Britain puts UN child soldier plan on hold
UNITED NATIONS: Britain, angered that Northern Ireland appears on a UN list of countries where youths are recruited as soldiers in “armed conflicts,” has put on hold UN plans to crack down on the use of child warriors, diplomats said on Wednesday.
Britain has asked Olara Otunnu, the UN special envoy for children in armed conflict, to take Northern Ireland and its paramilitary groups off the list, arguing the situation in the British-ruled province was not an “armed conflict”.
Otunnu’s office was created as a result of a landmark report in 2000 by Graca Machel of Mozambique, now the wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, who detailed the recruitment and exploitation of children in war zones. While awaiting a response from Otunnu, Britain has blocked Security Council action on a draft plan to protect children in warfare that had been put forward by France.
Otunnu said on Wednesday the British had “raised a very precise concern about the meaning of ‘armed conflict’ and we are trying to address it”.
Council members were to have begun talks on the draft plan on Jan. 21, but Britain asked no meetings take place until its problem with the Northern Ireland listing was addressed, council diplomats said.
British officials denied blocking the talks but acknowledged they were working to correct a “misdefinition” of the situation in Northern Ireland as an “armed conflict.”
“My prediction is, within two weeks, that resolution will be ready for adoption and you will find the U.K. among its strongest supporters,” British UN Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry told Reuters.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s latest report on child soldiers to the 15-nation Security Council, drafted by Otunnu, lists paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland among 15 countries and more than 40 rebel groups that recruit or use youths 17 years old and under in armed conflict.
While the Nov. 10 report does not specify which paramilitaries it is referring to in Northern Ireland, both Protestant and Roman Catholic groups are active in the province.
Northern Ireland’s landmark Good Friday agreement, signed in 1998, sought to end 30 years of Protestant-Catholic conflict in which more than 3,600 people were killed.
Others on the UN list are Afghanistan, Burundi, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Russia’s Chechnya republic, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Uganda.
Annan’s report said Otunnu had sought commitments from Northern Ireland’s armed groups “to refrain from recruiting or using children in the conflict.”
“Continuing competitive recruitment of young people by all paramilitary groups has been reported in the context of various feuds and the emergence of dissident groups,” it said.
But Jones Parry told the Security Council last week that, in contrast to the other areas on the UN list, “there is not and has not been a situation of armed conflict” in Northern Ireland, where there was “real progress in addressing the issues of children’s rights.”
Annan wants the council to adopt a resolution setting out a concrete action plan to address the problem, including a monitoring system to search for violations and punishment, including sanctions, for those violating children’s rights.
Ironically, Britain is the primary source of funding for Otunnu’s office, providing it with $3 million for 2001 to 2003, or nearly a third of its annual budget of about $3.5 million.
Britain has made no decision on future funding and diplomats said London was reviewing all of its development aid programs in light of its increased commitments in Iraq. —Reuters