Friday, 30 April 2010

Child soldiers & Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA)

Children who become soldiers
From the SID Forum
By Saskia Baas*
April 27, 2010:
Over the past few years, the use of children as soldiers in armed conflict has become a source of immense moral outrage among rights activists as well as the general public. In 2005, the UN Security Council officially condemned the use of child-soldiers by parties to armed conflict and organisations such as Unicef and Save the Children have launched big campaigns to raise awareness on the tragic fate of children who become soldiers during civil wars in Africa, Asia and South America. Horrendous stories have surfaced of children who were abducted, drugged and turned into killing machines during the bloody civil wars in Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. These stories form a legitimate ground for wide condemnation, indeed.

However, although the “child-soldier” is often depicted as a helpless victim of the evildoings of other (adult) actors, this is a simplification that does not do justice to the complex reality of a civil war. During the civil war in South Sudan (1983-2005) the recruitment of children under the age of eighteen was common practice in the largest rebel movement: the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). The stories of these children – many of whom are by now adults and youngsters – challenge the image of childsoldiers as helpless victims, with no choice or opinion of their own.

Meet Tricia, who joined the SPLA when she was ten years old. When the government army had killed her father, she decided she wanted to fight back: “I became angry. I walked to a town where the SPLA was stationed and I said to them that I want to be a soldier. I took training for two years. I was still small and I was struggling even to carry the gun.” After she completed her training, the army leadership decided she was too young to fight and sent her to a refugee camp in Kenya to go to school. But after a year, she walked back to Sudan to join the army again: “My heart didn’t want to stay in the school. I wanted to fight. Every day in the school, my mind was thinking about going back to the army. This was because of what happened to my father. I was still angry.”

Another soldier, Moses, joined the rebels’ side when he was twelve years old. His home area became very insecure as a result of the war. He explains that he joined the rebels after an attack on his village by the enemy: “When the enemy came, they were killing people and taking the women and cows. They put fire in the house. My father was killed and three men in my sister’s house. I was afraid, I ran away. In the forest, I found soldiers and I joined them.” Although the life of a soldier exposes children to extremely threatening circumstances, it is often overlooked that they were facing the same, or even worse threats in their home communities. Civil war creates extreme insecurities, and becoming a soldier can be a form of seeking relative protection.

Yet, life for children in the army was also harsh and dangerous. There was seldom enough food, and many soldiers died of hunger, malaria or diarrhoea. On the frontlines, soldiers saw their friends die in front of them and many got injured. Simon tells us how he got injured: “When I was sixteen, I got shot in my leg. It had to be amputated and I now use an artificial leg. After that, I could not go back to battle. I stayed in the liberated areas, but still in uniform.” Philip also got injured when he was sixteen “When we started to fight, I felt bad about it. The war made everything worse. People died, got hurt and fled. I got injured in my leg. I had to go to the hospital far from the battles. I had to stay behind in the barracks since then.”

In the SPLA, it was not common for young children to be sent to the frontlines to fight, although there were exceptions to that rule. Many children who wanted to become soldiers were turned down altogether and sent to refugee camps, like what happened to Tricia. Generally, children who were taken into the army were given lighter tasks in the barracks. Yet, some young soldiers recalled how eager they were to go to the frontlines, like Jacob: “I was twelve when I joined the SPLA. I had to join the army, because I needed to protect myself. After the training, I was feeling strong. But the commanders thought I was still too young to fight, so I had to stay in the barracks with them. When I was thirteen, I didn’t want to wait anymore, and they let me go to battle. They saw I was ready for it.”

When possible, the SPLA organised classes for its soldiers in the barracks, mainly during ceasefires. Children were also sent to refugee camps or to safe areas for periods of time to attend school. Daniel explains how he was selected for education: “I joined the SPLA when I was fourteen years old. Then, our commander came to the barracks and they said to me “you are still young, you go to school”. Twenty were selected like that. I went to Kenya and finished my primary and secondary school there.” While life in the ranks of the army was extremely challenging for children, the life they had left behind was often not much better. Those who remained civilians throughout the war were subjected to attacks by the army, disease and famine. In 2005, the SPLA signed a peace agreement with the Sudanese government, putting an end to twenty years of a devastating civil war.

Directly after the peace, rights groups pressured the SPLA to release all soldiers who were then under the age of eighteen. Unicef committed itself to help them reintegrate into civilian life, and received funds to do so, but never managed to get projects going. None of the young soldiers ever received any form of support from Unicef. They had to depend on their families, like Daniel, who was sixteen when the peace was signed: “After the peace, I travelled to where my uncle lives. I was released from the army to go to school and I like it. I am in class 7 now. When I finish my education, I want to teach my people how to plant crops and how to take care of them. I don’t want a job in the army.”

Since the peace, the SPLA is an official army, and its remaining soldiers started receiving salaries. Tricia is now twenty-two years old and earning about $200 a month, which makes her more than well-off for Sudanese standards. She talks about her future: “I am now in the military intelligence. I also want to continue my education. I am going to ask for permission to go to school. But after I finish, I will come back to my job. I want to stay in the army. The army is my life.”

Jacob is now thirty years old, and stationed in South Sudan’s capital Juba where he is performing a civilian task. He hopes to find a way to continue his education, but this is difficult: “The problem is that I am too old for the regular schools here. I’ve been in the army for 16 years now. I am a soldier, and I feel that I have to be in the army. It is a job, somehow. All my experience is in the army. I won’t match in any other place. I belong in the army.” He is also now receiving a salary and is saving up for the dowry, as he is planning to get married and start a family.

The image of a child-soldier as a helpless victim who is abducted and forced, is based on only one part of reality and requires nuance. Although the image works well for those organisations seeking to raise funds for their projects, it does not provide room for children who became soldiers in an attempt to shape their destinies. Civil wars expose people to horrendous experiences and make children specifically vulnerable. Under these threatening circumstances, becoming a fighter may be a perfectly rational way to seek protection, even for children. However, that should not diminish our moral outrage. If anything, it should redirect our indignation towards states and leaders who instigate these wars, and those who look away and fail to act.

*Saskia Baas is a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam, completing a dissertation on armed opposition movements in Sudan and has done extensive field work in Sudan in 2008 – 2009, interviewing around 80 rebels. Names in the article are not the respondents’ real names.

Related article on the SID forum: Forgotten… by Jan Pronk

Thursday, 29 April 2010

INTERVIEW: ICC's Ocampo prepares for Kenya trip

Ocampo prepares for Kenya trip
From Capital News by Judie Kaberia, Thursday 29 April 2010:
THE HAGUE, Apr 29 - “Those who caused violence in 2007/2008 were aiming to have a seat in the Cabinet, but they have to understand if you commit violence you have a seat in jail! says International Criminal Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

In this exclusive interview with Capital News, Mr Ocampo affirms his commitment to pursue the perpetrators and also shares his thoughts about international justice and the importance of cooperation by member States.

“The weakest people are the victims, the women and the children,” said the prosecutor.

The man, widely perceived in Kenya as the deliverer of justice explains what motivates his stressful and risky job which entails dealing with powerful individuals.

Q. Tell us about Luis Moreno-Ocampo

A. I am the Prosecutor of the ICC. My work is to investigate massive crimes when the nationals are not doing that. Particularly people in the slums… sometimes they are ignored and I would like to listen to them and they have to listen to me too because I have to represent them in court. Sometimes they are victims of this type of crimes. Even as a global prosecutor I would like to work for them.

When someone is protected by someone else, I should not interfere. In Colombia there are national prosecutors doing the job so I don’t need to intervene, so I intervene when the people are not presented, (when) no one is taking care of their interests. That is why I like this job. I have to go normally to people who are ignored, very poor, marginalised and then. Yes! We go and work for them.

Q. Is it that Kenya doesn’t have a strong judicial system to prosecute the crimes you are handling?

A. No, we are not making any judgment on the Kenyan judicial system. In fact one of the judges at the ICC is Kenyan. The problem is, there are no national proceedings in Kenya about the post election violence, and that is the issue. When there are no cases, we do a case.

Normally the States organise themselves to have their own police, their own Judiciary. But with these massive crimes they agreed to have this International Criminal Court, so when a country like Kenya joined the court, we are part of the Kenyan justice system. We are the independent part of Kenyan judicial system supported by Kenya, supported by other 110 member States. Then our job is to end impunity for the most serious crimes and that is what we are doing. What we expect from the state parties such as Kenya, is respect for the law and support.

Q. How will the ICC deal with powerful individuals who are suspects?

We will be looking at the crimes. I will prosecute the most responsible because really we are a court where we focus on the most responsible. We cannot investigate many people here.

At the same time we respect the accused rights. In Kenya some people are suspects but we will see if they are guilty or not, so as a prosecutor I have to be impartial.

It is my duty to investigate - incriminating but also exonerating to seek for justice. We are willing to meet and receive those considered to be suspects and listen to them and what they have to say.

Q. Is the ICC also concerned with the process of Truth Justice and Reconciliation in countries under its investigation?

Yes! We would like to work with others like truth and justice commissions and local leaders among others. This is important as the common goal is to be sure that the next election in 2012 is peaceful.

We are more than happy to work with whoever is working with this goal and in fact I m going to Kenya in May and I would like to meet the local leaders, people in the slums, discussing how we can help them. I came from Argentina when there were serious crimes. The way to reconcile is to establish the law because if someone raped my daughter no one can force me to reconcile with this person, in this case the rapist. However, according to a legal system, I cannot kill the rapist, so that is why the justice effort could help to reconcile the people.

Q. You seem to believe that reconciliation processes are important. Explain this further.

We need to organise a system to live together not just in Kenya but in the world. The issue is to live together. I remember I met with President Museveni in Uganda because he invited President Bashir and he explained to me that Bashir is his tribe, you cannot understand and I said, I love the tribal idea. In fact you and I are in the same tribe, we are the ICC tribe, a bigger tribe.

Because you are the Bashir tribe, invite him to Uganda, then arrest him. For me whatever we are building is a global tribe. The basic idea is no more massive killing… we are united for this but this is a very important tribe.

Q. Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir has been indicted, yet he hasn’t been arrested. Do you think Kenyan suspects will be arrested?

The problem is al Bashir is using the army and the police and the State operatives to commit crime. Here in Kenya, the government is not committing crime; the government is trying to control crime.

So I think the Kenya State will help to arrest the people. But there is always a chance and we are evaluating every moment that the accused appear voluntarily and we don’t have to arrest them.

In each country we request territorial States to arrest individuals. That is what we are requesting Sudan to arrest Al Bashir and he has a responsibility to appear voluntarily in court.

Q. When you last visited Kenya in November 2009, PEV victims were not happy that you didn’t meet with them. Why did you choose not to?

I had my limits because I could not meet with the victims before the judges authorised my investigations. That is why I said I will come to Kenya as soon as the judges authorise my investigations to meet the victims.

The President and the Prime Minister are in charge of Kenya, so I had to inform them what I had come to do. I had to inform them that I would open investigations requesting the judges’ authorisation. Now it is my time to meet the victims. It will be the beginning. I will see how many places I can visit, but I will try to come back in September or October to be there again and meet more victims.

Q. What is your itinerary when you come to Kenya in May?

I will come to Kenya to listen to victims. I will ask what happened to you, how were you affected? I don’t want people thinking I’m coming to put you in jail. They have to understand my mandate, what I can do and what I cannot do. I will fulfill my role. I will do what I am promising to do. I would like to tell the Kenyan people to keep reporting justice and justice will come to them.

Q. Israel and the US are not signatories to the ICC Treaty. Why should Kenya be a member and what do you mean that Kenya will be an example to the world, is it a threat?

Kenya accepted the idea as many as 29 other African countries, as Europe, as South America. We suffered crime during the pre-colonial time, we suffered crimes during the cold war, and that is why we learn the law is important to protect us. It is showing the sophistication of Kenya to accept and join the treaty and the others will learn.

They feel they can be protected by armies, and we are thinking no! We can be protected by law. That is why we are saying Kenya will be an example to show that. It will be an example of how we can use the law to do justice for the victims and to prevent violence in the future, it is the example we are giving together; the Kenyan people, the Kenyan authorities and the court working together.

Q. Kenyans have a high level of trust and expectations in you. Should they?

Oh, I (hope) they continue to trust me. I would like to see them, to be connected to them who are the poorest. I will do a couple of cases. It will not be the end of the story but the beginning of the story. I believe this will help a lot to understand that there will be no more violence.

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Wednesday, 14 April 2010

EU calls on Kenya to continue their consideration of locally-based judicial mechanisms to complement the ICC investigation

Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the European Union on the decision by the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court to investigate the 2007-2008 post-election violence in Kenya
BRUSSELS, Kingdom of Belgium, April 14, 2010/African Press Organization (APO)/ — The EU takes note of the ICC’s decision to investigate the post-election violence in Kenya.

The EU recalls the Government’s public commitments made on several instances to cooperate with the ICC. The EU is a staunch supporter of the ICC as a valuable instrument of the international community to combat impunity for the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.

The EU calls on Kenya to continue their consideration of locally-based judicial mechanisms to complement the ICC investigation.

In this context, the EU also underlines the importance of an effective and credible national witness protection programme.

SOURCE: European Council