Colombia, Peru, guerilla youth armies

Posted on March 17, 2011 • Filed under: Colombia, Human Rights Latin America, Human Smuggling, Peru, Social Issues, Z1test

The Guerrillas’ Youth Armies
Claudia Sánchez-Bustamante/DIÁLOGO

Abuses against Minors and Vulnerable Populations in the Hands of Terrorist Movements

Seventeen thousand minors are part of the internal armed conflict in Colombia according to the Colombian non-governmental organization (NGO) “Our Children: Task without End” (“Nuestra Niñez Tarea Sin Fin”).

The International Tribunal on Children Affected by War and Poverty, an NGO created by the International Diplomatic Humanitarian Mission following the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 (Mission Diplomatique Internationale Humanitaire), has estimated that of the 6,000 to 11,000 child soldiers in the Andean country in 2009, half were found in the ranks of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

“They’re using children as young as six years old for intelligence work, planting anti-personnel mines, and transporting explosives,” said Sergio Tapia, the tribunal’s director.

These figures put Colombia in fifth place among countries where illegal armed groups recruit those under the age of seventeen, the Colombian magazine Cambio [Change] reported. Nevertheless, figures from the Colombian Humanitarian Aid for the Demobilized Program (PAHD) reveal that the average age of recruitment in that country varies between six and fourteen years old.

According to León Valencia, director of Colombian NGO New Rainbow Corporation (Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris), terrorist groups recruit these children in order to replace casualties and desertions by demobilized fighters.

“New narco-paramilitaries need cheaper labor, and the easiest to exploit, use, and discard are children,” said a report by the Colombian NGO Human Rights and Displacement Consulting (Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento).

The fact that these young people come from social environments where they lack opportunities facilitates their decision to join the ranks of a guerrilla group as their only way out.

In her analysis “Prisioneros combatientes” [Combatant Prisoners], Colombian political scientist Natalia Springer stated that more than 70 percent of demobilized minors interviewed for her report affirmed that they had lacked opportunities for access to land, education, or money to better themselves. In fact, more than 80 percent of those interviewed affirmed that they had received only very basic formal education before joining the guerrillas.

“The simple fact of living in a violent area, being in a dysfunctional family environment, poverty, displacement, and conflict over wealth make children easy prey for war,” Springer said.

As a side effect of recruitment, another abuse committed against the population of child guerrillas is the forced prostitution of girls, Mauricio Romero of the New Rainbow Corporation said in an article published in the magazine Semana [Week].

According to the Colombian Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo), 92 percent of girls who become pregnant while part of guerrilla groups are forced to have abortions.

In a video aired by the Colombian Defense Ministry, one demobilized girl, her face covered to protect her identity, said that she enlisted in the FARC before she was fourteen and gave details of the abuses she suffered:

“There were three boys, and the three of them ganged up on me and (raped) me, and I was given an injection, and I began to feel severe, severe pain. I started to bleed, I felt ill … they took me off to a room where they performed an abortion on me. That’s nothing … after they took out the baby, they punished me severely.”

Although the National Liberation Army (ELN) signed an agreement in 1998 in which it made a commitment not to recruit children under sixteen, and the FARC made a commitment in 1999 not to recruit minors under fifteen, such reports demonstrate that this practice is not only continuing, but even increasing.

Growing Abuses by Shining Path in Peru

In Peru, the picture is no more promising. In that country, recruitment of minors is a similarly growing trend.

Despite the fact that the Convention on the Rights of the Child has been in effect in Peru since 1990 and that the country has signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, sponsored by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, terrorist groups ignore these international protections.

The Peruvian terrorist group Shining Path currently holds around three hundred people captive, including more than seventy children and nearly fifty women, according to information from the Intelligence Directorate of the Peruvian Interior Ministry.

In that country, various media have reported extensively on cases of children kidnapped from their homes in Andean towns and forced to live in the jungles of the valley of the Apurímac and Ene Rivers (VRAE) for indoctrination in Maoist ideology and terrorist activities, Peruvian news site RPP Noticias [RPP News] reported. Articles and videos show children marching in unison to the rhythm of Maoist slogans while carrying weapons taller than they are.

In January 2010, a joint operation between the Peruvian Armed Forces Joint Command (CCFFAA) and the VRAE Special Command resulted in the rescue of a boy of around nine years old from Shining Path’s claws, in a guerrilla camp in the VRAE.

“Carlitos” – whose real identitiy has been protected – was found in extremely poor condition after having suffered more than three years of captivity with physical and mental torture. His body showed the marks of brutal beatings and burns on his feet and hands, inflicted by a Shining Path guerrilla known as “Camarada Sergio” (who was also captured during the operation).

CCFFAA authorities transferred the boy to a children’s home run by the National Comprehensive Program for Family Welfare (INABIF), because not even he knew who his family was or where he came from. There, it was ordered that he receive urgent psychological care to treat the aftereffects of his experiences.

Speaking to the television program Punto Final [Full stop], INABIF psychologist Gianfranco Vacchelli explained that Carlitos could not verbalize his experiences when he arrived, but that he did so through drawings in which the color red (blood) was prominent and that showed machetes and children cut into pieces, in addition to images of his kidnapper killing another child, cutting off his limbs.

Given the national outcry against the recruitment of minors in the country, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) condemned the illegal armed groups for their exploitation of minors, the international non-governmental organization Peace Correspondent (Corresponsal de Paz) reported. In addition, the CCFFAA, in support of the VRAE Special Command, carries out the mission of rescuing children in Shining Path’s power.

Although the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, declared in September 2009 that the number of minors involved in conflicts around the world was calculated to be around 250,000, the NGO Save the Children estimates that there are currently around 300,000 child soldiers in Latin America alone.

Likewise, Coomaraswamy emphasized that governments, international agencies, and non-state actors have made relative progress in preventing the use of minors by terrorist groups and militias and are now more aware of the problems associated with protecting minors in conflict situations.

In 2000, the UN General Assembly approved the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and in 2005, the same organization’s Security Council approved Resolution 1612 on reporting violations of the rights of minors in armed conflict.

In a speech to the Security Council in April 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for compliance with international humanitarian law for the protection of minors and of all civilians. He stressed the need to hold violators responsible: “We must send a strong signal to the world that those committing appalling crimes against children in conflict situations will be brought to justice.”

The message is clear: new solutions for the threats to children in conflict areas are needed. Increased awareness and improved mechanisms and legal tools do not necessarily translate into real change, Coomaraswamy said. “We have created international and national frameworks to protect children’s rights – now we need to implement them,” she concluded.(“Nuestra Niñez Tarea Sin Fin”). DIÁLOGO

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