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UN officials urge severe international sanctions against Tamil Tiger leaders for employing children in the war

By Walter Jayawardhana reporting from Los Angeles..

June 13: While the South Asian Regional Director of UNICEF, Nigel Fisher, made a serious charge of employing child soldiers against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the United Nations Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, advocated severe international sanctions against leaders of armed groups committing such atrocities and abuses against children, announced the Global Report 2001 issued by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.

Nigel Fisher, the Regional Director for South Asia of UNICEF, the United Nation's organization for children, alleged that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had broken promises to end training, indoctrination and recruitment of child soldiers.

The allegation was made at an international conference organized by the coalition to stop the use of child soldiers and reported in the organization's Global Report 2001 issued June 12.

The Global Report said the allegations were leveled against the Sri Lankan terrorist group at an international conference in Katmandu, Nepal, last year.

The UNICEF Regional Director reportedly told the Asia Pacific Conference of 24 governments of the region and 100 representatives of local and international NGOs , national human rights institutions, international agencies and UN bodies that the Tamil insurgent group, the Liberation Tigers, gave the broken promises to the United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Mr. Olara Otunnu.

"Can this meeting take a lead," asked Fisher from the delegates, "in urging the naming of names of those leaders…by their actions, contribute to the suffering of children trapped in armed conflict? Can we advocate sanctions on those who abuse children during conflict such as the freezing of bank accounts or refusing the participation of such leaders in regional and international bodies?"

According to the report Olara Otunnu, the UN Secretary General's Special Representative spoke of "his own experience in Sri Lanka" of how children had been drawn into armed conflict.

He said in May 1998, in Sri Lanka he had obtained the understanding of the LTTE not to use children below 18 years of age in combat and not to recruit children less than 17 years old.

The report said he called on concerned governments and other international actors to use their collective weight and influence to deny political legitimacy, diplomatic recognition, the supply of weapons or flow of funds for those responsible for committing atrocities and abuse against children.

Mr. Otunnu had urged all states to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and ensure their own courts could exercise "universal jurisdiction". Where ad hoc tribunals were bring established, as was being discussed in Cambodia, they should also take special care to document the victimization and abuse of children, he reportedly said.

Rory Mungoven, the coordinator of the coalition reportedly told the conference that the LTTE used thousands of child soldiers in their separatist war. In one battle at Ampakamam in October 1999, for instance, 49 children including 32 girls aged between 11 and 15 years of age were among the 140 LTTE cadres killed. There is also evidence, according to him, of children under 18 being engaged in Home Guard duty and by armed groups aligned with the government.

Professor Harendra de Silva of the National Child Protection Authority reportedly told the Kathmandu Conference that community attitudes were critical and military service of children was not always seen as detrimental by the community. Children were often perceived as martyrs or heroes, an image sometimes reinforced by the national and international media.

He said his study was based on interviews with 19 of the former LTTE child soldiers using standardized questions. "Most had in fact "volunteered" for recruitment. Seven said they had joined out of fear of "abduction" by the "enemy", others had joined for the revenge or the thrill of being a freedom fighter, while three had joined for economic reasons. A majority had tried to escape at least once or disobeyed orders, resulting in trivial punishment such as kitchen duty or severe punishment such as detention in hot and dark rooms, blackmail and threats to family members, or death threats. Most were made to engage in heavy manual work such as digging trenches, front line fighting including killings and the laying of land mines. A majority had been trained in the use of firearms and methods of suicide."

"All of the children had undergone classes of indoctrination to strengthen feelings of hatred towards the enemy. Military images and toys had been incorporated into playgrounds. The dead are glorified as martyrs, with posters displayed in schools and school children paraded at funerals. Literature is used to encourage children to "volunteer" - one such poem ridicules a girl's ambition to become a doctor, urging her to "…study while fighting, fight while studying!"

"Professor de Silva stressed that the use of children as soldiers involved every level of emotional abuse (in which armed groups assumed the role of care giver or custodian) - a child was "corrupted" by being made to engage in destructive , anti-social behaviour, thus becoming unfit for normal social experience; "terrorized" by verbal abuse, bullying , blackmail and death threats in the name of "discipline" ; "isolated" from the normal social experience, removed from normal family life and schooling; and "denied" his or her emotional and developmental needs. "The exploitation of child labor more generally could be thought of in similar terms."

"Professor de Silva suggested that the indoctrination of a child into committing suicide should be defined as a new form of child abuse.

He was quoted as saying, "Making a child or adolescent commit suicide, an act he or she cannot comprehend, by a process of persuasion by an adult for personal, social, economic or political reasons that the child cannot understand, constitutes suicide by proxy."

Professor de Silva had argued the fact that many children volunteer is not relevant. Children's participation in war should always be considered as forced, as they cannot truly comprehend their actions. Conscription of children cannot be justified by the factors that drive them to 'volunteer", be it retribution, martyrdom, personal, social, ethnic, economic or political reasons. He argued that the conscription of children should also be defined as a form of child abuse.

Professor de Silva noted the serious psychological consequences suffered by American soldiers who had fought in Vietnam as adults, not children. Their problems are still not fully understood. "Who will look after our young adults when they come back in to our societies and suffer from serious post traumatic stress syndromes," he asked.

The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, formed in 1998 who issued this Global Report, was founded by six international NGOs - Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Save the Children Alliance, the Jesuit Refugee Service, the Quaker United Nations Office - Geneva and International Federation Terre des Hommes and later joined by Defense for Children International, World Vision International and regional NGOs from Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

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