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Home Human Rights & Humanitarian Law > Humanitarian Laws of Armed Conflict > Child Soldiers and the Law > Children and Armed Conflict in Sri Lanka: Politics, Human Rights & the Law  > UNICEF and Underage Recruitment

Children and Armed Conflict in Sri Lanka:
Politics, Human Rights & the Law

UNICEF and Underage Recruitment

Jayantha Gnanakone, 12 March 2006


I certainly am glad that I have received a response from UNICEF on this issue. Now the whole Tamil diaspora and the UN can have a full discussion on the actual facts, fiction and the law on the issue of Geneva Convention Article 77, the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and childrens' rights. As the UN, UNICEF, the ICRC and the US are very well aware, only the Geneva Conventions are international law, and the rest are wishful thinking for the future.

Shown the past good will of the LTTE towards UNICEF on the issue of underage children as combatants, if the UN and the International Community mandate the Optional Protocol as international law, I am certain LTTE would agree to cooperate with such laws. However, it also should be common courtesy for the UN to provide observer status to the LTTE.

Recruitment targeting teenagers

It has been unequivocally confirmed to me that the GoSL armed forces take their campaign to the villages to recruit Singhalese youth at 15. I am aware the US government targets children at 14 and 15 into paramilitary services to join the marines and other armed services units, known as the ROTC, with summer training of 4-8 weeks at Camp Pendleton. CA. There the kids receive different kinds of basic military training and, above all, receive thousands of dollars in cash for coming for training. They are constantly brainwashed about the benefits of joining the armed forces on a permanent basis and also promised tens of thousands of dollars in benefits for their college education, etc.

Don't you forget that I have two teenage children in an American high school and I am fully exposed to the armed forces recruiters visiting the high school targeting 15 -16 year olds. The US armed forces spend millions of dollars in their advertising budget (all 4 forces), targeting teenagers who are below 18.

Two sets of rules

To have two separate sets of rules, one for states which practice state terrorism, where they can recruit at 15 and above, and another for liberation organizations fighting a civil war for 3 decades against the government of GoSL and India with their meager resources and private funding, is nothing but an act of Hypocrisy, Chicanery and Dishonesty.

I believe that there will be presentations at the upcoming 62nd Session on human rights in Geneva on the legality and morality of non-state members being prevented from recruiting under 18s, when governments are allowed to recruit those over 15.

UN organizations which attempt to demonize the Tamils and the LTTE are very wrong. Where does the UN, which itself is engulfed in corruption, nepotism, wastage, and misappropriation, get its moral right to formulate laws which are not fair and just directed against liberation movements fighting State Terrorism, oppression, repression, and blatant discrimination?

May I ask you how many rapes, molestations, arrests, incidents of torture, beatings, shootings, shellings, bombings, incarcerations of under 18 children has UNICEF prevented in the last 23 years? Where were you and UNICEF when all the under 18s were and are victimized on a daily basis?

Where were they when the Bandaranayake-Kumaratunghe-Rajapakse regimes denied medicine, food, and fuel for the Tamil children for years during the embargo? The death and destruction, as well as untold suffering, is well documented and has been totally ignored by most INGOs, as well as foreign diplomats, for 22 years.

But the UN and UNICEF want to mandate unjust laws that would make it illegal, criminal for under 18 and over 15 children to participate in combat against such evil forces, but are unable to prevent children from all ages being barbarically brutalized by Singhla racist mobs, sponsored by the government itself, and its armed forces.

Defense against state terror

Let me tell you that I, from when I was a child of 9 years old, have been a victim of state terror in 1956, 1958, 1961, 1977, and 1983. I could have been brutally murdered in any one of these years of state-sponsored terrorism and pogroms, and the UNICEF or UN would not have cared a damn.

The Tamils have picked up arms as an act of self-defense, so such laws formulated by corrupt and dishonest officials sitting in their ivory towers of New York, Geneva, London and Washington do not matter. The living conditions under State Terror, and Mob Terror are totally different from the sanguine conditions of children in world cities of New York, Geneva, London and Washington. The ground reality is totally different.

Other abuses of children's rights

As UNICEF professes genuine interest in all children, can you tell me why the UN and UNICEF have turned a blind eye and blatantly ignored the gross violations which are transpiring on an hourly basis in the Sinhala South? Since UNICEF when it is convenient plays deaf, dumb and blind like the proverbial monkeys - See no evil, Hear no evil, and Speak no evil...Let me detail such violations of over 200,000 children.

1. Child pornography
2. Child prostitution
3. Child labor and slavery
4. Child exposure to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases

Is this because the LTTE is an easy target and, if the above issues were raised more vigorously, UNICEF would not be welcomed so enthusiastically by the GoSL, whose permission the UN feels is necessary to operate on the island?

Let me tell you that Tamils are tired of this Hypocrisy, Dishonesty, and Chicanery.

The UN and power

Diplomats speaking in Geneva or New York do so at the behest of powerful countries and their own political agenda. There is more to it than international law and human rights law on the issue of recruitment over 15 years and under 18.

I am a retired DC 8 pilot and I have seen air force fighter pilots being trained, after being recruited at 16. So trying to corner a liberation organization about the Optional Protocol/Geneva Convention rules is nothing but dubious. It is deliberately kept ambiguous for only one reason. That is to use and abuse it by the UN and powerful states for their own advantage and convenience. That is pretty obvious.

My point is the law needs to be applied uniformly and universally.

Geopolitical interests

There seems to be an International Conspiracy by vested interests in certain parts of Europe and America, where for geopolitical, and geo-strategic reasons (need and greed) it has become expedient to demonize the Tamils and LTTE and even possibly destroy them and neutralize them to be the slaves of the cotton fields or Tea estates.

Ironically, these very same people have realized that the Sinhala government, which has no morals or scruples, can be purchased for a few marbles and glass beads like how the white man purchased Manhattan from the native Indians. But the Tamils and the LTTE are a different kettle of fish. Since there is Oil and Gas, mineral sands, millions of tons of limestone, International Ports and Airports in Trincomalee and Jaffna, the sudden interest in occupation and exploitation has increased. When oil prices were US$ 2 dollars a barrel in 1973, consumption at less than half what it is now and plenty of reserves 35 years ago, the energy needs of the west was not critical. But with the present oil prices at $65/barrel, and future prices at $100, any oil and gas anywhere is of serious interest. With China and India consuming huge quantities of energy, now & into the future even a tighter squeeze is on the meager energy resources of the region half the world population lives.

35 years ago there was no major war in Iraq , Afghanistan, and (and now possibly) Iran that all require a large presence of coalition forces from the West. The best natural harbor in the area is the port of Trincomalee, which is much larger and better than Singapore and Dubai, and has tens of thousand of excellent hinterland. The international airports to be built in Trincomalee and Jaffna, the Sethusamuderam Canal project from the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Strait, the Koodankulam Nuclear project in Nagar Kovil in TN, where India is going to produce 40 % of the Nuclear Fuel and enriched fuel for its WMD program, are all of great interest to the US and EU countries, as well as Japan, Canada, and Australia.

This is what is called geopolitical and geostrategical interest in resources and assets. For that purpose 2 million Tamils living in the North and around Trincomalee are expendable to these forces and there is no genuine love or interest in the well-being of the Tamils or Tamil children. These same forces have done ZIP to save and protect the Tamil Children from the GoSL's armed forces.

Additionally, why this issue of underage recruitment receives such priority, especially after one of the worst natural disasters in human history is mind boggling, when for the 5th year there has been no fighting in the Tamil homeland. Therefore, for the UN and UNICEF to concentrate their efforts so diligently and forcefully of the well-being of children above 15 and under 18 is nothing but suspicious.

Military sales by countries that protest underage recruitment

Furthermore, these Western countries during a civil war should desist in providing military aid, sales, training and credit facilities for a government which for decades has practiced State Terrorism and 'blatant discrimination.' Iran, India, Pakistan, China and Israel are also helping the GoSL will arms for profit where sales exceed over a Billion dollars. The GoSL also spends millions of dollars of tax revenues on arms purchases and has blatantly denied Tsunami aid to Tamils, both adults and children.

Red Cross

You mentioned the Red Cross in your note. The American Red Cross collected 2.5 Billion dollars for Tsunami survivors, but has not spent ONE DOLLAR on the Tamils in the NorthEast, claiming fraudulently that they were not permitted by the US Government to do so. That is the performance of the Red Cross in the Tamil homeland and you say they also are monitoring the use of children being provided training for military purposes and self-defense!


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