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Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar's Address
to The International Conference on War-Affected Children,
Winnipeg, Canada, September 17, 2000

Mr. President, the cause that brings us to Winnipeg is just and noble. We are here today to move urgently from words to deeds. We are not here to rationalize, excuse or mitigate conduct which is criminal and unforgivable. It is an accepted principle of international law that criminal acts intended to provoke a state of terror are under no circumstances justifiable by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other similar nature. Likewise, the use of children in war is utterly and totally unacceptable. If cannot be justified under any circumstances whatsoever.

There is ample international legislative authority available. What is required now is the political will and commitment to act.

In the United Nations Millennium Declaration the General Assembly resolved, among other matters, "to encourage the ratification and full implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts…"

A few days ago Sri Lanka, a State party in full compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified the Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. This Protocol notes the inclusion in the Statute of the International Criminal Court of conscripting, enlisting or using children in combat as a war crime in both international and non-international armed conflicts.

Sri Lanka also made a binding Declaration under the Protocol reiterating that, under its laws: there is no compulsory, forced or coerced recruitment into the national armed forces; recruitment is solely on a voluntary basis; and the minimum age for voluntary recruitment into national armed forces is 18 years.

Mr. President, abominable crimes are being committed against young Tamil children in Sri Lanka by the rebel group known as the Tamil Tigers. They have been, and still are, forcibly conscripting even 10 year old children, boys and girls, for battle against the Sri Lankan Army. Some of these children have been programmed into suicide bombers.

In 1998 at the invitation of my Government the Secretary General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Mr. Olara Otunnu, visited Sri Lanka, and obtained from the Tamil Tiger leaders the assurance that they would not recruit any young person under the age of 17 and would not send into battle any person below 18. A few months ago he stated that there are continuous reports of the recruitment and use of children by the Tamil Tigers. In a poignant answer to a question the Special Representative said:

Children who become soldiers lose their innocence. Part of the reason why the fighting groups will tend to reach out to children is because, of course, the adults may become disillusioned, they maybe killed off, they may run away, so they reach the children who are less able to defend themselves. But there's a more cynical reason: that children, because they are innocent, can be moulded into the most unquestioning, ruthless tools of warfare, into suicide.commandos, into committing the worst atrocities. In other situations, it is ideology - come fight for the homeland, come fight for our ethnic group, come fight for a new society - that may appeal to families and to children. So there are many reasons which facilitate the abuse of children in this way.

I thank the Special Representative for having had the courage to speak out on this important issue. To remain silent in the face of such criminality is to encourage and condone it.

A few months ago the UNICEF representative in Sri Lanka told journalists that the situation of children in the areas held by the Tamil Tigers had worsened since the visit of the Special Representative. "Some parents have reported to us that their children have been recruited. It is a serious problem", he said. He added "until the LTTE announce to their own people that they have measures to prevent children below 17 years being recruited, we cannot take their promises seriously". I thank UNICEF for bringing this sad state of affairs to public attention.

A courageous and respected University Teachers Human Rights Group, consisting mostly of Tamil teachers who used to teach at Jaffna University, have recently written that since last May a fresh child recruitment campaign has been launched by the Tamil Tigers. Children as young as 10 years are being forcibly conscripted, age being no consideration as long as the child was able to carry a gun.

Mr. President, today from this podium in Winnipeg I call for international solidarity in implementing that Convention and Protocol, vis-a-vis the offending non-State actor, the Tamil Tigers, who operate on the territory of our State; the rationale for this position being that the Tamil Tigers sustain their criminal activities, their military campaign, their deployment of child soldiers, through funds raised on the territories of other State parties which are obliged to co-operate in terms of the Protocol and the Convention. The scale of these funds is staggering - estimated by reputed sources to be in the region of 3 to 4 million US dollars a month.

We call upon all States to ratify the Protocol without delay. Canada has done so. The aspirations of the Protocol must be transformed into reality.

Mr. President, let Winnipeg be the city that history will recall as the place where the world awoke and acted decisively.

Child soldiers of the LTTE





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