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Child soldiers in Afghanistan
Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), using children under the age of 15 in combat is deemed a war crime because children can either end up dead or traumatized from their experience. Afghanistan is a party to the Rome Statute.

Furthermore, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict was ratified by Afghanistan in 2003 and states that people under the age of 18 may not be recruited by armed groups under any circumstances. It established the need to take measures, such as prohibition and criminalization of this action, to prevent the use of child soldiers. A violation of this is considered a breach of international law.

 

Conflict Creates Instability

The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in order to remove the Taliban from power. Although Kabul was reclaimed, the Taliban still controls some regions in Afghanistan and the war has continued. Additionally, the spread of the Islamic State’s presence in Afghanistan has aggravated the situation and increased the threat of terrorism. The decades of war and instability have created severe poverty and violence.

Child soldiers in Afghanistan are recruited on both sides of the conflict. Some Afghan children have even been recruited to fight in Syria. The Taliban has recruited child soldiers since the 1990s. Children participate in the war in many ways. They often are sent to combat, go on suicide missions, work in noncombat positions and serve as messengers or spies.

The Recruitment of Child Soldiers in Afghanistan

The Taliban has used Islamic religious schools to train children from a young age. They often begin studying religious subjects taught by Taliban teachers at age six and learn military skills around the age of 13. Usually, these kids are not taken by force. The Taliban schools are an attractive option for poor families since they provide food and clothing for the children.

Despite evidence of young boys participating in combat, the Taliban claims that to participate in military operations they have to prove “mental and physical maturity.” Although child soldiers in Afghanistan are mostly used by the Taliban, they are also used by the Afghan National Police as cooks and guards at checkpoints. Parents often do not oppose this since the boys could be the sole provider for their families.

Girls in the War

The number of girls considered to be child soldiers in Afghanistan is minimal. Danielle Bell, the head of the Human Rights Unit at the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, addressed this when she said, “In five years of monitoring and reporting, the U.N. has verified one case of child recruitment of a girl who was a trained suicide bomber.” Although they are not trained as soldiers, girls are often taken and forced into sex slavery for military groups.

The 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act prohibits the U.S. from giving military assistance to countries that use child soldiers. Jo Becker, the children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, has criticized the U.S. for ignoring child soldiers in Afghanistan, saying, “The United States has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to support an Afghan militia that recruits and uses children to fight the Taliban.” Using children for military combat is both a violation of international law and a war crime and the United States government should take proper action against it.

– Luz Solano-Flórez
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in GeorgiaIn the summer of 2008, international attention was directed at the human rights in Georgia, and violations surrounding the Russo-Georgian War. But while eyes have shifted to other zones of conflict, the disputes about the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia still entail insecurity and human rights abuses.

Ethnic struggles and disputes over independence had already lingered in South Ossetia and Abkhazia for years, when armed conflict broke out between Russia, Georgia and the Georgian breakaway regions in August 2008. All sides were accused of abusing human rights in Georgia during or after the conflict. Human Rights Watch reported that the Russian army fired on civilian vehicles in numerous cases, killing and wounding many. Russia and Georgia also allegedly both made use of cluster ammunition, inflicting further deaths upon civilians and leaving behind unstable “minefields,” according to the NGO.

The war only lasted for five days, but the withdrawal of Georgia from the breakaway regions did not end the suffering of civilians. The South Ossetian army was accused of conducting a violent “cleansing” campaign against ethnic Georgians in the aftermath of the war: destroying villages, killing civilians, torturing prisoners of war and displacing tens of thousands of Georgians. Reportedly, the Georgian population of the conflict zone was reduced by at least 75 percent.

In 2016, the International Criminal Court has launched an investigation into possible war crimes, such as pillaging and attacks against civilians and peacekeepers, as well as crimes against human rights in Georgia, including forced transfer of populations and murder.

South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence has been recognized by the Russian government after the war, as well as by Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru. But the regions are still generally regarded as Georgian territories currently occupied by Russia by the majority of the international community. The breakaway regions have their own governments but are dependent on support from Russia. The boundaries are guarded by Russian forces in addition to the de facto forces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and both regions receive financial aid from the Russian government.

Tensions about the future of the Georgian breakaway regions remain. In a referendum earlier this year, almost 80 percent of South Ossetia’s population voted to rename the region the “State of Alania,” mirroring the name of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, which is part of the Russian Federation. The referendum was perceived as a provocation in Georgia since the name stresses an ethnic distinction from Georgia and suggests unity with North Ossetia-Alania, and therefore with Russia. Georgia, as well as the United States and the EU, have condemned the referendum as illegitimate.

As Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International state in their most recent reports, the tensions around South Ossetia and Abkhazia still infringe on the rights of residents living and working in the frontier area.

In the past year, Russian and South Ossetian authorities conducted an effort to fence what they consider to be a “state border.” Therefore, some local residents’ access to their land or homes was cut off, impacting their “rights to work, food and adequate standard of living,” according to Amnesty International. Russia also continues to move the border, thus increasingly creeping further into former Georgian territory. In October 2016, the New York Times reported on the plight of the residents of the border village Jariasheni. One of them does not dare to return home after his house was suddenly on the other side of the elastic boundary line. Some residents have been arrested after finding themselves on the wrong side accidentally, because of the line’s uncertainty. “[W]ho knows where Russia will start tomorrow or the next day,” one resident is cited.

Abkhazia has also increasingly tightened the control over its border: in 2016 and 2017, all but two border crossings have been closed. NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu criticized these closures for impacting local residents’ livelihood and for restricting the freedom of movement of hundreds of citizens who used the crossings daily. As Voice of America reports, they were used, for instance, by ethnic Georgians to visit their schools or medical facilities. The closure also cuts through family ties and hampers some residents’ access to their property and crops, affecting human rights in Georgia.

The boundaries are not recognized as borders by Georgia and its allies, who see them merely as “administrative boundary lines” – but crossing these boundaries can have very real and serious consequences. In the past year, dozens of people were reportedly detained by Russian or regional authorities while trying to cross the boundary lines. Several of them accused the authorities of torture and ill-treatment, for example, of beatings. In May 2016, a Georgian man was killed by an Abkhazian border guard while trying to enter Abkhazia.

As Georgia strengthens its ties with the European Union and NATO, Russia continues to enhance its influence over the Georgian breakaway regions, seemingly heading for an outright annexation. A permanent, peaceful solution to the conflict and thus an end to the insecurities experienced by the local residents are not yet in sight.

Lena Riebl

 South America
As land grabs fuel violence in South America, the international community’s decision to treat this process as a crime against humanity is a significant step.

Land grabbing, the process of evicting people from their land in order to seize resources, is prevalent in many parts of South America. According to The Guardian, in the past 10 years, tens of millions of hectares of land were seized by various governments.

Land grabs are problematic for a number of reasons. For one, countries may jeopardize their national sovereignty by selling or leasing land to foreign governments or corporations. Most importantly, however, the process of land grabbing fuels violence and poverty in South American cities. When families are forced off of their land, they often move to cities where employment opportunities are scarce. This leads these families to poverty and increases the likelihood that their children will join gangs or engage in illegal activities in order to survive.

Land grabs also contribute to illegal immigration. Many undocumented families are forced off their land in land grabs and are fleeing from violence in urban areas. Between October and July 2014, 63,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the border into the United States. Many of these children cited violence in cities as their reason for leaving. Many of their parents were either dead or in prison.

For those who protest land grabbing, the consequences can be deadly. According to Global Witness, three people were murdered every week while defending their land in 2015. Activist Berta Cáceres was murdered after protesting the building of a large dam in Honduras.

In September 2016, the International Criminal Court responded to the violence of land grabs by making the process a crime against humanity. Activists believe that this could have a significant impact on the future of land grabs.

Eva Kennedy

Photo: Flickr

Kosovo War
The Kosovo War was a quick and highly destructive conflict that displaced 90 percent of the population. The severity of the unrest in Kosovo and the involvement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) brought the Kosovo conflict to international attention in the late 1990’s. The conflict led to the displacement of thousands and lasting tension between Serbs and Albanians. The brutality of the war is largely credited with launching The Borgen Project, a humanitarian organization that has helped hundreds of thousands of people.

10 Facts about the Kosovo War

    1. The Kosovo War was waged in the Serbian province of Kosovo from 1998 to 1999. Ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo faced the pressure of Serbs fighting for control of the region. Albanians also opposed the government of Yugoslavia, which was made up of modern day Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia and Macedonia.
    2. Muslim Albanians were the ethnic majority in Kosovo. The president of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, refused to recognize the rights of the majority because Kosovo was an area sacred to the Serbs. He planned to replace Albanian language and culture with Serbian institutions.
    3. The international community failed to address the escalation of tension between the Albanians and the Serbs. In doing so, they inadvertently supported radicals in the region. Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo formed the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in the early 1990s. The militant group began attacks on Serbian police and politicians and were engaged in an all-out uprising by 1998.
    4. Serbian and Yugoslav forces tried to fight growing KLA support through oppressive tactics and violence. The government destroyed villages and forced people to leave their homes. They massacred entire villages. Many people fled their homes.
    5. As the conflict grew worse, international intervention rose. The Contact Group (consisting of the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Russia) demanded a cease-fire, the withdrawal of Yugoslav and Serbian forces from Kosovo and the return of refugees. Yugoslavia at first agreed but ultimately failed to implement the terms of the agreement.
    6. Yugoslav and Serbian forces engaged in an ethnic cleansing campaign throughout the duration of the war. By the end of May 1999, 1.5 million people had fled their homes. At the time, that constituted approximately 90 percent of Kosovo’s population.
    7. Diplomatic negotiations between Kosovar and Serbian delegations began in France in 1999, but Serbian officials refused to cooperate. In response, NATO began a campaign of airstrikes against Serbian targets, focusing mainly on destroying Serbian government buildings and infrastructure. The bombings caused further flows of refugees into neighboring countries and the deaths of several civilians.
    8. In June 1999, NATO and Yugoslavia signed a peace accord to end the Kosovo War. The Yugoslav government agreed to troop withdrawal and the return of almost one million ethnic Albanians and half a million general displaced persons. Unfortunately, tensions between Albanians and Serbs continued into the 21st century. Anti-Serb riots broke out in March 2004 throughout the Kosovo region. Twenty people were killed and over 4,000 Serbs and other minorities were displaced.
    9. In February 2008, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. Subsequently, Yugoslavia ceased to exist in 2003 and became the individual countries of Serbia and Montenegro. Serbia, along with numerous other countries, refused to recognize Kosovo’s independence.
    10. At the end of 2016, a tribunal was established in the International Criminal Court to try Kosovars for committing war crimes against ethnic minorities and political opponents. Additionally, an EU taskforce set up in 2011 found evidence that members of the KLA committed these crimes after the war ended. Previously, the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia tried several the KLA members.


Overall, the Kosovo War was one of Europe’s most chaotic conflicts, leaving lasting impressions on all those living in the region. Not only has the conflict been coined with the terms genocide and crimes against humanity, but the involvement and bombings from NATO also caused widespread controversy.

Lindsay Harris

Photo: Flickr

 

Soldiers Used In War
The use of child soldiers in war is a persistent issue, despite ongoing international efforts to stop the practice. The U.N. defines a child soldier as anyone under age 18 who is recruited or used by an armed force or group in any capacity. The International Criminal Court further designates recruiting or using children under age 15 as a war crime. Yet, military groups continue to recruit children because they are cheap and manipulable.

Many children are forced to join military groups at a young age. Child soldiers are also easier to manipulate and force into conflict. Recruiters typically target children from troubled areas or conflict zones, likely accustomed to violence and with fewer educational or work opportunities.

Other children join military groups voluntarily to flee poverty, gain protection, or to connect with something resembling a family. Military organizations are viewed as a safe and secure group of comrades, distant from their difficult lives.

There are several roles that militant groups fill with child soldiers. In many cases, children participate directly in conflict, but they can also be used for other dangerous support roles. Many are porters who carry heavy loads of ammunition or injured soldiers, while others are lookouts or cooks. Girls are often forced to be sex slaves.

Participating in armed conflict has significant consequences for the physical and emotional development of children. Many endure abuse and witness extreme violence or death. Even worse, they are forced to commit horrific acts, resulting in lifelong psychological distress. Child soldiers also have a higher risk of sexual abuse by adults or other children. These children are plagued by depression, anxiety, insomnia and numerous other health issues.

While the issue of child soldiers remains daunting, progress is being made to reduce the practice across the globe. UNICEF created a campaign in 2014 called “Children, Not Soldiers” aimed towards global prevention of the use of child soldiers. The campaign focuses on seven countries: Afghanistan, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Thousands of soldiers have been released and introduced back into civilian life because of the campaign.

National campaigns have also helped countries make significant strides towards reducing the use of child soldiers. Countries have implemented disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs to make a change. Stopping such an ingrained practice and rehabilitating children who have grown up in conflict is a difficult task. However, these programs represent a strong effort to stop the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

Lindsay Harris

Photo: Flickr

Human-Rights-Violations
Of the 197 countries of the world, there are 20, including three territories, considered to be the most societally repressive. Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea and Sudan are at the top of the global list for countries that are among the worst abusers of human rights. To be deemed an abuser of human rights, civil liberties and political rights are the violations assessed, and these particular countries mentioned above have concurrently been on such lists in the previous years.

In North Korea, human rights abuse is plentiful. Prisoners, mostly consisting of impoverished individuals locked up for committing petty crimes in their efforts to survive, are subject to horrific treatment. In 2011, 120,000 prisoners were held in gulags, starved and later publicly executed by firing squad. North Korea’s appalling human rights record is no secret throughout the world. The political figurehead, Kim Jong-Un, is more ruthless than his father: he regularly inflicts mass atrocities, publicly and purposefully, against his population. He ordered women to drown their own babies in buckets, for example, and also ordered the execution of his uncle and former girlfriend despite the fact that there was no tangible evidence of either of them ever having committed crimes.

In September 2012, a UN investigation that collected responses from a study of North Korean defectors compared life in North Korea to that of the German-run concentration camps in World War II. Firing squad executions occur at unprecedented levels. To date, there are still over 100,000 people awaiting their public execution in the gulags.

In South Sudan, bloody massacres occurred, claiming the lives of 100,000 refugees. Later, evidence of mass graves and violent attacks on U.N peacekeepers were unearthed. Despite the independence given to South Sudan in 2011, internal conflict in 2013 emerged with abundance, resulting in numerous human rights atrocities and the targeting of the poor for extrajudicial killings. Almost 100,000 people have been displaced as a result of the violence.

It is also said that countries such as Syria, Somalia, Turkmenistan, Libya, Cuba and Saudi Arabia are more places where people suffer from some of the most severe, systematic abuses of human rights. Countries consumed by overwhelming, audaciously rampant violence and sexual abuse against women are considered guilty of crimes against humanity — these actions display pervasive humanity.

In Saudi Arabia, political prisoners are held in detention, and democracy is silenced by threats of intimidation and arrests, all while women continue to face major oppression. It is said that 2013 was one of the worst years for human rights in Saudi Arabia. Females and the poor are considered to be at the bottom of the totem pole, often denied legal rights and knowingly oppressed by the country’s political entities. Women are not allowed to drive or vote, despite the fact that there is no express law making it illegal.

The way that the governments of global powers have responded to the atrocities is disappointing, illuminated by a lack of transparency and accountability and the acceptance of both blatant malevolence and a disregard for human life. Many countries have been criticized for failing to refer these matters to the International Criminal Courts to rectify human rights violations. The UN has deployed peacekeeping troops in such countries to bolster its efforts to protect civilians. Despite such efforts, UN compounds have been targeted and raided as recently as this year — an indication of the prolonged continuation of human rights violations.

Erika Wright

Sources: Alternet, Huffington Post, VOA News
Photo: Occupy

au summit
On the eve of the 23rd Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union, a bomb exploded in an Abuja shopping center, killing 21 and wounding 52. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan returned early from the AU session–held in Equatorial Guinea–in order to address the attack, which comes at a time of great violence for Africa’s most highly populated country. Unfortunately the attack also reinforces the need to confront the security issues of AU nations, which has become the unofficial second theme of the summit.

The attack came only as the first major drama that forced delegates to stray from the official theme, “Year of Agriculture and Food Security.” Experts believe the agricultural sector in Africa could end extreme poverty on the continent within one generation, but not without modernization.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reaffirmed UN support for the AU objectives, stating, “We will assist in ensuring universal education, achieving gender equality and empowering women. We will help advance respect for human rights… We are doing all of this as part of our overall efforts to achieve sustainable development.”

In spite of any such intentions, the AU summit exposed seemingly endless controversy. Beginning with the host country, Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema spoke to the former Spanish colony’s desire to restructure its relationship with the West in order to foster development, calling the current relationship “…a neo-colonial system which perpetuates the old colonial one… Africa should renegotiate relations with [the] developed world.” Yet having seized control over three decades ago, Nguema paid a hefty sum to host what critics have deemed an opportunity to showcase his €580 million Sipopo Conference Center whilst concealing the grave inequality in a country ruled by an oil-rich elite.

Nguema has also severely restricted freedom of speech for Equatorial Guinea’s small population, especially in terms of criticism. Furthermore, the President’s son and potential successor now holds government posts that have been investigated for money laundering abroad; the government official status protects him from prosecution.

Certain summit guests have triggered debate. The International Criminal Court’s indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir limits potential summit locations to non-signatory countries. Equatorial Guinea also invited Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whose visit has reignited old tensions.

Even more awkward was the early exit of an invited group of American Jews who left the meeting after certain African delegations refused to proceed with their presence. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki then spoke at the inaugural session with harsh words for the state of Israel.

Amid the turmoil, delegates were able to adopt a budget for the 2015 year of over $520 million–still far less than the cost of the building in which they negotiated their draft. The body tabled the popular version of Agenda 2063, a plan to gear Africa toward sustainable development over the next 50 years. The AU seeks increased grass-root participation in the creation of the Agenda, and has urged national governments to raise awareness among their citizens.

The leaders will meet again for the 24th Session in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January 2015. Perhaps next year the AU will be better prepared to focus on the theme “Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063.”

– Erica Lignell

Sources: All Africa, All Africa 2, BBC, Reuters, Human Rights Watch, UN, EIN News Desk, African Union Commission Facebook
Photo: African Union

world_globe_borgen_africa
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—a country currently at the bottom of the Human Development Index—the sentencing of Germain Katanga at the International Criminal Court (ICC) this past week has brought mixed reactions.

The Court convicted the former commander of the Forces de Résistance for his role in the February 2003 attack on the village of Bogoro in North-Eastern DRC that resulted in the deaths of over 200 people.

Conflict has consumed this area of the DRC, and more specifically the Ituri region, for years. The power struggle stems from the drive to control the local natural resources, namely gold. Approximately 130,000-150,000 persons in Ituri alone mine gold, often working over 12 hours a day.

High gold taxes and exploitation of small-scale miners prevents many from achieving a decent standard of living. This, in partnership with low agricultural production, produces hunger throughout the population.

Of the two convictions the ICC has realized since its inception, both defendants committed their crimes in Ituri. Critics of the Court point to the prevalence of indicted African leaders as an example of political influence. The failure to enforce their indictments, as in the case of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, has weakened the Court’s credibility.

Signatory states to the ICC’s Rome Statute can also refer certain cases to the Office of the Prosecutor, which means governments may use the Court as a weapon against political opponents rather than a source of justice. Critics have also questioned the influence of the West on the Court, considering 60 percent of ICC funding comes from the European Union.

The ICC appears to be arriving at a crossroads between political showcase and legitimate enforcer of the law. Were the Court to gain its intended footing on the international stage, it would have the opportunity to affect change in the DRC. Deterrence aside, criminal trials allow victims to finally describe their experiences, which can help in the process of national reconciliation.

Implementing law promotes the stability that could do little to harm an economy destroyed by years of warfare. Each trial brings media coverage that can be harnessed to advocate for aid to the DRC. Regardless, the relationship between the ICC and the DRC will be interesting to watch in the coming years.

– Erica Lignell

Sources: Brookings, European Commission, International Policy Digest, IRIN, La Presse, World Bank

What Elections in Kenya Mean to the United States
Uhuru Kenyatta is slated to be the next President of Kenya. The elections in Kenya on Monday were a monumental and happy moment because they were one of the most peaceful elections the country has ever had. And now, as ballots are being counted, Kenyatta has the lead.

For the United States, while the peaceful elections are celebrated, Uhuru Kenyatta becoming President may lead to some serious problems. Kenyatta has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for a long list of heinous crimes. He has been accused of stirring up the local militia to conduct retaliation attacks in the previous election that killed numerous people, including innocent women and children.

The United States has invested a lot in Kenya, serving as an important ally to the region. Even more, Kenya has become a crucial center on Terror.

Yet, the United States is dedicated to justice. And supporting or working with a president that has been indicted by the ICC for crimes against human rights, against women and children, would not be living up to this value. President Obama’s administration, as well as the administrations of many of its allies, are faced with the very tough decision to either completely distance themselves from Kenya, because even small things like diplomats shaking Kenyatta’s hand could be problematic, or figure out a way to work with Kenyatta and still put forth a message of justice.

Jendayi Frazer, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, said, “This is going to pose a very awkward situation. Kenyatta knows he needs the United States, and the United States knows it needs Kenya.” Some even say that the United States needs Kenya more than Kenya needs the United States.

The Obama Administration has refused to talk about the situation, only saying, in the words of President Obama, “The choice of who will lead Kenya is up to the Kenyan people.” Once Kenyatta is announced President, the United States, and its allies must proceed very cautiously.

– Angela Hooks

Sources: NY Times, CNN
Photo: Forbes