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Reuters AlertNet 8/17/07

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At UNICEF, Child Soldiers Counted But Not Reported, Karim like Kony Falls Through Political Crack

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, October 17, updated Oct. 18 -- While the UN system says that the recruitment of child soldiers is one of the worst crimes, for which there should be no impunity, the current system allows one arm of the UN, its children's agency UNICEF, to count a militia leader's child soldiers without passing the information to the enforcement arm, the International Criminal Court. At a UN press conference on Wednesday, UNICEF's deputy director Hilde Johnson said that UNICEF must remain at arm's length from the ICC, otherwise UNICEF's ability to stay in countries and help children would be jeopardized.

   Radhika Coomarswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG-CAAG) said that her Office could be housed in UNICEF, except that if UNICEF veers from humanitarian into advocacy (or in this case criminal justice) work, it could be thrown out of countries. But the reporting, for now, is to the Security Council's Working Group on CAAG, which Ms. Johnson referred to, quite correctly, as the "political track of the UN."  Video here, from Minute 55:04.

            Inner City Press asked about militia leader Peter Karim in the Congo, who took seven UN peacekeepers hostage and, by UNICEF's detailed count, recruited many child soldiers. Now Karim is a colonel in the Congolese Army. What has the Security Council Working Group done about this? Nothing, apparently. As with the ICC indictments of Ahmad Harun in Sudan, and Joseph Kony in Uganda, the exigencies of politics trump the enforcement of most of the ICC's few indictments.

            Ishmael Beah, former child soldier and author, told Inner City Press that sometimes to free children, one has to compromise with the recruiters. Inner City Press asked if he thought Joseph Kony of the Lord's Resistance Army, the highest profile recruiter (or kidnapper) of children, should be arrested. "I am not in favor of anything that would undermine the peace process," Mr. Beah said, blaming this seeming contradiction on things have been let go too far. Video here, from Minute 1:00:10.

Ishmael Beah at UN on October 17, 2007

            UNICEF's executive director Ann M. Veneman was widely listed by the UN Secretariat as attending the press conference, but was said to be in Seattle at the Gates Foundation, where a malaria conference is taking place, click here for more on that from a decidedly partisan but not uninteresting source, and here from a wire service. (We will run or link to UNICEF's response if it is provided or can be found online). Another of the UN funds and programs has repeatedly suggested that Ms. Veneman be asked for UNICEF's position on the jurisdiction of the UN's Ethics Office over UNICEF, and on public disclosure of audits. We've now asked, in writing, noting that Ms. Veneman, who used to be quite available, has seemingly yet to attend a press conference in UN Headquarters this year.

            Ms. Coomarswamy gave a short report on her visit earlier this year to Myanmar, to set up a reporting mechanism. Asked by Inner City Press if the recent crackdown on monks and civil society would undermine the reporting, Ms. Coomarswamy said, with a look of concern, that she is not sure. We'll have more on this.

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Clck here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army.  Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540