Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has lauded the fact that all children associated with armed groups in Burundi have been released and united with their families, but noted that a climate of impunity for violators of children’s rights persists.
In April of this year, the last 340 former child soldiers, formerly associated with the Forces Nationales pour la Liberation (FNL) rebel militia, were released and reunited with their families. An additional 40 children associated with the alleged FNL dissidents were then let go in June.
“I am heartened by the fact that as of August 2009, there are no more known cases of children associated with armed groups in Burundi,” Mr. Ban wrote in his latest report on the subject, which covers the period from September 2007 to June 2009.
He stated that the Government, with the assistance of the UN country team in Burundi, the World Bank and partners, should make it a priority to ensure that all children formerly associated with armed groups are fully reintegrated.
In addition, a viable protection and prevention system should be set up to reduce the vulnerability of children to any possible new recruitment or re-recruitment in the small Central African nation, which is recovering from a brutal civil war lasting four decades between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority.
The report also noted that cases of rape and sexual violence, abduction and detention of children, and child recruitment by the FNL increased during the period before the release of all children associated with its forces in April.
Mr. Ban called for a comprehensive strategy to combat sexual violence “that ensures an end to impunity through the prosecution of perpetrators and that takes measures to provide support for girl and boy victims of sexual violence.” This strategy, he added, should be formulated and implemented by the Government with the support of the UN country team.
The Secretary-General urged the relevant authorities to act to redress impunity for crimes against children through the “rigorous and timely” investigation and prosecution of such cases.
In this regard, the Government is urged to ensure that children who are prosecuted for association with armed groups and crimes are treated in accordance with international standards specific to the rights of the child, in particular with regard to the age of criminal responsibility, due process and the principle of deprivation of liberty as a measure of last resort.
Mr. Ban also encouraged the Government to consider the protection of children in the application of transitional justice mechanisms and in all provisions of security sector reform.
In addition, he said the Security Council Working Group on children and armed conflict may wish to consider a visit to Burundi in the coming months to follow up on the progress made in the reintegration process and to establish lessons learned.