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World: UN Condemns Use Of Children Soldiers

  • Joe Lauria

The United Nations Security Council late yesterday unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the use of children as soldiers. RFE/RL's UN correspondent Joe Lauria reports that the debate included heated exchanges between representatives from the United States and Iraq over the plight of Iraqi children.

United Nations, 26 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A day-long meeting at the UN Security Council resulted in a unanimous resolution condemning the use of children as soldiers.

At the conclusion of a 12-hour session during which more than 100 nations spoke, the Security Council voted 15-0 for a resolution that condemned "the targeting of children in situations of armed conflict." The resolution stated that this includes "killing and maiming, sexual violence, abduction and forced displacement [and] recruitment."

The resolution specifically called on parties to conflicts to refrain from using anyone under the age of 18 to fight.

Olara Otunnu, the UN special representative for children and armed conflict, said that "the sheer magnitude of this problem" is new and unprecedented. Otunnu also said that it is a worldwide problem and that rebel groups in various countries are most often guilty of using children as combatants and otherwise abusing them in war zones.

India's UN Ambassador Kamalesh Sharma told delegates that this presents a problem to any international effort to stop the use of children as combatants. He said international institutions have little leverage over non-state groups and thus a limited ability to stop the practice. But he said nonetheless, the international community must try.

Sharma said that rebel and terrorist groups often exploit children in war situations specifically because children are more malleable than adults.

U.S. representative Nancy Soderberg said that the development of relatively light weight but still lethal weaponry had also opened the way for exploiting children as soldiers.

Amongst the most extreme recent cases has been the west African nation of Sierra Leone, where thousands of children were combatants, and in numerous instances were intentionally attacked by rebel groups.

Worldwide, UN officials say that from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s, two million children have been killed in armed conflicts around the world. They say one million have been orphaned, six million have been seriously injured or disabled and 12 million have been made homeless.

During the debate about these matters, Iraq accused the United States of blocking a move in the Security Council to lift the nine-year old economic sanctions against Iraq. Iraqi Ambassador Saeed Hasan alleged that the sanctions have been responsible for deaths of 500,000 children below the age of five.

After the vote, the U.S. requested a right to reply, and criticized the Iraqi government, saying it alone -- and not the sanctions -- was responsible for what was happening to Iraqi children. U.S. diplomat Mark Minton said the Iraqi leadership has shown through its actions what he termed "the utmost contempt for its people".

The U.S. said that Baghdad has $241 million worth of medical supplies "gathering dust" in warehouses.

The supplies have been purchased through the UN's food-for-oil program, which permits Iraq to sell a limited amount of oil in order to buy humanitarian goods.