Various groups have called for a review of the Paris Principles, the new guidelines adopted by the United Nations (UN) in defining child soldiers. By not distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants, the Paris Principles, they said, place children in rebel-influenced areas in danger as they are de-facto labeled as child soldiers and therefore, open targets for attack for the state’s counterinsurgency operations.
BY RONALYN V. OLEA
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Various groups have called for a review of the Paris Principles, the new guidelines adopted by the United Nations (UN) defining child soldiers.
In a forum, December 4, the Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC), Congress of Teachers/Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND) and Gabriela Women’s Party List Representative Luzviminda Ilagan called on the UN to review the Paris Principles.
Adopted on February 8, 2007, the Paris Principles defines ‘child associated with an armed group’ as any person below 18 years old who is or has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys, and girls used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking or has taken a direct part in hostilities.
Said definition is taken from the Cape Town Principles and Best Practice on the Prevention of Recruitment of Children into the Armed Forces and Demobilization and Social Integration of Child Soldiers in Africa. The Cape Town and Best Practices drew heavily on the study by Graca Machel on children participating in Africa’s civil wars.
Prof. Sarah Raymundo, a professor at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Sociology said the definition poses a serious problem as it bears no distinction between children directly participating in the armed conflict and those who perform non-combatant roles.
Raymundo, reading the CONTEND paper, said further, “There is a serious danger in applying this uniform definition to children in other types of conflict situations.”
Ilagan maintained, “The African experience cannot be equated to the Philippine context where there is a national liberation movement against an oppressive state.”
The CONTEND paper states, “There is a long-standing community-based movement of liberation against a series of oppressive regimes. The four-decade resistance has taken root among communities where the armed groups have maintained a constant presence over the decades. The situation of children are unique in these areas since they grow up in the context of their communities’ struggle which they, their parents, and other community members, perceive as appropriate and just. It is from these hard realities shared by the people of the Philippines with other struggling peoples who are waging movements of liberation that the current shift in discourse on the issue of children in midst of war should be assessed.”
The paper is jointly written by Raymundo, UP Faculty Regent Prof. Judy Taguiwalo and Arnold Alamon.
Raymundo said, “The Paris documents stigmatizes and criminalizes communities … engaged in decades-long struggle for social justice against an oppressive state.”
Taguiwalo said the Paris Principles ‘lack a nuanced and rigorous understanding of the differing situations of communities and children especially those within the ambit of movements of national liberation.’
She said that the varied degrees of involvement of children in conflict are treated as a homogenous category. “In the absence of a clear cut differentiation in the terms “recruited and used,” children that fall within this broad category is automatically associated with the expanded definition of the child soldier,” said Taguiwalo.
Taguiwalo also said the [Paris] documents actually violate the best interests of thousands, even millions of communities and children, that fall within the category of children associated with armed groups.
Taguiwalo said, “[T]he documents also places in danger the lives of so many children in areas where the rebels have a strong presence having been de facto labeled as child soldiers…and therefore become open targets for the state’s counterinsurgency operations.”
The CRC, in its report titled Children Under Siege, said, “Reality on the ground shows how the broad definition may be used to further attacks against children. Children of alleged rebels may be harassed or held hostage by state security forces to force their parents to surface or surrender.”
Ma. Esmeralda Macaspac, CRC executive director, cited the story of Nena, an eight-year old girl who was branded as a daughter of an NPA fighter. Macaspac said soldiers went to the girl’s school in Cebu. The soldiers asked Nena about his parents; she was later brought to a military camp. Child rights advocates and DSWD personnel looked for Nena and found her in the custody of a military agent, playing while a gun was placed just in front of the child.
The CONTEND also asserts that the Paris Principles contradict the enshrined rights of children and communities.
The CONTEND paper states, “[While] the [Paris] document supposedly places great importance on the right of children and the communities where they come… but long after their voices have been muted by the de facto stigmatization of their legitimate and historical struggles in violation of their children’s participatory rights as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
Ilagan shared the same view. She said, “The expansion of the definition of a child soldier has led to limiting the rights of children.
The CONTEND maintained that the Paris Documents ‘conveniently ignores this right of peoples to liberate themselves against oppression.’ The group cited the preamble to the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights whish states, “it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by law.”
In the same forum, lawyer Musib Buat, representative of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), slammed the government’s propaganda about the MILF child warriors.
“It’s a recycled story. Nauubusan na ng propaganda ang gobyerno,” (The government has run out of propaganda) said Buat.
Buat was referring to a video shown by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) following the death of a family in Datu Piang, Maguindanao last September. The Philippine Air Force 3rd Air Division bombed the civilians evacuating from their community. The military said the six persons including four children aged two to ten years old who were killed are all rebels.
Buat asked, “Ang fetus ba sa loob ng tiyan ay MILF? Pwede na bang humawak ng armas ang apat-na-taon?” (Is the fetus inside a mother’s womb a member of the MILF? Can a four-year-old take up arms?)
The MILF leader said the video of children in the forests shown by the AFP are actually children who are studying Q’uran.
Meanwhile, the NDFP through Marissa Dumanjug-Palo, head of the secretariat of the NDFP Nominated Section for the Joint Monitoring Committee of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) reiterated its position that the NDFP is not engaged in the recruitment of child soldiers.
Palo said the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA have already adopted the minimum age of 18 for recruitment as combatants in the NPA.
In a press statement, Fidel Agcaoili, NDFP Human Rights Desk officer said, “The strict implementation of this policy has been proven in a 2007-UNICEF [United Nation’s Children’s Fund] commissioned study in eight communities in eight provinces nationwide.”
Agcaoili was referring to Uncounted Lives published by IBON Foundation in 2007.
Agcaoili said further, “The 24 April 2008 report of the UN Security Council has pointed to the GRP [Government of the Republic of the Philippines] and armed forces as the number one violator of the rights of children in armed conflict.”
Palo said the CARHRIHL, an agreement signed both by the GRP and the NDFP, contains provisions for the protection of the rights of the child.
The NDFP also criticized the Paris Principles as ‘lopsidedly in favor of the reactionary status quo.’ “It is slanted against national liberation movements. Its vague and overbroad definition…makes children open prey to armed assault and other barbarities,” said Palo.
The CONTEND paper maintained that the Paris Principles are part of a ‘comprehensive ideological attack against movements of national liberation.’
The group criticized the UN and UNICEF for ignoring the US-sponsored wars, which continue to claim the lives of thousands of innocent children.
“In the era of asymmetrical wars, it is, at once, alarming and telling that multilateral agencies like the UN and UNICEF have chosen to side with US imperialism and oppressive state structures at the expense of legitimate people’s struggles. Bearing the greatest consequences are the children of these communities in struggle,” the CONTEND said.(Bulatlat.com)