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How Can Children Be Protected From Impacts Of Armed Conflict?

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Aired 5/9/11

Last month, a news story about the conflict in Libya ended with this short, tragic line. One of the victims of the shelling in Misrata was a 3-year old girl.

Too often, children become the casualties in armed conflicts. And sometimes they become unwilling participants.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, United Nations (U.N.) Under-Secretary-General, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict

Above: Radhika Coomaraswamy, United Nations (U.N.) Under-Secretary-General, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict

Ms. Coomaraswamy will present a lecture on protecting children from the consequences of armed conflict tonight at 7 at the Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Theatre at the University of San Diego.

Last month, a news story about the conflict in Libya ended with this short, tragic line: "one of the victims of the shelling in Misrata was a 3-year old girl."

Too often, children become the casualties in armed conflicts, and sometimes they become unwilling participants. We speak to the U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, United Nations (U.N.) Under-Secretary-General, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Last month a news story about the conflict in Libya ended with this short tragic line: One of the victims of the shelling in mis rata was a three-year-old girl. Too often children become the casualties in armed conflicts, and sometimes they become unwilling participants. One woman whose job it is to speak for these children is my guest, Radhika Coomaraswamy is united nations under secretary general special representative for children and armed conflict. Rad ca, thank you so much for coming in and speaking with us.

COOMARASWAMY: Thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: I know that you're going to be speaking at the crock institute for peace and justice tonight at the university of San Diego. Is the armed conflict in Libya putting many children at risk?

COOMARASWAMY: Well, we're receiving reports that, of course, children are being killed in the shelling and bombs, and also we are receiving reports that there are children being recruited by some of the rebel forces, as well as by the militias that are fighting with colonel Gaddafi. When we've done is we've done is we're alerted the -- I'm sorry, special envoy on Libya, the secretary gentleman, as well as the U.S., UK, and French governments that are sort of sending military advisors, some of them. And we've got very positive response, and they will engage with the rebels insure that no children will be recruited. And the rebels have given an informal understanding that that will be the case. So we moved a little forward on it, but there was that issue that was of concern for us.

CAVANAUGH: We have heard reports that the forces loyal Muammar Gaddafi are -- - have been targeting families, including of course children. Have you heard anything about that?

COOMARASWAMY: Well, they're targeting silvans. And that's why the UN acted, after all. The whole purpose of the security council resolution was because there Gaddafi's forces were attacking civilians and going into houses and making them targets. So the whole bases definite the UN recheck check and the belief Bengazzi, that there would be a massacre like what took place in Rwanda, and what happened in Rwands the UN wants to make sure that no such thing will happen ever again. Y so that was the reason. And the Arab league also to a great extent supported some of the western kitchens who were of that belief so much there's no doubt about it, he was targeting civilians, women, children, and also elderly, and everyone. That was the main reason for it is UN action.

CAVANAUGH: Now, rad ca, you make -- you tell us about the fact that the rebels are making some sort of an agreement that they will not be using children as recruits. But that happens all over, doesn't it?

COOMARASWAMY: Uh-huh.

CAVANAUGH: That children are pulled into these armed conflicts as child soldiers?

COOMARASWAMY: Yes, that is a big issue of it was a major concern of the international community. And I must say, on this issue, it has come together. And we have a security council process with the possibility of sanks against parties that recruit and use children. We also have, everyier, our office, through the secretary judicialing produces a list of shame, of parties that actually recruit and use children. And if they want to get off the list, they have to enter into an action plan that's to then release the children to us, and we try to then reintegrate them back into societies. And we have been able to, in the course of the last three years and interaction plans with quite a few of these rebels groups as well governments that recruit children. From the Ugandan government on the one hand, we entered into an action plan, and they've now been de listed, the Napolese Maoists, the forces in Burundi, and Côte d'Ivoire, [CHECK] all of them have entered into agreements with us, and released thousands of children. So the security council's engagement on this, this list of shame, possibility of sanctions, some armed groups who have claims for legitimacy have responded and have started to release children.

CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Radica Coomaraswaamy. She is United nations undersecretary general, special representative for children in armed conflict. That is such a weighty title. Be you speak for there's children, don't you?

COOMARASWAMY: Well, I speak for the children, and not only -- my purpose, is to facilitate an international response to the problems faced by these children, and what we have focused on, what we call [CHECK] grave violations against children, and the that is the killing and maiming of children, especially if they're targeted, such as in Libya, as you said, the recruiting and use of children as child soldiers, then sexual violate against girls and boys, in some parts of the world, boys are the the targets of sexual violence, Denial of humanitarian access, attacks on schools and hospitals, abductions, these are the six violations we monitor for the security council around the world, in all in fact situations. We also worry and are concerned about the rights of IDD children, as you know, internally displaced children around the world, who have no legal framework that protects them, and we've been pushing for their right to education, the right to have some safe spaces that -- etc, but the main focus has been on these sickth grade violations, monitoring them, and trying to trigger an international response. So we speak for the children, whenever I go, I meet them, and that's really the best part of any visit, because you really hear from them what they feel. But beyond that is to also trigger an international response to some of these countries.

CAVANAUGH: When we hear about children at risk in armed conflict, children being, perhaps, used as child soldiers in armed inflict, that's usually in Africa, the troubled nations of Africa. But is this going on all over the world?

COOMARASWAMY: Well, it's not only in Africa. It's -- well, I think because we have these media images of those terrible wars in Syria and Libya, where children were taken and drugged and made to do these horrible things, I think the public mind is that it is African, but [CHECK] we have child soldiers in mian mar, in mepal, in Afghan tap, in Somalia,ing in Columbia, so we have all those issues. There is a difference between the abducted child, [CHECK] only force in that area, they go join. There is that defense of but still, it is child soldiers, and we feel very strongly that children just do not have a sense of death. So you really are exploiting them terribly which you put them into battle.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

COOMARASWAMY: Because they can't sense the danger. And often they're fears 678 that's why they're used because they're fear little in waltz. So the whole purpose [CHECK] [CHECK] is insure that they're not put into battle. And that they are protected.

CAVANAUGH: You know, this is a drug cartel war going on in Mexico, and I'm wondering if the UN is in any way monitoring the children that are being caught up either as victims or as parat this time pant in that violence. [CHECK] check.

COOMARASWAMY: Well, it's interesting, you know, the -- from a lawyer's point of view, there's always a lawyer's point of view in international law, they try and keep this separate. Because they say, if you mention something is an armed conflict, the Geneva conventions apply. [CHECK] to the drug dealers, and they have to be dealt with like parties, and given all these rights, which is something nobody wants to do. But it is a very murky area around the world because what you have are former rebels, [CHECK] they engage in drug trade, as well as engaging in this type of criminal activity. Or the very structure of the drug cartels, is how they operate is like, they control territory, and they control it like an armed rebel group. [CHECK] to have different parts of the UNPR system working together on these kinds of issues of we have the UN office on drugs and crime. We have a special representative on violence against children, which is mainly to do with peacetime, and my office, and others, so we're trying to see how we can deal with these issues of it is in the force focus, because it's not only in the drug cartels, but also gangs, as you upon, gangs in a lot of these countries, in which they're very young. I don't know if you've seen the [CHECK] ten year-olds who are running these gangs of so I think in that sense, there is this murky area of gangs, armed groups be all operating in the same space and doing each other's same tactics, so it rears, really, different parts exclusive the system to work together, internationally and nationally.

CAVANAUGH: When you rescue kids who are caught upon in this violence, either in sexual trafficking or as child soldiers, when the UN has children like this turned over to them, what kind of rehabilitation services do these kids need to go through?

COOMARASWAMY: Well, we have something, we call it reintegration, that's the early it. And what has happened is all the practitioners, that's the UN system's groups issue such as UNICEF, etc, and NGOs that work with this, have come together, and they put together something called the Paris principles, and these Paris principles basically say that just taking the child and giving them become to the family and then going away just doesn't work, they'll get recruited. Than it is essential to work with the family, and the community for a little period longer. The second point they making is that you Kent just give serves to the child in that community, because the children that doesn't become child soldiers then become very resentful. So these are sort of the two principle on which they work, working with the family so that the family can [CHECK] and aggressive, it's sometimes very disqualify for parents and mothers to discipline them, to get them back, so there are things you have to work with the family 678 and also the community in which he lives has to also be developed. So these are the sort of principles that are set out in these paris principles of. We don't want ever give money to the child.

CAVANAUGH: What if there is no family left and what if this young child becomes a displaced person, as you sigh, with no home left.

COOMARASWAMY: Well, UNICEF and others are strongly against institutionalization. They don't believe that children should be put into orphanages and those kinds of institutions which they feel do not really create the irrelevant have. So what is done, often Sto find a chose relative, and pay them it a little subsistence for a few years so that the child then becomes also bringing money with him or her, and then have them take care of the child of so that's basically to look for alternate families. Either family or someone in the neighborhood to take care of the child.

CAVANAUGH: But there are some children who do wind up in camps, right.

COOMARASWAMY: Yes, yes. Then of course when they wind up in camps, again, what separated children, we go through a tracing exercise, trying to trace close family, and basically ask, the whole thrust of the UNICEF programs there is to either reunite them [CHECK] with whom the child can find a connection.

CAVANAUGH: Now, you're gonna be speaking tonight at the yack institute for peace and justice at USD. Can you tell us really briefly what your gonna be talking about?

COOMARASWAMY: Well, I thought it would be interesting for a policy institute, the experiment that we are undergoing in the united nations with the security council, getting very involved in this kind of thematic human rights issue. [CHECK] where the security council has one, asked for reports on children in armed conflict, two, set up lists for [CHECK] and against those who violet, this is a unique experiment for the security counsel, as you know, the council is not normally interested at all in human rights issue, but on children issue they have gone this long route. And mainly because it's children.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you. And I want to tell everyone that Radikha Coomaraswamy, will present a lecture to protecting chem from the consequences of armed conflict, [CHECK] at the university of San Diego. Radikha, thank you so much. And if you would like to comment, you can go online, KPBS.org/These Days.

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