Children and Armed Conflict: Sri Lanka, a Case in Point

Jun 5, 2007

There are now 250,000-300,000 child soldiers, deployed in 20 countries across three continents. Allan Rock discusses the UN's efforts to change this, with special reference to Sri Lanka.

Introduction JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs. On behalf of the Carnegie Council, I would like to thank you all for joining me this morning.

Today, it is a very special pleasure for me to welcome back a friend of the Carnegie Council and a very good friend of mine, Allan Rock. He will be discussing "Children and Armed Conflict: Sri Lanka, a Case in Point."

For some time now in distant parts of the world, a new weapon in warfare has emerged. It is about four feet tall, readily available, easily manipulated, intensely loyal, fearless, and in endless supply. Some would say that the child soldier is a perfect weapon, as it is trained to kill anyone, anytime, on command.

The increasing involvement of child soldiers in many of the world's conflict-affected regions is one of the most distressing phenomena of the late 20th century. It is an important area of concern for human-rights advocates, global security, and the families of these young victims. The impact of armed conflict on children, if they survive, and the trauma they endure is long-lasting and is abhorrent.

For over 23 years, in one of the world's ongoing but often forgotten wars, the government of Sri Lanka has been fighting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in an effort to thwart their desire for an independent homeland for the island's Tamil minority in the north and east. Many thousands have been killed. Yet it is the large number of children who have been abducted from their families or forcibly recruited and marched into battle that is the subject of our discussion this morning.

Allan Rock was not a career Foreign Service officer when, in 2003, he was asked to serve as the Canadian ambassador to the UN. Rather, he was a politician who had served as a cabinet minister in three different posts. At various times, he held the positions of Canadian Minister of Industry, the Minister of Health, and the Minister of Justice.

Prior to entering public service, he had a distinguished career in law and was known as a champion of unpopular causes who never let the prevailing opinion divert him from the course he believed was right.

So in November of last year, when our speaker was sent on a 10-day fact-finding mission to Sri Lanka at the request of Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN's Under-Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, he was neither intimidated nor felt compromised to report on the information that he would find.

What he discovered was alarming. Having been profoundly moved by the information revealed to him about the use of children in this conflict, he used his eloquence and persuasive skills to write about what he had unearthed. He submitted a final report to the UN Security Council's Working Group on Children in Armed Conflict in February of this year. Once again demonstrating his humanity, and this time his concern for the welfare of the children in war, Allan has lent his voice and his capacity for problem solving to an issue that urgently needs to be addressed.

Now I ask that you please join me in giving a very warm welcome to a lawyer-turned-politician and, later, diplomat, who left a legacy of service and wisdom when he left the UN, my friend, Allan Rock.

Remarks ALLAN ROCK: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Good morning.

When Debbie and I lived in New York, we were frequent attendees at these breakfasts and always found them delightful. But one of the things I truly enjoyed was the quality of Joanne's introductions—never so much as now, when I am the subject thereof. Very thoughtfully said.

I was taken aback to hear myself described as a champion of unpopular causes in politics. I guess, in a way, that's true. In fact, I was in politics until I, myself, became an unpopular cause and was unable to persuade people from that view. [Laughter]

I very much enjoyed my time here. The best aspect of that was the friendships that Debbie and I made. I am so delighted to see so many friends here this morning. Thank you for coming. It's a pleasure to see you again.

My time in New York at the United Nations had great personal meaning for me as well. There is a deep family connection with the United Nations. My father spent his working life in the Canadian army. In the late 1950s, he was sent to the Middle East as one of the Canadian contributions to the UN emergency force, the very first peacekeeping force established by the United Nations. The peacekeeping concept was introduced by Canadian Lester Pearson, who at that time was our foreign minister. For his contribution, Lester Pearson was given the Nobel Peace Prize and became prime minister of Canada. My father spent 14 months in the Sinai Peninsula and was promoted to staff sergeant. [Laughter] But he was not complaining. In fact, he regarded that period as one of the most satisfying of his career.

The UN emblem was a familiar sight in our home. At least to me, it always signified courage and commitment and service. So I was especially honored to represent Canada at the United Nations.

The challenges faced by my father's generation, in large measure, are still with us, and not just, of course, in the Middle East. The struggle continues, through the United Nations and in other fora, to find common ground among conflicting parties, to bring peace to troubled regions, and to reconcile different views.

But many things have changed since my father served—including in many ways, the nature of warfare itself. Wars are now fought primarily within states rather than between them. One of the sad consequences of that is that civilians are by far the most common casualties of contemporary warfare. It is estimated that 90 percent of war's casualties today are civilians, and predominantly children and women.

If you go the website of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, you will learn that since 1990, some 2 million children have died in conflict, 6 million have been left disabled, and every year an estimated 8,000 children die from landmines. Children are vulnerable in armed conflict not just because they are in the line of fire. Massive displacement disrupts millions of young lives. They suffer the trauma of loss. They are cut off from access to education and training, let alone basic nutrition, health care, personal security. The lawlessness engendered by the conflict facilitates crimes like trafficking and abduction and sexual violence.

One of the most insidious ways in which children are victimized in conflict is through their recruitment as child soldiers. As we sit here this morning, between 250,000 and 300,000 children are actively deployed in 20 countries, in conflicts waging on three continents. Up to 40 percent of those child soldiers are girl children.

Now, in this sense, the word "recruitment" sounds benign. While it's true that some of these children volunteer, one has to ask about the nature of that decision when made by a boy or a girl of 12 or 13 or 14 years of age. They are often forced to make choices that no child should have to make. What is clear is that children are easily intimidated, easily manipulated, especially if they are reeling from the upheaval of displacement.

It is also clear that children are of enormous value to the warlord or to the rebel chief or to the army commander. Canadian General Roméo Dallaire has been quoted as saying that there is no more fearsome or efficient killing machine than a committed 14-year-old with an AK-47.

So what has been done about all of this? What collective action have we taken in the face of this tragedy? Actually, quite a bit. Over the last 17 years, there has been a steady chronology of progress in establishing and enforcing international norms of conduct with respect to children and armed conflict.

It began in 1990, with the World Summit on Children that really put a spotlight on so many of these issues. In 1996, the United Nations received the report of Graça Machel, former education minister in Mozambique, who wrote insightfully about the whole of the issue. That led to the creation, in 1997, of the post of Special Representative for the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, a senior position that would apply its attention continuously to all aspects of this issue.

In 1998, the Security Council conducted its first thematic debate—that is to say, a debate not relating to a specific country or conflict, but rather to a broad theme. It was about children and armed conflict.

In 1998, the Rome Statute was adopted, supported at the time by 120 countries, creating the International Criminal Court and providing that one of the war crimes it could prosecute was the enlistment and deployment of children under the age of 15.

In the year 2000, there was the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that was agreed. That set 18 as the minimum age for mandatory enlistment by government or any enlistment by other armed groups.

Meanwhile, during this same period, the Security Council was developing "Children and Armed Conflict" as a theme and doing so, I think, with great success. Some of the highlights included the resolution in 2001 which called upon the Secretary-General not only to give annual reports with respect to children and armed conflict, but also to name the countries or name the groups that were enlisting and using children, where those countries were already on the agenda of the Security Council. The Secretary-General then began the practice of making an annual report and having two lists, a list of countries that were on the agenda of the Security Council where children were being recruited and used, and a second list, or Annex II, of those countries that were not on the Security Council's agenda, but where this was happening, and naming the armed groups that were responsible in that regard.

The Security Council, in 2005, adopted a resolution which called for monitoring and reporting of these activities, so that there would be reliable evidence in real time about them, and created a working group composed of all of its members to meet regularly and consider these cases.

During this period, the issue of children and armed conflict, and child soldiers, moved from being a humanitarian concern to being a security concern. As the Security Council, and the United Nations generally, recognized, we are not just talking here about something that is a moral imperative, but we are speaking about activities and effects upon children that have grave implications for peace and security. How can you rebuild a country from conflict if you don't start with the children, if you don't demobilize and disarm them and pay them the attention they need as victims of trauma and of terrible violence?

The Secretary-General reported that in some areas of the world, particularly in the Great Lakes region of Africa, child soldiers have become a security concern because the issue migrates. There are mercenary children now moving from one conflict in one country to another, being used by warlords, as Joanne pointed out, as an enormous asset in the violent conflict. I have seen for myself in Uganda and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Burundi, indeed in Haiti, how hopeless is the task of reconstructing a country from conflict or overcoming the effects of violence unless we start with the children, unless we pay attention particularly to the effect of conflict on them.

During this period, the Security Council also mainstreamed the issue. It stopped being just a peripheral or special interest and it became centralized as a preoccupation which was reflected in resolutions dealing with country situations. When the Security Council created a peacekeeping force, it talked about the responsibility of the country team toward children. It included child-protection officers on country teams where UN missions were dispatched.

The other thing that happened is that the Office of the SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] for Children and Armed Conflict became much more centrally linked and networked in the UN system and now occupies an enormously influential position, reporting to the working group—which is, in effect, the Security Council—bringing frequent, timely, periodic, and reliable reports with respect to what is going on on the ground, and providing the Security Council with information upon which to make decisions.

Let me illustrate how those norms and procedures come to life in the situation of Sri Lanka.

Just a few words of background. As I am sure you are aware, that beautiful country has been afflicted now for 24 years by a violent conflict, as the Tamil population, or the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam], claim their own homeland, particularly in the north and the east of Sri Lanka. The conflict has been very deadly. It is estimated that 65,000 people have died since 1983. Of course, that tragedy was compounded by the 2004 tsunami, which took an additional 30,000, 35,000 lives. It is estimated that there are 1 million people displaced in Sri Lanka at the moment, out of a total population of 20 million, caused by, predominantly, the war, but also by the effects of the tsunami.

There are three parties to the conflict at present: the government of Sri Lanka, which, through its armed forces, is trying to respond to the LTTE; the LTTE itself, with fighters in the field; and, since 2004, a third actor, which split off from the LTTE and is a pro-government militia called the Karuna faction. The Karuna faction is active in the eastern districts of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is not on the agenda of the Security Council. So in recent years, the Secretary-General has made his report to the Security Council with respect to children and armed conflict, and has always included on his second annex reference to the LTTE as an armed group which is actively recruiting or abducting children and using them in the armed conflict. UNICEF estimates that since 2001, when it began keeping records, the LTTE has abducted or recruited 18,000 children for service in the armed conflict. Last year, the Secretary-General also listed the Karuna faction as an armed group on Annex II that recruits and uses children.

In February of 2002, there was a ceasefire that was negotiated in Sri Lanka. It was followed by a period of hope. We began to think that perhaps this awful conflict would come to an end. Efforts were made to negotiate a peace agreement, but they failed. During that hopeful period, the LTTE entered into an action plan with respect to children, promising to stop recruiting them and to release those within their ranks.

In the years following, 2004 and 2005, the ceasefire frayed, conflict returned, and late last year, I was asked by the Office of the SRSG to visit Sri Lanka on a fact-finding mission—a field trip, if you will—to look at what is happening on the ground in the aftermath of the action plan. It should be stressed that the government of Sri Lanka agreed to my visit, cooperated in every way, facilitated and enabled my travel in government-controlled areas, approved my terms of reference. So I was able to visit all parts of the country, those controlled by the government and those under the military control of the LTTE. We went from Colombo to the eastern districts, to the central north, and then to the Jaffna Peninsula, meeting with military and police, with international and domestic NGOs, civil society, affected families of children who had been abducted. I traveled with child-protection officers from UNICEF and with a representative of the government.

It was clear from all the sources that we met with that Tamil children were being recruited, abducted, and deployed in military operations by both the LTTE and by the Karuna faction.

The LTTE was not respecting its undertakings in the 2003 action plan. In areas that it controlled, it operated, of course, with impunity, politicizing the school programs and agendas with propaganda, organizing civil defense training that was, in effect, a form of enlistment for the children that were trained, and abducting adults as well as children, both in areas they controlled and beyond, for service as Tigers.

The LTTE was clearly deploying these children in battle. When we visited Jaffna, the military commander showed us photographs from the aftermath of a battle that took place there last August 11, depicting hundreds of casualties, most of whom were clearly young girls.

I met with the leadership of the LTTE in Kilinochi. They repeated their promises of the past that they would stop recruiting, that they would release children from within their ranks. They promised to negotiate a mechanism in that regard with UNICEF. Although some have been released, clearly all have not. The abduction and the recruitment continues.

I met with the political leadership of the Karuna faction. They, too, provided assurances, issued written policies forbidding recruitment and use of children. But the evidence is clear that they continue in this path.

The Karuna faction is based in an area of the country that is controlled militarily by the government. They have been seen to drive past army checkpoints with abducted children in their vans. They take the children to training camps that are within government-controlled areas. Witnesses have described how some of the government security forces have facilitated, and sometimes participated in, the abduction of the children. The conclusion was inescapable, based upon all of the evidence, that at least some of the government security forces were implicated in these activities by the pro-government Karuna militia faction.

I reported all of this to the president before I left Sri Lanka. Among other things, His Excellency President Rajapaksa expressed surprise and shock at the suggestion that some elements of the government security forces might be involved in this conduct, and he undertook to conduct an investigation.

I returned and reported to the SRSG and then to the working group. A few weeks ago, the working group of the Security Council issued its statement condemning the activities, calling upon the LTTE to stop, and, as a repeat offender, warning it that if it did not, further steps may be taken, which opens the door to the possibility of sanctions against the LTTE; calling upon Karuna to stop its activities, and upon the government of Sri Lanka to fulfill its commitments, including the undertaking to investigate the allegations.

So the process of surveillance and of monitoring, of reporting and response, calling for action, with the threat of sanctions—that is how the system worked in the case of Sri Lanka. It seems to me that what is terribly important now is to ensure follow-through. It seems to me that for the credibility of the system, in order to bring the words of the policy to life and make them truly meaningful, what is needed now is sustained attention and appropriate response, through action by the Security Council, as time goes by.

I suppose more than anything else, it's important for us to always remember that we are speaking here not about just abstract concepts or policies in theory. We are speaking about an enormous human tragedy that takes an incalculable toll on parents, on families, and on the children themselves.

Imagine the heartbreaking dilemma of the Tamil family in the eastern part of Sri Lanka that is confronted with a demand by the LTTE or by the Karuna faction to give up one of their children for the struggle. Imagine the dilemma they face—the fear and the threats if they refuse, or the guilt and the sadness if they agree.

Imagine the parents who told us that, one child having been taken by one of the militias, the other militia comes by and asks for its child. Imagine the helplessness of the parents who complain that their child has been taken, but receive no response. The police and the military—only 10 percent even speak Tamil. What we were told is that such complaints are rarely, if ever, followed up on.

Imagine the desperation of the parents living in those circumstances.

We were told of a woman who was caught by neighbors before she implemented her plan of poisoning her entire family so that they could escape from the horror. We were told of a mother who sold one of her three children for 10,000 rupees so she would have some money to get the others moved away from the district.

I met a woman who brought to the meeting her 11-year-old daughter. This woman was disabled. Her son, who was 14 years old, had been taken by the Karuna faction, but he had escaped. In reprisal, the militia had taken her husband and would not release him until the son came back. The husband was the only support for the family. The woman was with her 11-year-old, having sent her 13- and 16-year-old daughters away to work as domestics. She had no idea how she was going to support herself or look after her 11-year-old in the circumstances.

Imagine the fear on the part of the children themselves. In Uganda, where 30,000 children have been abducted and forced into the most appalling violence by madmen called the Lord's Resistance Army over the last 20 years, there arose the phenomenon of the "night commuters." The night commuters are children who would leave the displacement camps or leave the places where they lived with their parents and stream into the center of towns to stay together overnight, thinking it was safer and they would be less likely to be abducted. The night commuters were sometimes 40,000-strong, as they streamed out of the countryside every night, sometimes walking many kilometers, and in the morning streaming back to their homes. Imagine the fear that they lived with.

So these are not just words on paper. These are human beings living in the agony of desperation, helplessness, and fear. What is important is for us to continue the momentum of international legislation and enforcement of that legislation, establishing norms and making sure they are respected, working collectively, with the authority of the United Nations, the efficiency of all of its agencies in the field, and with the power of the Security Council, to do something about this awful tragedy.

We should be doing more about the flow of small arms and light weapons, these automatic weapons that flow in such number and with such ease across borders, to fuel and permit these conflicts.

Those of us with diverse populations should pay attention to what is happening in the diaspora. Canada is a very good example. We have between 300,000 and 400,000 Canadians of Sri Lankan heritage, many of whom live in the Greater Toronto Area. It has been reported in the past that the diaspora in Canada has been called upon to supply money to the LTTE. We should be certain that the diaspora in Canada knows where that money is going, the purposes to which it is being put, and that our expectations are that no Canadian will support that kind of activity.

Finally, we should be paying more attention, in terms of policy and action, to rehabilitating the youngsters who survive these traumatic horrors. How can we rebuild the peace in some of these areas unless we confront the trauma that these children have lived through and provide them with counseling to help them overcome the past and prepare for a productive future?

So there is a great deal of work to do. A good foundation has been laid, but obviously the problem is of significant dimensions and will require our continuing attention.

With that, I thank you for your attention. I look forward to your questions and comments.
Questions and Answers JOANNE MYERS: I know when you left the UN, you said that you that hoped to be involved in issues such as these. I am glad that you are and I hope you continue.

Thank you very much for your presentation.

Most of the civilized countries of the world don't deal with children as soldiers. So we are dealing with rebel groups, for the most part, guerilla groups, in countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia. How do you really enforce UN norms against groups that really don't have any legal status? You are really just kind of foraging here. You are looking somehow to get those things enforced, but they are not going to listen to you. The civilized countries will do it. You have a bigger problem than I think you have stated.

First of all, there are circumstances that have been documented where governments themselves are enlisting, recruiting, and using children in their armed forces. So it's not just the armed groups. But I agree with you that predominantly it is the non-state armed groups that we are talking about here.

I think what we have to do is, as we have been doing, create the legislative framework, name and shame, draw international attention to these groups. After all, many of them depend upon or aspire to support internationally for their freedom-fighting cause. If they can be shown for what they are, if we can draw attention to their misconduct, we can undermine them politically. I think that helps.

Increasing awareness, increasing civil action and civil response to these tragedies will put them in the spotlight and make them very uncomfortable.

I hope, as I said, we can cut off the supply of money to them. Many of these groups depend on their diaspora for financial support around the world.

Coming back to Canada, Human Rights Watch did a study of the diaspora of Sri Lanka in Canada and found that millions of dollars were flowing every year from Toronto to the field for the Tamil Tigers. Sometimes that was elicited through extortion: "If you don't give us money, we know where your family is in Sri Lanka." But often it was done voluntarily and enthusiastically. So we have to cut that off.

Finally, the Security Council has available to it sanctions that it can impose. The LTTE is a perfect example. We have now named and shamed them. We have now caught them disrespecting their commitments. We have chapter and verse, and photographic evidence. The Security Council has received that and has given them a warning and stressed that further action may be taken. So the next step, it seems to me, respectfully, is an arms embargo—find out where their arms are coming from and cut them off; an asset freeze—so if they are getting money, let's find out where it is and stop it, freeze it; travel bans, so that no one associated with the leadership of LTTE can move beyond Sri Lanka.

I think it requires concerted and focused international action in all of those respects. But an important first step is raising awareness. That's why this morning is such a welcome opportunity, from my perspective.

QUESTION: Why doesn't the UN make the abduction and recruitment and the use of children a crime against humanity and set up a special force to enforce it, bring them to justice, and prosecute them?

I mentioned the Rome Statute in 1998. The nations of the world came together to create an International Criminal Court, so that we would try to bring impunity to an end, so that no warlord, no military commander could commit crimes like this and get away with it. In fact, the International Criminal Court, as constituted, has jurisdiction to institute proceedings against someone and to try to punish someone if they are convicted of recruiting and using as soldiers children below the age of 15.

So it is a war crime under international law. It is contrary to customary and statutory international law. It's against the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It's against the Geneva Conventions. There is ample legal basis already for doing something about it.

So with respect, I don't think the answer is necessarily to create a new crime. It already is a crime. I think the answer is to find a practical way to do something about it. I think you are right in suggesting that the UN is the proper forum—the only organization with universal membership, global reach, already a framework in place, a sophisticated monitoring and reporting system that is country-specific, and the authority to act where it is given the evidence to do so.

The legislation is there. The authority is there. The network to gather information is there. What is needed now, as I mentioned, is the follow-through. I think we have every right to expect that the Security Council will act the next time it deals with the LTTE.

QUESTION: By sheer coincidence, I happened to hear Sebastian Junger speak last night about his experience in Nigeria, with photographs.

How could anybody not agree with what you are saying? But in his interviews with whatever we call these people, they justify everything in their claims towards freedom. The government is so unbelievably corrupt. It's just such a dispiriting tale.

I wish you luck. I am just citing Nigeria as an example of horrifying consequences.

All of the efforts here and elsewhere against the recruitment and use of children are made in the name of a principle, and that principle is, warfare and conflict aside, freedom struggles and liberation efforts aside, that there are some global and universal norms that we must respect, regardless of the cause and regardless of the merits. One of those norms is, you don't use children in this way. I think that is inherent in our shared humanity. So whatever the merits of any particular struggle, that principle stands, I think, aside.

I'm not saying it's meritorious. I'm saying that they create their own merit—that's the point—to justify this.

I understood, and I am not attributing that to you. I am just saying, to those who would argue that it is justified for any reason, it seems to me that it can't be.

QUESTION: I have two questions.

One is, when children are to be released from an armed group, UNICEF at the moment is insisting that they be released to their parents. In many cases, the children have left their families because of abuse and have looked to the only other place that they can go safely, which is the armed group. I am wondering why UNICEF can't put the resources into coming up with alternatives.

Second, international law, according to the Optional Protocol, raises a difference between armed groups and the government. The armed groups can't recruit anybody, for any reason, under 18. On the other hand, in a place like the east of Sri Lanka, where—in other words, the justification is that there is no hinterland; there is no safe place for these children to be trained and taken care of the way there is in a state.

A few years ago, in the east of Sri Lanka, there was a hinterland, essentially. UNICEF went and talked to the LTTE and the Karuna group and so on and said, "Here we are in the numbers game. For each child, you have to go and find their address and release them to their family. Here is the number of children that you have recruited. We need to get them all off this list." That's fine. They had a hinterland. They had an area that they controlled. They had a bureaucracy, that sort of thing.

Now they have none of that. UNICEF is still going and saying, "Every single child, you have to go and"—I don't even know if UNICEF is in contact with them in the east at the moment.
How can they go and treat them both as an armed group in one sense and as a state in another sense?

ALLAN ROCK: May I deal with the very good point you raise about what you do with the released child? I think there are two reasons why UNICEF asks that they be given back to their families. The first is, when I was in Batticaloa, I met many, many families who would have been delighted to have their children back that very day—ready to receive them, ready to bring them back into the family and help them overcome what they had been through.

The second reason is, what the LTTE has been doing in the so-called release of the child is, they take it from the military wing of the LTTE and put it into a parallel wing called the ESDC, or the Education and Skills Development Center, which is, for all intents and purposes, a political front for the LTTE. So they move them from the Tamil Tigers to a parallel organization and hold them there, still under their control. That is not release.

UNICEF's point is that that has to stop. True release is giving the child its freedom to return to its family. In those circumstances, which are not unusual in a country that is at war, where the family can't be found or the child can't be returned, then the government should find a way to help with the rehabilitation of that child. These children are Sri Lankan children.

In my time in Sri Lanka, I met with the minister responsible for creating a rehabilitation program. He seemed sincerely committed to putting money and expertise into the capacity to receive young people and to rehabilitate them.

We are not there yet, obviously, but surely that is right in concept. We offered any help we could to the government in terms of creating such capacity.

I think UNICEF's point is, we don't want a sham release; we want a real release. The ideal is to have the child go back to its family. If that can't be done, then something should be undertaken to help and rehabilitate that child.

QUESTION: What is the value of a governmental guarantee when you speak with Sri Lanka, when the one with whom you spoke is shocked or surprised that all this is happening, and besides, they have no control over the rebels or their ostensible allies? Can the government guarantee anything?

ALLAN ROCK: I took the president at his word, of course. I think perhaps the best response to your question is to say that we must be vigilant to ensure that the investigation which he undertook to start and which Sri Lanka's representative undertook to conduct when he appeared before the Security Council with me in February—that that investigation is actually carried out in a credible, vigorous way. So far as I know, the record discloses that to this moment that has not been done. But we have to keep pressure on the government to get it to do so.

The government is engaged in a war. The circumstances are most difficult. The environment in Sri Lanka at the moment is highly dangerous. There are grave concerns about human rights and about the capacity of the state to provide order. But in this instance, the international community has a legitimate basis for expressing its concern and expectation that the government will get to the bottom of these allegations, which are based on facts that have been furnished to them, and that they will do something about it.

While I am on the topic, I think we should also stress to all parties in that conflict that they should abandon the thought that there can be a military solution to this 24-year-old conflict. Surely the time is long past for us to work in support of the government of Sri Lanka and the other parties toward a solution of one kind or another which is arrived at without additional conflict. This is just going to lead to more tragedy, more deaths, and no solution. So I think that is another message we should be sending to Sri Lanka.

I have actually spent some time working in an orphanage in Sri Lanka, in Trincomalee, that has some children from the LTTE. What I was wondering is, as you are looking for ways to help children become reestablished, even if they are not with their families, have you considering finding alternative groups with the Tamils? The Tamils, as you know, don't exactly trust the government. If you did that, you would be setting up a group of recognized people who are alternative to the LTTE, since there really isn't another political party for the Tamils.

The Karuna faction has its own political wing. They provide a political party as well.

But I take your point. It's difficult, though, for us in the international community to walk into the society and create a structure or create alternatives for them. It seems to me that the emphasis must be on persuading the parties that this is not going to end well militarily, that we have to find a political solution. If we can do that by supporting alternatives, peaceable alternatives, then so much the better. I think we should be alert to those opportunities.

QUESTION: You said the International Criminal Court has put 15 as the minimum age and that is the custom with international law. The Rome Statute is 15 and the Optional Protocol for the armed groups is 18. So what is the law, customary international law, 15 or 18?

The other question is—I welcome your suggestion that we should not get involved in the conflict, but we have to ensure that basic norms are respected. But then you started to talk about that we support the Sri Lankan government. Then I think you are meddling in the conflict, and that might undermine your impartiality.

ALLAN ROCK: On your first point, to oversimplify, the Convention on the Rights of the Child deals with an international standard or norm, a preferred practice, and countries voluntarily adopt that standard and agree to implement it in their own legislation. Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its protocol, no government can have a draft or forced conscription for children below the age of 18, and no armed group can take in kids under 18 in any way. That is the international standard.

The consequences for violating that in international law involve, eventually, I suppose, at its highest, some Security Council sanction against the country for not respecting that law. There may be domestic consequences because they are not complying with their own legislation.

The International Criminal Court is not civil or just a norm of conduct; it has criminal effect. If you are taking someone under the age of 15 and putting them into battle, you are liable to be indicated, charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced in an International Criminal Court, with a penal sanction for what you have done.

Because of the relatively larger gravity of the consequence in the criminal context, the age is 15. They are drawing that line there for criminal conduct. They can put you in jail for life.

There are two people now before the court, one from DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo], and Charles Taylor is the other, from Liberia, who are charged with these offenses. They face long periods of imprisonment. That is the criminal context.

In the civil context, the international practice is 18. Should they be the same? Ideally. But that is the world we are living in.

On your second point, I am not suggesting that we get behind one side or the other in the Sri Lankan conflict. What I am saying is that we should call upon the government to meet its responsibilities as the government of the country. We should call upon the government to get to the bottom of allegations that some of its own security forces are complicit in abducting children. We should call upon all the parties to stop it and get to a table, and facilitate their getting to a table, so we can have a rational solution instead of another three decades of violence and destruction.

QUESTION: I just wondered if you had any suggestions about NGOs that are effective in this issue.

Yes. We were enormously impressed by the courage and the capability of NGOs in the field in Sri Lanka, as I have been throughout the world. Remarkable work is being done in Sri Lanka by Save the Children, by the Nonviolent Peaceforce, by many other NGOs, who are risking their lives daily to facilitate the delivery of aid, to speak as advocates on behalf of persons who are oppressed or prosecuted or harmed, and who are the eyes and ears of the world in this highly dangerous situation. So the NGOs are performing heroic and essential work, there and elsewhere.

The NGOs are also very sensitive about attracting undue attention to themselves by making some of the points we can make in our role. In my role, for example, I was able to say things that the NGOs find it very difficult to say, because they have to live there and they have to deal with this reality on a day-by-day basis.

So I think it's important for us to support the NGOs by doing what they cannot, often—speaking loudly about these issues, drawing international attention to them, expressing our expectation that there will be a response by the government. That, too, is a way of supporting the NGOs. I think it's a very important way of doing so.

QUESTION: One of the surest ways to end the problem of child soldiers is to end the conflict itself. Can you tell us what are the causes of conflict in Sri Lanka between government and Tamils, and how and when will it end?

ALLAN ROCK: If I could do that, there would be a Nobel Peace Prize in it for me, I think.

Sri Lanka is a tear-shaped country off the southeastern coast of India, which is absolutely, spectacularly beautiful. I first went there in 1978 on a holiday. My deepest impression was about the gentleness of the people, the warmth of the country. It's a magnificent place.

It achieved independence in the late 1940s. Then it had to grapple with the diversity in its population. About 75 percent are Sinhalese. The majority is Buddhist. About 18 percent are Tamils, who are Hindu or Christian, and 7 percent are Muslim. The Tamil minority has expressed feelings that it is oppressed, that it has the historic and political right to its own homeland. They have sought and, for the last 23 years, fought for an independent homeland in the north and east of the country. Efforts have been made over the years to try to find some formula that would resolve this.

Canadians went to Sri Lanka as officers of the Forum of Federations, suggesting to Sri Lanka that federalism as a form of government would provide for national unity, but with decentralized power in distinctly recognized regions of the country, so that the north and the east could have their own jurisdiction over local matters; there would be a national foreign policy, a national defense policy for exterior purposes, but we could decentralize to provide for recognition and semi-autonomy.

That came close. The 2002 ceasefire and the negotiations that followed tried to develop those concepts. But it failed.

We are dealing with the human condition. Whether it's Northern Ireland or whether it's northern Uganda or whether it's Sri Lanka, there are deep-seated feelings of hostility that arise from generations of history that are viscerally felt. What it's going to take is what it took in Northern Ireland, which is leadership. It is going to take leaders with the courage and capacity and credibility to stand up and say, "We have to now go in that direction, for the sake of our children and generations to come. We have to acknowledge and respect the other. We have to find some formula that is a reasonable combination of our aspirations."

It may not be perfect. But we haven't got that leadership in place yet that will do that. So we have parties pursuing a military solution, which is shortsighted and eventually self-defeating.
So I don't have a formula for what it will take, but I think I have a very deep feeling that what it's going to take is that kind of mature leadership to get us beyond this awful and bloody standoff.

QUESTION: We would hope that a lot of these child soldiers would be released or otherwise escape and aim to return to civil society. Is there any body of knowledge or research as to what has happened, how these young people, 10 years later, are functioning?

ALLAN ROCK: The prognosis is not good. When I was in Sri Lanka, I met with six or seven 15-year-olds who had been abducted and served in the Tamil Tigers, had escaped, and were in the custody of the government. The idea was that they would enter into some rehabilitation program, which has not yet been established.

But the prognosis is not good. There is no system for dealing with these kids at present. There is no capacity to provide them with the psychosocial counseling that they require. I am not optimistic about their reintegration as productive members of a society.

I can only imagine the trauma. We face the same thing in other parts of the world where children emerge from these horrors.

I was speaking to Joanne earlier this morning about northern Uganda, where efforts are being made to put in place programming for war-affected children and youth, who carry this burden with them, having participated in violence, having committed unspeakable acts, spectacularly violent acts, in the name of the militia—forced to do so, but having to live with the consequences. If such a thing were to happen here in Manhattan, we would probably find it difficult to marshal the kind of intense and prolonged and sustained psychosocial therapy required to help that kid recover. Imagine the circumstance in a country that is in the process of development, with minimal access to health care, let alone specialized services dispensed reliably and locally in a way that is going to help.

So I am not encouraged. That's why, longer term, even medium term, we have to not only stop this madness, but we have to tackle its consequences, the aftermath among the next generation, because that is the generation we must look to to find the solutions that I just spoke of in answer to the earlier question, to find leaders who will take us from this into a better way.

It's discouraging. It will take a collective effort. I think all we can do is our very best.

Thank you all very much for having me this morning.

Thank you very much, Allan, for giving us this opportunity and bringing this important issue to our forum today.

Thank you all.

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