Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar's
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
We call upon all States to ratify the Protocol without delay. Canada
has done so. The aspirations of the Protocol must be transformed into
Mr. President, let Winnipeg be the city that history will recall as
the place where the world awoke and acted decisively.
Child soldiers of