Van­cou­ver sum­mit to set sights on com­bat­ing use of child sol­diers

The Welland Tribune - - NATIONAL - LEE BERTHIAUME

Van­cou­ver is poised to be­come a sym­bol for pro­tect­ing chil­dren and pre­vent­ing the use of child sol­diers when a se­ries of com­mit­ments bear­ing the city’s name is rolled out at this week’s peace­keep­ing sum­mit.

The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has been qui­etly work­ing on the so- called Van­cou­ver Prin­ci­ples for some time, which a se­nior UN of­fi­cial hoped would give a shot in the arm to ef­forts to pro­tect chil­dren in con­flict.

“It’s a way of re- en­er­giz­ing the mo­bi­liza­tion of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, and I think this is very im­por­tant,” said JeanPierre Lacroix, the UN’s un­der­sec­re­tary gen­eral of peace­keep­ing op­er­a­tions.

“The no­tion of hav­ing states com­mit­ting to a set of prin­ci­ples to do cer­tain things and not to do cer­tain things is also very im­por­tant.”

Cana­dian of­fi­cials have said lit­tle about the ini­tia­tive, which will be un­veiled when rep­re­sen­ta­tives from about 80 coun­tries gather in Van­cou­ver start­ing Tues­day for the two- day peace­keep­ing sum­mit.

But Aus­tralia’s Am­bas­sador to the UN Gil­lian Bird de­scribed it last month as in­clud­ing “con­crete steps on how to pri­or­i­tize and fur­ther op­er­a­tional­ize child pro­tec­tion within UN peace­keep­ing.”

Sources have re­vealed that re­tired lieu­tenant- gen­eral Romeo Dal­laire, one of the world’s most fer­vent ad­vo­cates for end­ing the use of child sol­diers in war, will be at­tend­ing the Van­cou­ver meet­ing.

Dal­laire’s Child Sol­diers Ini­tia­tive helped the Cana­dian mil­i­tary de­velop a se­ries of guide­lines to en­sure Cana­dian troops are prop­erly trained and emo­tion­ally pre­pared for deal­ing with child sol­diers.

De­fence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance is­sued those guide­lines in Fe­bru­ary.

Lacroix said the UN has made great ef­forts to bet­ter pro­tect chil­dren in con­flict, par­tic­u­larly child sol­diers, over the past 15 years, “but I think we can do more.”

“We can also have stronger com­mit­ments from mem­ber states,” he said. “That’s the idea be­hind the Van­cou­ver Prin­ci­ples. Peo­ple are very sup­port­ive of that.”

The UN re­leased a re­port last month that found more than 8,000 chil­dren were killed or in­jured in con­flicts around the world in 2016 and thou­sands of chil­dren had been re­cruited or used by war­ring fac­tions.

The num­ber of chil­dren in Syria who were re­cruited or used in con­flict more than dou­bled to 851 ver­i­fied cases, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, while more than 1,900 were re­cruited or used in So­ma­lia.

There were also more than 1,000 ver­i­fied cases of chil­dren be­ing re­cruited or used in South Su­dan and 442 re­ported cases in Mali, which is considered a strong can­di­date for a fu­ture Cana­dian peace­keep­ing mis­sion.

The UN said it has been try­ing to talk to rebel groups and other non- gov­ern­ment fac­tions in Mali, Su­dan, the Cen­tral African Repub­lic and other places to try to re­duce the use of child sol­diers.

Aside from the moral im­per­a­tive of try­ing to pre­vent the use of child sol­diers, their pres­ence on the bat­tle­field is a po­ten­tial mine­field for mil­i­taries like Canada.

The French learned that the hard way in Jan­uary when they were crit­i­cized for killing a 10- year- old boy in Mali.

While the French mil­i­tary said the boy was act­ing as a look­out for an armed group sus­pected of plant­ing im­pro­vised- ex­plo­sive de­vices, the killing marred its counter- ter­ror­ism mis­sion in the African coun­try.


Sen. Romeo Dal­laire will at­tend a Van­cou­ver meet­ing on child sol­diers.

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