Open Debate on children in armed conflict
(New York, January 20, 2004)
Statement by Ambassador Luis Guillermo Giraldo, Permanent Representative of Colombia
We would like to thank your delegation for the organization of this open debate and to the Secretary General for the presentation of his report on Children and Armed Conflict. My delegation would like to share with all of you our government and country experience in the difficult task of protecting Colombian children that have been murdered, kidnapped, mutilated, displaced and recruited by the illegal armed groups that operate in the country.
Allow me to begin with what I consider an absolutely important priority. All the violations against the rights of the children merit especial rejection. However, it is important to bear in mind that, in situations of armed conflict, the worst, the most systematic, the most profound and the most extensive violation of those rights is perpetrated by the illegal armed groups devoted to the recruitment of child soldiers. Therefore, the United Nations, this Council, the Secretariat, all of us here, we could be more explicit in our condemnation of those illegal armed groups. Making the pertinent lists, publicizing them, requesting all the Members of the United Nations to consider the seriousness of this issue when receiving members of such groups in their territories or when having any contact with such groups. This could be a good way to exert moral and world pressure, so that these illegal armed groups could begin considering putting and end to such practices.
The Secretary General's report indicates that there is 7000 children that have been recruited by the illegal armed groups. That is to say that one of every four irregular combatants in Colombia is under 18 years old. In accordance with Colombian NGOs estimates, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) illegal armed groups recruit 80% of these children. 35% of the children recruited, most of them by force, desert before one year. Many have been executed when trying to escape by their own friends, also children.
The situation has reached all the levels of cruelty. Human Rights Watch recalled the horrifying testimony of a girl child recruited by the FARC talking about the execution of her best friend when he tried to escape: "I cannot forget Luis, he was my friend. I voted for his execution so the others would not think that I had a chicken's heart, that I chickened out". Concerning the behavior of these illegal armed groups Human Rights Watch stresses that 1. They train the children to have no mercy; 2. They punish, torture and execute the children for lack of compliance with given tasks and codes; 3. They induce them to take part in atrocities. A dramatic example is a boy of just 10 years old used by the FARC to deliver a bomb, who was killed on 17 April 2003 after the bicycle he rode exploded.
However the terror perpetrated by the illegal armed groups on the Colombian children is not circumscribed to recruiting and executing child soldiers if they try to escape, nor to sacrifice them to commit terrorist acts. As it is indicated in the Secretary General's report, "in Colombia, the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) have kidnapped hundreds of children for ransom and as a means of terrorizing civilian populations; 215 children were kidnapped in 2002 and another 112 during the first half of 2003." According to State statistics, from 1996 until 2003, 1819 children have been kidnapped. Even more, according to some statistics, in Colombia every 37 hour a child is kidnapped by the illegal armed groups. The Secretary General also reports that "in Colombia, about 40 per cent of mine victims from 1990 to 2003 were children".
In reference to the illegal armed groups, the Secretary General says that "fear of recruitment has led many families to flee their homes in rural areas". According to national public data, 58% of the displaced population are children and women. Many of those children end up in big cities as street children and have sometimes been victims of arbitrary killings. In this regard, we would like to know the sources consulted that allow the Secretary General to affirm in paragraph 25 that "in Colombia, an increasing number of street children, many of whom have been displaced from the countryside by war, have become victims of arbitrary killings, known locally as "social cleansing"". National data prove the contrary as a result of the State commitment, through national and local authorities, to put and end to these crimes.
I am not here only to comment and expand on the Secretary General's report and the denunciation of all the atrocities committed against the Colombian children by the illegal armed groups. I am also here to inform on the commitment and the results of the Democratic Security Policy of the present Government to protect the human rights of all Colombians, and in particular those of our children.
Homicide, kidnapping and displacement have started to reduce and there is an important increase in the levels of demobilized persons from the illegal armed groups, especially minors. In 2003, 64% of the demobilized were between 14 and 24 years old.
From August 7, 2002, the beginning of President Alvaro Uribe´s term, 3012 irregular combatants have left the illegal armed groups. Of those, 1442 are minors that have joined the Colombian Family Welfare Institute especial programs. This governmental institution assists the 70% demobilized boys child soldiers and 30% demobilized girl soldiers. 893 demobilized minors belonged to the FARC, 275 to the AUC, 198 to the ELN and 25 to other groups. Among the modalities to leave the illegal armed groups, 70% is made on voluntary basis, 26% from capture and 4% from negotiated agreements.
The main cause of voluntary retreat is mistreatment by the illegal armed groups. All of these child soldiers have lost their innocence and the opportunity to enjoy their childhood and of studying. All, deserters and captured, are considered victims. They arrive to the State programs with grave psychological wounds from their experience of war. They constitute a great challenge for the comprehensive and integral rehabilitation program advanced by the State, which includes physical and emotional rehabilitation to allow the minors to rejoin their families, to study or to begin a new civil life on their own, when joining their families is not possible. Unfortunately, many minors relapse and this could be an indication of the permanent damage that they have suffered. This reality is also a motivation to design more effective programs aiming at regaining each of every boy and girl to society and each of every man and woman to be able to build a better future.
Among the progress achieved, the Secretary General's report registers the unilateral declaration of a cease-fire by the Self-Defense Groups and to release all the children soldiers from their groups. Thanks to the Catholic Church mediation, 81 minors (74 boys and 6 girls) were demobilized in June 2003. However, the illegal armed groups in Colombia continue recruiting child soldiers, in violation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that sets the age of 18 as the minimum age for recruitment and direct participation in hostilities, and of the Statute of the International Criminal Court that classified as a war crime the recruitment of minors under 15 years old.
Since 1999, the Colombian State has complied with all of its obligations in pursuant of its international commitments and it does not recruit children under 18. We request the institutions and entities with the necessary influence, such as the Security Council, regional organizations and the States, to exert a gradual and selective pressure on the illegal armed groups that continue to violate the rights of the Colombian children.
As stated by the Secretary General in his past report on the same issue, it is necessary to begin an "era of application". The most serious violations, such as massive killings, recruitment and kidnapping of children, committed every day by the illegal armed groups in Colombia, require primary attention, monitoring mechanisms and exemplifying sanctions.
It is possible that, the Colombian children that had the courage to create the "Children Movement for Peace in Colombia" in a context of violence, as well as the children victims of violation to their rights in every corner of the Earth, could serve as examples of the courage that we all must have to rescue them from the hell they experience in the hands of the violent groups.