Rebel and government forces in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Liberia and Somalia are among those named in a new report by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan that lists conflict areas where children are used as soldiers.
In addition to the four African countries, the report lists Afghanistan as a country where certain factions employ child soldiers. All of the 23 parties named are involved in situations currently on the agenda of the Security Council.
The report also highlights other conflicts not on the Council's agenda - including Colombia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Sudan, northern Uganda and Sri Lanka - where children are recruited and used as combatants, as well as conflicts that have recently ended - Angola, Kosovo, Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau - where demobilization and/or reintegration programmes for child combatants are under way.
Mr. Annan points to "impressive gains" in the global legal regime for children, with the entry into force this year of two landmark treaties. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict sets an age limit of 18 years for compulsory recruitment and direct participation in hostilities, and requires States parties to raise the minimum age for voluntary recruitment to at least 16. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court classifies conscription, enlistment or use in hostilities of children below the age of 15 as a war crime in both international and internal armed conflicts.
"The entry into force of these two legal instruments strengthens the international framework for the protection of children in situations of armed conflict," Mr. Annan writes. "The challenge today is in ensuring their implementation on the ground."
Part of the implementation effort, the Secretary-General says, is the published list of violators, which he calls "an important step forward in our efforts to induce compliance by parties to conflict with international child protection obligations."
Echoing this view, Olara A. Otunnu, Mr. Annan's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, said the report breaks new ground. "For the first time in an official report to the Security Council, those who violate standards for the protection of war-affected children have been specifically named and listed," he told a press briefing in New York.
Mr. Otunnu stressed that the list was not significant for its comprehensiveness but rather for the political signal which it sends. "It is the thin end of a wedge, but a particular, fundamental and important wedge which is being put in place, which can then be expanded."