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On FSA Child Soldiers, New UN Report Gives More Examples, US Waiver?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 14 -- The UN's new report on Children and Armed Conflict, to be issued as a document of the Security Council under the symbol S/2014/339, has ten paragraphs over three pages about Syria.

  But it does not clear the Free Syrian Army of earlier charges of child soldier recruitment.

   It names as those "recruiting and using children in Syria... several FSA-affiliated groups" as well as the Kurdish YPG, the al Nusra Front, ISIS and Ahrar al-Sham. There are paragraphs on the government, too.

  As to the Free Syrian Army the new UN report states that "most children associated with the FSA-affiliated group, as young as 14 years, indicated that they had received weapons training and 4,000 to 8,000 Syrian pounds pay per month.

   Examples are given; "a 17 year-old boy who joined the al-Murabiteen battalion of the Falloujat Houran FSA brigade in Bosra al-Sham, Dara'a Governate, reportedly received a fifteen-day weapons training in al-Lajat valley close to Bosra al-Sham."

  Also, "In June 2013, two brothers, aged 16 and 17, joined the FSA-affiliated Majd al-Islam brigade in Dara'a, where they cleaned weapons and performed security duties."

  In the report's final paragraph on Syria Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says his Special Representative "engaged with representatives of the Syrian National Coalition on their commitments in relation to the protection of children in armed conflict." But the SNC is not the FSA, and this is not an "action plan." Inner City Press asked questions at an SNC press conference on May 14, here - but this is not resolved.

These advance copies have been known to be changed before "final" release, in a process for which a description, and then proposals for reform, were provided here and then here.

   Back in late January amid reports that the US already provides or is ready to provide aid to armed groups in Syria like the Free Syrian Army (FSA), on January 29 Inner City Press first highlighted and then on January 30 first asked the US Mission to the UN about a finding in the UN's then-unpublished report on Children and Armed Conflict in Syria:

"Throughout the reporting period, the United Nations received consistent reports of recruitment and use of children by FSA-affiliated groups." (Now final, here, Para 12).

  The US has cited the recruitment and use of child soldiers to suspend US aid to armies of governments which had previously been receiving it.  Inner City Press asked, and continues to ask,  how could the US provide aid to a non-state group which even the UN has found using child soldiers?

  On February 13, Inner City Press was able to put this question to the UN's humanitarian chief Valerie Amos.

   Amos said "in terms of recruiting children into armed groups, we see culpability on all the sides to the conflict, and therefore anyone who has any kind of influence with those groups needs to be making it clear that this is not acceptable." Video here, from Minute 10:11.

  On February 14, the following was received from US Mission deputy spokesperson Tony Deaton:

"We are deeply disturbed by the contents of this report and strongly condemn the mistreatment and torture of children in any conflict. We equally condemn the use of child soldiers in Syria and around the world. The use of children in armed conflict is morally reprehensible, and the United States in no way supports or condones this activity. We vet recipients of our assistance to the moderate opposition and work diligently to prevent assistance from falling into the hands of groups that recruit or use children in combat or employ terror tactics."

While we will continue to pursue how the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act applies after the FSA finding in the new  UN report, we appreciated the US response and published it in full.

  On February 4, the UK Mission to the UN provided this response to Inner City Press:

"The UK absolutely condemns the use of child soldiers in all cases, and strongly supports international efforts to stop the use of child soldiers. We urge all parties in the Syrian conflict to release any children held in detention.

"Armed conflict affects millions of lives around the world, and children are among those most vulnerable to the effects of conflict. The only way to secure the long-term future of Syria’s children is to find a political solution to the crisis.

"We have made clear our absolute condemnation of the use of child soldiers. As noted in this report, the use of child soldiers by the opposition is not systematic and is limited to certain elements. We have provided training to the Supreme Military Council of the Syrian opposition on the law of armed conflict, and will continue to work with them to help ensure that they meet their obligations under international law."

    As Inner City Press noted, that might be OK for the United Kingdom -- but what about the US, including in light of the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act, which provides for example:

It is the sense of Congress that—

 (1) the United States Government should condemn the conscription, forced recruitment, or use of children by governments, paramilitaries, or other organizations;

 (2) the United States Government should support and, to the extent practicable, lead efforts to establish and uphold international standards designed to end the abuse of human rights described in paragraph (1);

  There are prohibitions on funding which can only be overridden for formal, public findings in a waiver by the President.

 The earlier report, issued as a document of the UN Security Council under the symbol S/2014/31, went on to recount:

"Boys aged 12 to 17 were trained, armed, and used as combatants or to man checkpoints. For instance, a 15 year-old boy reported being recruited in April 2012 by the FSA in Tall Kalakh (Tartus governate), and participation in military operations.... Also indicative was the case of a 16 year-old boy from Homs who reportedly joined the FSA as a combatant. In March 2013, his family reported to the United Nations that he was still fighting with the group."

  And is this boy still fighting with the FSA? There is more to be said about the new UN report, and the additional specific examples that it gives. What gives? Watch this site.


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