South Sudan: Warring Parties Break Promises on Child Soldiers

0
Wednesday February 07, 2018 - 20:16:50 in Latest News
  • Visits: 175
  • (Current Rating 0.0/5 Stars) Total Votes: 0
  • 0 0
  • Share via Social Media

    South Sudan: Warring Parties Break Promises on Child Soldiers

    NAIROBI – South Sudanese armed forces and armed opposition groups continue to recruit child soldiers and force them into the conflict, despite numerous commitments to stop, Human Rights Watch said today.

    Share on Twitter Share on facebook Share on Digg Share on Stumbleupon Share on Delicious Share on Google Plus

Women from more than forty South Sudanese womens organizations carry placards during a march through the city to express the frustration and suffering that women and children face in Juba, South Sudan on December 9, 2017.|AFP/Getty Images.
NAIROBI – South Sudanese armed forces and armed opposition groups continue to recruit child soldiers and force them into the conflict, despite numerous commitments to stop, Human Rights Watch said today.
The United Nations, the African Union (AU), the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and their member states should immediately impose and enforce an arms embargo on South Sudan and targeted sanctions against individuals responsible, including President Salva Kiir, rebel leader Riek Machar and all other commanding officers responsible for serious violations of the laws of war. The African Union Commission should speed up the establishment of the proposed Hybrid Court for South Sudan to try the most serious crimes committed during the conflict, Human Rights Watch said.
"The continued recruitment and use of children by the military and opposing armed groups point to the utter impunity that reigns in South Sudan, and the terrible cost of this war on children,” said Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "There’s a chance to reverse the tide if the region follows through on its promise to impose sanctions on individual violators of human rights. A failure to do so would discredit the region’s commitment to stop the abuses in South Sudan.”
On January 27, the IGAD Council of Ministers said it would "take all necessary measures, including targeted sanctions against individual violators and spoilers, such as travel ban, asset freeze and recommend to the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) to carry out further targeted sanctions and other punitive measures on parties and individuals as appropriate.” Following up on this commitment, individuals responsible for the continued use and recruitment of child soldiers should be sanctioned by the IGAD, AU, and UN.
Abducted, detained and forced
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than two dozen current and former child soldiers from the former Western Equatoria and Unity states in South Sudan in November and December 2017. Human Rights Watch found that commanders from both government forces and rebel groups have been abducting, detaining, and forcing children, some as young as 13, into their ranks since the warring parties signed the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS) in August 2015. The parties to the conflict once again promised to demobilize any child recruited or enlisted by their group to UNICEF by the end of January 2018. However, they have not followed through on this commitment.
Many boys said soldiers abducted them from their homes or off the street, detaining them for days or weeks at times in overcrowded containers, sometimes tying them up. Several described harsh training conditions and physical punishments such as lashing and confinement.
"The food was not enough – we had to run, jump, use wooden guns,” said Makuach, a 17-year-old boy recruited by government forces in Unity in 2016. "If you refuse, they punish you by forcing you to stand under the sun, I was tired once and then I was beaten. They poured water over me and beat me with a stick on the buttocks 40 times, until I was bleeding.” As with others interviewed, he is not identified by his real name, for his protection.
Others were forced to commit or witness horrible crimes. "The order was to kill anything we found,” said John, who was recruited by government forces in Unity at 17, about an attack on rebel forces. "Some of us went to loot. Others gang-raped a woman. There were also those who took the children – some of them infants – by their ankles to crush their heads against the trees or any hard thing. And then civilians were taken into a house and the soldiers set it on fire. I saw it.”
Many appeared traumatized from the violence and from being separated from their families; almost all said they missed being at school.
Since the conflict began in December 2013, forces on both sides have reneged on numerous commitments, including in two UN action plans signed by government and rebel forces, to end recruitment and use of child soldiers and other human rights abuses. Despite the August 2015 ARCSS, fighting continued.
The latest ceasefire, signed on December 22, 2017, as part of a process to resuscitate the 2015 peace agreement, has not stopped the fighting nor ended abuses, according to the independent Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM). The monitors have also found that government and rebel forces recruit and use child soldiers.
The civil war has forced nearly four million people from their homes, and has had an acute impact on children. More than 2,300 children have been reported killed or injured, a million are malnourished, two million are out of school and one in ten dies by age 5. In December, UNICEF estimated that more than 19,000 children had been recruited and associated with armed groups since the war started, up from an estimated 16,000 in late 2015.
The new Human Rights Watch findings update a December 2015 report documenting nation-wide recruitment and use of child soldiers since the conflict started. Several of the commanders implicated in that report – including Lt. Gen. Matthew Puljang, a government commander in Unity state – appear to be using child soldiers. Researchers also received credible allegations that commanders loyal to Taban Deng Gai, who became first vice president in July 2016, recruited children in his home region of Unity in recent months. However, South Sudan’s National Security Service (NSS) prevented researchers from traveling to Bentiu to investigate these reports.
The UN documented the use and recruitment of children by all sides in 2016 and 2017. On January 16, 2018, CTSAMM reported evidence of use and recruitment of child soldiers by forces loyal to the government, to Gai, and to Machar, and called on all parties to eradicate the practice and take steps toward demobilization.
International human rights law prohibits the use of children under 18 in hostilities; and enlisting or using children under 15 amounts to a war crime. Yet South Sudan’s leaders have failed to investigate or prosecute any commanders for recruiting child soldiers. Instead, Kiir rewarded some of the commanders suspected of abuses with new positions.
Human Rights Watch documented accounts that on at least three occasions since the parties signed the peace agreement in August 2015, government forces transported large groups of recruits, including children thought by those traveling with them to be as young as 10 or 12, by army cargo plane from Mankien and Kotong, in Unity state, to Luri, an army training camp located outside of Juba near president Kiir’s personal farm. Dozens escaped from there to other locations in Juba. This indicates that the highest command of Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA, South Sudan’s military) must have had knowledge of the recent recruitment in Unity state.
In the Western Equatoria region, Human Rights Watch found that rebel groups forcibly recruited hundreds of children to fight government forces that waged brutal counterinsurgency campaigns in the region. Human Rights Watch interviewed current and former child soldiers recruited by forces overseen by commanders, including Alfred Futuyo, aligned with Machar, and commanders with the South Sudan National Liberation Movement (SSNLM), a rebel group that signed a local peace agreement with the government in April 2016 and whose forces are awaiting reintegration into the SPLA.
More than 400 child soldiers from SSNLM have been identified by UNICEF for their demobilization from the forces. Like all child soldiers, they face social stigma, fear of arrest by government authorities, and significant delays in their education. Some of the boys Human Rights Watch interviewed had missed up to four years of school. International actors should ramp up efforts to release child soldiers, reintegrate them into local communities and provide them access to schooling, in line with the Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups that provide detailed guidance for implementing programs to help child soldiers.
However, to be effective, such efforts need to be accompanied by steps to provide accountability and to end the abuses, Human Rights Watch said. These steps should include an arms embargo to formally ban the flow of weapons into the country.
The AU Commission should also speed up implementation of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, which is to include South Sudanese and other African judges and prosecutors. Following international pressure and a four-month delay, South Sudan’s information minister told journalists in December that the council of ministers would approve the key documents to establish the court, including a draft statute and a memorandum of understanding with the AU. But it is not clear any documents were signed or if draft legislation was submitted to parliament.
Under the original August 2015 agreement, the AU Commission has the authority to establish the court with or without the engagement of the South Sudanese government, and should proceed as necessary for the court to become operational and hold perpetrators to account.
International justice
If a credible, fair, and independent hybrid court is not promptly established, the option of the International Criminal Court (ICC) remains and should be pursued, Human Rights Watch said. As South Sudan is not a party to the ICC, the UN Security Council would need to refer the situation to the court in the absence of a request from the government of South Sudan.
"By repeatedly failing to stop these abuses against children, South Sudan’s leaders have irrevocably damaged yet another generation and need to be held accountable,” Segun said. "Intergovernmental bodies and other countries should press on with individual sanctions, an arms embargo and ramp up pressure to get the hybrid court working.”
- HRW -


Leave a comment

  Tip

  Tip

  Tip

  Tip

  Tip