Deliverance from shame
Posted on June 14th, 2012

Island Editorial

The UN has, at long last, removed Sri Lanka from its List of Shame because child soldiers in the clutches of the LTTE and its off-shoot, TMVP, have all been liberated. Children were the worst affected in the protracted conflict in this country because of the LTTE’s dependence on child conscription following its graduation from a ragtag army to a conventional fighting force. Prabhakaran at the beginning of his armed struggle had a hard time screening and hand-picking recruits from hundreds, if not thousands, of youth who were falling over themselves to support his cause, but after years of mindless terror his problem became how to recruit cadres for want of volunteers. He, like all other terrorist leaders, opted for child recruitment.

The UN, to its credit, did everything in its power to save the LTTE’s child combatants. But, all its efforts came a cropper as it lacked international backing; even the UN Security Council skirted tough measures recommended by human rights groups, in dealing with child recruiters. UNICEF went so far as to launch a joint project with the LTTE to secure the release of child combatants only to be taken for a ride. Its Transit Home programme aimed at rehabilitating child soldiers and reuniting them with their families flopped as the LTTE reneged on its promise to release its underage combatants.

The situation became so bad in the LTTE-held areas that most parents had to stop sending their children to school as LTTE abducted them on the way. The Norwegian-brokered ceasefire gave a turbo boost to the LTTE child conscription drive because the outfit was given unbridled freedom to operate in the North and the East on the pretext of doing “ƒ”¹…”political work’.

Sadly, Prabhakaran, who had international opprobrium heaped on him for harming children, did not come under enough pressure from the powerful countries where the LTTE has been nominally proscribed, to let go of the unfortunate gun-toting tots. All that the western governments which have taken upon themselves the burden of exporting democracy to other countries did against the LTTE perpetrating crimes against children was to fire paper missiles (read condemnatory statements); they never so much as lifted a finger to save the little victims.

Worse, the US has made a mockery of its campaign against child conscription by transgressing its own laws to grant aid to child recruiters. President Barack Obama waived for the second consecutive year in 2011 a Congressionally-mandated ban on military aid to countries where children are conscripted, to extend military assistance to four states notorious for using child soldiers””…”””…”Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Yemen and the newly independent South Sudan. Head of the Child Rights Division of the Human Rights Watch, Joe Becker condemning Obama’s decision noted: “Countries that keep using child soldiers aren’t going to get serious about ending the practice until they see the US is serious about withholding the money.” But, the US has cited, inter alia, its national security concerns for the abominable waiver. The White House said cooperation with the Yemeni government was vital for the US national strategy to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates and adherents by denying them sanctuary in the ungoverned spaces of Yemen’s hinterland’. It is this kind of selectivity and duplicity in combating child conscription that has helped armed groups continue to harm children with impunity.

Sri Lanka would never have been able to eliminate the scourge of child recruitment if the LTTE had been around using ceasefires and peace processes to further its military interests. The liberation of underage combatants is our biggest peace dividend, which has unfortunately gone unappreciated internationally. If this country had yielded to the diktats of the US-led Tokyo Co-Chairs and given in to the LTTE in the name of a flawed truce and an elusive peace, thousands of children in combat who are now happily reunited with their families and going to school, would still have been suffering in bunkers and trenches and thousands of more children would have been recruited and turned into suicide bombers and cannon fodder.

There is a pressing need for the UN to prepare a separate List of Shame for the countries that seek to further their hegemonic, geo-political and national security interests by sponsoring governments that recruit children. Such states and their leaders must be named and shamed for their connivance of and/or complicity in crimes against children.

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