heavy-handed crackdown by the government in Khartoum and the Janjaweed militia.

The new United Nations humanitarian chief, John Holmes, has warned of the “crying need” for political action to bring peace to Sudan’s Darfur region. In a report to the U.N. Security Council, Mr. Holmes said it was time for politicians and concerned leaders in Sudan to stop playing “protracted games with each other, with little or no thought to the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens, whom the international community meanwhile keeps alive.”

Mr. Holmes warned that the poor security situation was putting at risk efforts to help the population, even with 13,000 aid workers now operating in the region. “Despite its scale and success in sustaining millions and saving literally hundreds of thousands of lives, the Darfur humanitarian operation is increasingly fragile,” Holmes said, in the light of recent attacks on aid workers. “If things do not get better, or if there were more serious incidents involving humanitarian workers, some organizations could start to withdraw and the operation could start to unravel. Then we could face a rapid humanitarian catastrophe ....”

Holmes told the Security Council that aid workers had been “physically and verbally abused, offices and residences raided and personal belongings stolen.” He blamed both government forces and rebels for violations of international law and widespread human rights abuses.

“Meanwhile, politicization and militarization of [refugee] camps have become a fact of life, creating a future time bomb just waiting to go off,” he warned.

The Sudan government has rejected pressure for a U.N. peacekeeping force to end the bloodshed in Darfur. It has allowed in weak African Union peacekeeping troops, five of whom were killed April 1 by unknown gunmen. A top A.U. official said they “can no longer cope with the dangers in Darfur” without the help of U.N. troops.

– edited from a U.N. Press Release, Media With Conscience, The Associated Press and Sudan Tribune
PeaceMeal, March/April 2007

Save Darfur is an alliance of over 100 faith-based, humanitarian and human rights organizations:

PlanUSA provides emergency aid for Sudanese children. See: and search for “Darfur”.

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Darfur’s fleeting moment

by Anthony Lake and Francis Fukuyama

Washington – For three years, despite the official rhetoric and the growing public support for bold international action to end the first genocide of the 21st century, Darfur has largely remained a neglected tragedy. Until now. With the signing of a peace agreement in Nigeria on May 5, Darfur, in western Sudan, faces a new and more hopeful prospect. Although two of the main rebel groups did not sign the accord, the Sudanese government and the largest insurgent faction did.But as recent fighting between the rebel factions makes painfully clear, this significant achievement is only a window of opportunity that could close soon, leaving Darfur still more gravely afflicted. If the agreement does not quickly produce tangible progress toward peace, including protection for Darfur’s people from both the government-backed janjaweed militia and the rebels, more than diplomatic momentum will be lost. Deepened anger and despair could provide fertile ground for the seeds of military conflict and even terrorism, as demonstrated by Al Qaeda’s recent threat to take jihad to Sudan.

The United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution on May 16 supporting the peace agreement and created a team to prepare for a peacekeeping mission that will take over from the African Union force in Darfur. President Bush’s support of the peace process deserves applause, as does Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick’s leadership at the negotiating table. To seize the moment, the Bush administration should go beyond calling for urgency at the United Nations in planning a peacekeeping force. It should also give the government of Sudan a brief time in which to accept such a force. Sudan has said it would do so once there was a peace agreement, but has waffled in recent statements. It must be held to its words.

Mr. Bush should now get ready the logistics, intelligence, and headquarters assistance that the United States could provide to such a force. Showing we are prepared to act quickly should help persuade the United Nations to move smartly itself.

President Bush could also join President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, who was instrumental in pushing through the peace agreement, in personally soliciting pledges of troops for a United Nations force. And Washington should make it clear that if Sudan refuses to accept a United Nations force, we will press NATO to act even without the consent of the Sudanese government — including a no-flight zone to ground the Sudanese aircraft that have provided support to the murderous janjaweed.

Recent sanctions by the United States and the United Nations against four Sudanese men involved in the genocide are a step in the right direction, far more expansive measures should be taken against the high-level propagators of genocide based in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, if they block a U.N. force. Beyond multilateral sanctions, the United States could work with countries where Sudanese officials have assets or hope to travel to impose penalties on them.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis grows more desperate. As the needs grow, money to meet them has dwindled. The World Food Program is cutting daily rations to Darfurian refugees in half — to a dangerous 1,050 calories a day. UNICEF is being forced to scale back its operations, including its nutritional programs for children. The president has asked Congress to increase food aid to Sudan by $225 million. That request must be put on a fast track.

At the United Nations World Summit meeting last September, the United States and other participating governments agreed that the international community has a responsibility to protect innocent civilians when a government is unwilling or unable to do so. A failure of international will has allowed Darfur to bleed into another year of rape, slaughter, and starvation. Only strong leadership and resolute action can save lives before this moment of hope is lost.

The many Americans who have voiced their outrage at the dithering of the international community should and can act as well as speak — by contributing to humanitarian organizations like UNICEF, the International Rescue Committee, and Doctors Without Borders.

Anthony Lake, a professor at Georgetown University, was a national security adviser to President Bill Clinton. Francis Fukuyama, a professor of international political economy at Johns Hopkins, is the author of “America at the Crossroads.” Their op-ed contribution is edited from The New York Times, May 21, 2006.

– PeaceMeal, May/June 2006

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