MANILA, Philippines – The United Nations (UN) named yesterday three active insurgent groups in the Philippines as persistent users of child soldiers in armed conflicts and expressed serious concern about national armed forces using children for military intelligence and interrogation purposes.
The annual report of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict said the violators were the Abu Sayyaf, the New People’s Army (NPA) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The UN named for the first time the military forces and rebel groups that are the most persistent violators of children in armed conflict and identified groups in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The report also showed that 16 different armies and insurgent groups – in conflicts ranging from the Philippines and Myanmar to Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Colombia – have recruited or used child soldiers for at least the past five years.
It identified the groups that subject minors to the most brutal violence, such as killings, maimings, rapes and other sexual assaults.
Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, said, “We still live in a world with those who would use children as spies, soldiers, and human shields.
“The shifting nature of conflict has put many children on the front lines. Too often children become collateral damage during military operations. Every year the release of this report should give us pause. Let us remember that we must protect the most innocent and most vulnerable.”
The report added that a significant portion of southwestern Mindanao continues to be highly restricted to United Nations travel, as armed skirmishes between non-State groups and government forces intermittently erupt, a situation compounded by the tangible threat of kidnapping.
“That situation complicates the verification, monitoring and response activities for grave child rights violations, in particular in the restricted areas of Zamboanga, Sulu and Basilan provinces in Mindanao,” the report said.
UN Report: AFP is child violator
During the reporting period from January to December 2009, reports on recruitment and use of children by the MILF and the NPA were received consistently, according to UN partner organizations.
Although children have been reportedly associated with Abu Sayyaf units, no accurate estimate of the number of children is currently available.
A total of six cases of children used by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to carry supplies, for intelligence purposes, or who had been illegally detained for their alleged association with MILF recalcitrant commands or NPA have been documented by the country task force.
In one case, three children were blindfolded and mistreated by elements of the 7th and 40th Infantry Battalions of the Philippine Army in an attempt to obtain confessions regarding their membership in MILF.
The report recorded 12 children killed and 40 injured from January to December 2009.
There has been a considerable increase in incidents involving the use of improvised explosive devices in populated areas, in particular by the Abu Sayyaf, causing more casualties among the civilian population, including children.
“Mortar shelling by AFP during clashes with MILF has also caused serious injuries to some children,” the report said.
The country task force also verified ten incidents of attacks on schools and hospitals from January to December 2009, where in several instances children were injured as a result.
Accounts of schoolteachers kidnapped in Zamboanga and Sulu provinces by members of the Abu Sayyaf caused fear among the civilian population and disrupted the learning activities of children in conflict-affected areas.
The UN Security Council was encouraged to weigh more vigorous measures against persistent violators who have been listed in the annual report for at least five years for grave violations against children.
Action plans to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers and association of children was signed between the UN and the MILF last year.
In October 2009, the Philippine government and the MILF signed an Agreement on the Civilian Protection Component of the International Monitoring Team, which reconfirms their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law to refrain from intentionally targeting or attacking non-combatants or to avoid acts that would cause collateral damage to civilians.
The Agreement also includes provisions for the preservation of facilities vital for the survival of civilians, such as schools, hospitals and relief distribution sites.
But the report, which has been sent to the Security Council, made clear that progress has been made with some groups like the MILF which have signed action plans in which they aim to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers. –Pia Lee-Brago and AP (The Philippine Star)