Child Soldiers: UN Concerns Continue In Philippines
At its 67th meeting, on the 3rd of August 2017, the UN Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, agreed to convey the following messages to all parties in the Philippines conflict through a public statement by the Chair of the Working Group.
The announcement is connected to the UN review of the fourth report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in the Philippines (document S/2017/294), covering the period from 1 December 2012 to 31 December 2016.
The UN notes a general decrease in large-scale armed engagements during the reporting period and was encouraged by the resumption of peace negotiations between the Government and armed groups in the Philippines. However, they continue to urge all parties to include child protection issues on the agendas of the respective peace talks, backed by the support of the United Nations.
The UN spokesperson outlined the position of the organisation, saying they strongly condemn all violations and abuses committed against children in the Philippines and urged: "All parties to the conflict to immediately end and prevent all violations of applicable international law involving the recruitment and use of children, abduction, killing and maiming, rape and other forms of sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals and to comply with their obligations under international law."
Calling on the parties to further implement all previous conclusions of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict in the Philippines, the UN requested all armed groups to immediately, and without preconditions, release or disengage all children associated with them and: "End or prevent further recruitment and use of children, including re-recruitment and re-association of children who have formerly been released or disengaged."
Expressing deep concern about the number of children killed or maimed as a direct or indirect result of hostilities and other incidents of "indiscriminate attacks against the civilian population," the UN called upon all parties to: "respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, and in particular the principles of distinction and proportionality enshrined therein."
The UN welcomed the Philippine Government’s commitment to strengthen the protection of children affected by armed conflict and prioritise child protection in the national legal framework. They also noted the development of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) circular No. 1, on child protection in armed conflict situations, dated 4 February 2016, and encouraged the armed forces to fully implement it. The working group also commended the Government for the follow-up to the last conclusions on Children and Armed Conflict on the Philippines, emphasising the importance of ensuring accountability for those responsible for violations and abuses committed against children in the context of armed conflict.
The UN also welcomed the continued engagement of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children, and commended the: "Significant progress towards the full implementation of the United Nations-MILF Action Plan, culminating in the formal disassociation of over 1850 children to date." Urging the group to continue disengaging children identified as being associated formally or informally with the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces in all front and base commands, the UN called on them to fully implement internal safeguards put in place to prevent the recruitment and use of children.
The UN spokesperson added they were: "Further commending the MILF’s issuance of a directive on 25 March 2017 requiring regular monitoring and screening of armed elements and internal quarterly reporting from all front and base commands, and the application of age-assessment guidelines during recruitment processes, calling upon MILF to fully implement internal safeguards preventing the association and re-association of children."
Concerns remained, however, about reports of the recruitment and use of children, including as human shields, as well as of attacks against schools and hospitals in violation of applicable international law by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). The UN called for the group to: "Publicly express their commitment and take active steps to end all recruitment and use of children in violation of applicable international law and to prevent all other violations and abuses committed against children, including by entering into dialogue with the United Nations."
The initiation of technical-level discussions between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the United Nations on the issue of protection of children affected by armed conflict was met with warmth. The adoption of the NDFP Declaration and Programme of Action on the Rights, Protection and Welfare of Children in 2012 was seen as a positive development, though the UN still called on the NPA to: "publicly express its commitment to end and prevent all violations and abuses committed against children and to expeditiously develop action plans in line with Security Council resolutions."
The UN called upon the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) to: "End and prevent all recruitment and use of children, killing and maiming and attacks on schools and hospitals," and expressed concern about reports of child abductions, including kidnapping for ransom and extortion. The Security Council urged ASG to: "Publicly express its commitment and take active steps."
Emphasizing the important role of community leaders in strengthening the protection of children, the UN asked that they: "Continue to advocate ending and preventing violations and abuses against children, in particular those involving the recruitment and use of children, rape and other forms of sexual violence against children," and "support reintegration and rehabilitation of children affected by armed conflict in their communities, including by raising awareness to avoid stigmatization of these children."