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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Dallaire: Put the Focus on Child Soldiers


This could be our new peacekeeping project, writes Roméo Dallaire.

The strategic and deliberate use of child soldiers continues to sustain conflict and sets countries on a course for years of violence, human rights abuses and ongoing threats of mass atrocity.
— Roméo Dallaire

Twenty-two years ago, I was the force commander of the UNAMIR peacekeeping mission before, during and after the Rwandan genocide. I witnessed first-hand, in one of humanity’s darkest hours, the horrific impacts of conflict and genocide. This experience has produced an unrelenting drive in me as a humanitarian to both prevent conflict and protect peace.
JUSTIN LYNCH/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS South Sudan’s government has recruited child soldiers for a renewed conflict, according to a United Nations document.
With this experience as a backdrop, it was with immense pleasure that I recently returned from a five-country fact-finding mission to Africa with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and esteemed colleagues Justice Louise Arbour and Ambassador to the United Nations Marc-André Blanchard. Over a week, we reached out to the highest authorities in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to understand how Canada can re-engage in peace support operations in the region.

We undertook this trip, in the words of Minister Sajjan, to discover the ground truth about conflict. It is only through an intimate understanding of how and why conflict persists that we will be in a position to effectively contribute to its prevention.

The most obvious observation, without a doubt, was the brutal fact that war has radically changed. Therefore, our tactics and approach must change also.

Today, children are both the primary drivers and victims of conflicts around the globe and particularly in Africa. From Mali to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia, children continue to swell the ranks of both state and non-state armies. It is in this complex and ambiguous conflict environment that Canada will eventually re-engage in peace support operations.

The strategic and deliberate use of child soldiers continues to sustain conflict and sets countries on a course for years of violence, human rights abuses and ongoing threats of mass atrocity.

At the height of the Rwandan genocide, when I first faced the use of child soldiers, I had neither the knowledge nor tactics required to confront this threat adequately and preventively. Today, troop-contributing countries deployed in peace support operations remain undertrained to counter the most prevalent threat in most conflicts today: the extensive recruitment and use of child soldiers.

At every turn of our trip, Minister Sajjan deliberately sought out specific gaps that Canada could fill by collaborating with nations in building local capacity with the aim of contributing to conflict-prevention and peace-support operations.

As a nation, Canada is well-positioned to engage in the realities that face peace support operations — particularly in meeting the need for capacity-building with regard to children used as weapons of war. Canada, through the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, is already engaged in countries such as Uganda by building a capacity to counteract the recruitment and use of child soldiers in peace-support operations throughout the region.

This focus on the recruitment and use of child soldiers should be underpinned by an upfront children’s-rights approach in peace-support operations. When children and their rights are elevated as part of a larger strategy and methodology to peace-support operations, points of collaboration can be found and efforts amplified. It is not only through children that many conflicts are now unfortunately fought, but it is where the promise of lasting peace resides.

Canada’s return to the field, praised and impatiently awaited by all countries we visited, is caveated with a clear request to bring innovative thinking, tools and longterm commitments to instilling new skills and knowledge that will support the efforts of all toward peace and preventing conflict.

Over the coming months and years, under the direction of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canada will continue to re-engage with the United Nations and the African Union on their respective peace support operations. Collaborative and concerted efforts — specifically protecting children through enhancing the role of military, peacekeepers and police to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers — should be a priority in the prevention of conflict.

Canada is indeed wellpositioned to engage in the realities that face peace support operations, particularly in meeting the need for capacity-building with regard to children used as weapons of war.