Despite progress in Sudan in the past two years in tackling the problem of children in armed conflict, many challenges remain, ranging from reintegrating child soldiers to dealing with youngsters abducted by the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) who have been brainwashed into killing their own parents, a senior United Nations official said today.
On the positive side, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy cited a recent agreement with the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which fought a two-decade-long war with the Government until a peace accord in 2005.
Under the so-called action plan, the SPLA will discharge child soldiers and allow access to its camps to verify implementation, she told a news conference in New York on her return from a week-long visit to Sudan.
“I visited Sudan two years ago and I must say that since then there has been quite a bit of progress,” she said, also citing an acceptance of international standards among a large cross-section of people, a willingness by the Government and rebel groups in the strife-torn Darfur region to talk about an action plan and a Government commitment not to execute children sentenced to death.
She noted that all parties, including the Government, are on the list of those using child soldiers, and during her visit she broached the issues of rape and sexual violence, killing and maiming of children, especially in recent tribal conflicts in the south, targeting of humanitarian workers, denial of humanitarian access and combating of impunity.
“Despite this progress, I must say that of course there is a great deal of challenges that exist, there are still a large number of children that are associated with armed groups,” she said, although she added that she was unable to give specific figures.
Ms. Coomaraswamy underscored the difference between the SPLA and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) factions in Darfur on the one hand, and the LRA on the other, which after being pushed out of Uganda has taken its atrocities to neighbouring Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Central African Republic (CAR).
In the case of the SPLA, for example, most of the children she saw were orphans thrown out by their families or who came to camps for refuge because it was the only institution available.
“As opposed to that, I met LRA children, which if you meet them you will just be shocked, there is no light in the eyes from years of abuse, the marked contrast is really quite remarkable and these children talked to us of terrible abuse, sexual and other,” she said.
Asked about allegations that children abducted by the LRA are required to kill one of their parents as proof that they will participate, she replied. “It is prevalent, it’s the LRA tactic… that’s their trademark… that you have to go and commit an atrocity against your own family, own village… If you meet these children, you can see in their physical being that they have been subject to great abuse and trauma and psychological damage.”
She met six children who had just been brought in. “Both I and my team were horrified by it, by their expression, by their body language. It’s really quite awful,” she said, noting that in other groups some children join voluntarily, but with the LRA they are abducted. “They’re forced to join the LRA and then as children they’re kind of brainwashed,” and threatened if they don not comply, she added.
Asked about the situation in northern Yemen where fighting between the Government and rebels has displaced some 150,000 people, she said there were allegations of large numbers of children being used by both sides, but this was not yet verified. “We are watching the situation in Yemen,” she added.