Dallaire: ‘The younger generation is screaming to get engaged’

By: Michael Posner

In 1994, a teenage soldier thrust a rifle under the nose of Roméo Dallaire, commander of the United Nations peacekeeping troops during the Rwandan genocide. Thus did Mr. Dallaire, now a senator, come face to face with the insidious use of child soldiers. Today, civil conflicts in Africa and elsewhere deploy about 250,000 child soldiers, all under 18, boys and girls callously used for fighting, logistics, sex slaves and bush wives. With an international campaign to curb the practice, and a new film on the subject opening at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival Saturday. Mr. Dallaire reflects on how his African nightmare shaped his own – and his children’s – views and what he thinks the next generation can do.

Opposing the use of child soldiers is a no-brainer. But how is your Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative trying to change the reality on the ground?

I recently met with a rebel commander in the Congo. I said to him, “Why are you recruiting children to do your fighting, and using girls for sex?” He denied both charges, because he’s no dummy. He knows there’s an international convention against the practice. So then I proceeded to shame him. These guys live and thrive on their male ego – their prestige. It’s a fundamental trait of leadership. They can never be seen as weak or wavering. They are in the most ruthless of wars and there is no room for nice guys. So, as a former commander, I say to him, “What kind of soldier are you that actually uses kids to do your fighting? You can’t recruit adults? You’re not good enough?You have to steal kids out of schools, drug them, indoctrinate them?” He got so pissed off. Because I was telling him he doesn’t have the balls to build a legitimate force. But, practically, the number of child soldiers in use at any one time has not dropped in 20 years.

You came face to face with child soldiers during the Rwandan genocide. You witnessed unspeakable atrocities. Your eldest child, Willem, was 15 when you came back. What impact did your experiences there have on your children?

There are still echoes for them, even today. It manifests as anger. None of them has been able to read my book, Shake Hands with the Devil. They’ve only dabbled with it. Because even though they were living in Canada at the time, they saw the effects it had on me.

Those effects were traumatic, to say the least.

They were. But when I stopped trying to kill myself, literally, I realized that maybe there was something I could do. But I also realized that I had to be ready for decades of work – and to die before I see the end of it. You can’t bring in a new weapons system to the military in less than 20 years. Similarly, if you really want to change the cultural framework of Afghanistan, you have to be prepared to spend 50 or 70 years at it.

That’s a huge, societal commitment. How do you inspire the next generation to embrace it?

The younger generation, under 25, is screaming to get engaged – to become activists. I call them the generation beyond borders because they are global. I recommend that we help get them into the world. Let them see the world and bring it back to influence our national policies. Let there be a rite of passage after high school or their undergraduate years. Let there be a pair of boots under their beds, soiled with the dirt of a developing country.

Financed by?

Themselves. Oh, yeah, none of this Peace Corps stuff. You are instituting a philosophical framework. Let them scrounge and work for it. It doesn’t have to be for two years. Let it be a month. Let them join a non-governmental organization or create a new one. The NGOs, I predict, will eventually supersede nation-states, in terms of moral force.

Have your own children followed this prescription?

My eldest son went on army missions to Sierra Leone and Haiti. My daughter went to South Africa and built a mission for abused women in Peru. My younger son and his wife saved $8,000, went to southern Uganda and worked their butts off for a month for an NGO. They came back with a difference in their eyes.

How did you talk to your children about what you had seen?

I didn’t. I didn’t talk to anybody – not to them, not to my wife. When I did talk, I’d be violent and impatient and intolerant. One fundamental difficulty of coming back from these missions is, we’re not sure where reality is. We’re here living in one reality, domestic affluence and opulence, but we know that another reality, poverty and suffering, continues where we were. So where is reality? Dealing with that breeds intolerance. Being traumatized is another complication. I tried to destroy myself by working myself to death, 20 to 22 hours a day, very little sleep. I was finally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after having a row with a senior military commander. PTSD is an injury, not a disease, but it took a long time to recognize that. In the old days, we sorted out mental injuries at the legion, where guys went and drank. Those Saturday nights – my father was a staff sergeant who spent six years overseas during the Second World War – were the nights we, his children, were safe. But It’s only in the last three or four years I’ve stabilized and been able to talk to my children and take their questioning. They are still working through it, 19 years later.

How long did it take you to get over that?

Who said I’m over it? A year ago, my granddaughter, seven months old at the time, hit her head on a coffee table. Everyone reacted, of course. But I didn’t move. I couldn’t move. Because I was staring at a mental Teleprompter showing the hundreds and hundreds of Rwandan kids I’d seen hacked and left to die in the mud. It took me a long time to pick up my granddaughter. I was afraid that if she started crying, I’d drop her, because I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I take a dozen pills every day. Blood pressure, anti-anxiety, downers to eliminate dreams. I am not me when I take them. I am a me that’s been modified by drugs. But the me that’s not on the stuff – you wouldn’t want to be around me.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Fighting to let children be children

Original Article Link

By: Lois Legge

As executive director of Romeo Dallaire’s Child Soldiers Initiative, Shelly Whitman has seen a lot. It’s a constant motivator to keep going, she tells Features Writer Lois Legge

SHELLY WHITMAN has seen children holding AK-47s.

And sat across the table from warlords.

She’s spoken to girls who’ve been gang raped and forced to fight on the front lines.

And met boys who’ve had to loot, spy and kill just to eat.

That was a long way away from her office at Halifax’s Dalhousie University, where pictures of children aiming guns and posters of Canada’s most famous soldier hang on the walls.

Just past the small sign on the door: Romeo Dallaire’s Child Soldiers Initiative.

But the Tantallon native, PhD in international law and mother of four hopes what starts here eventually helps end the use of child soldiers worldwide — a mission the organization’s founder has declared “the ultimate focus of the rest of my life.”

The global non-profit — designated “subject matter experts” by the United Nations — is a small group, just Whitman (the executive director) and five other staff, with Dallaire as their founder and a “deeply involved” adviser who comes to the Dal headquarters regularly and “is not just here in name.”

Over the past two years, they’ve managed to teach military and peacekeeping forces everywhere from Sierra Leone to Uganda — 500 personnel from 46 countries — how to respond when they encounter these smallest victims of strife.

And they’ve urged armies to stop using child soldiers, whose numbers reach an estimated 250,000 worldwide, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, the same place that inspired both Dallaire and Whitman to push for change.

Dallaire commanded the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. More than 800,000 people died. He suffered post traumatic stress disorder in the aftermath but went on to become a Canadian senator (now retired), author, scholar and key advocate for children of war and other humanitarian causes.

Whitman — a Saint Mary’s University graduate who earned her masters and PhD in the United Kingdom — became involved with Dallaire’s then-mostly- virtual initiative in 2008. She’d just arrived back in Halifax after seven years in Africa, where she met her husband and where she first met child soldiers while working on the peace process in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“I was interested in Romeo’s perspective on it because what I saw was that there wasn’t anybody else talking about this issue from the perspective that he was talking about it,” says the former SMU soccer player who’s worked with Stephen Lewis (Order of Canada recipient and Canada’s former ambassador to the UN) at UNICEF headquarters in New York and with former Botswana president Quett Masire on the peace process in Congo.

Dallaire, she says, had “unique” ideas about how to combat the use of child soldiers.

“He was talking about how children are used as weapons in war, how they’re viewed as tactically advantageous to groups. And if we’re going to try to address the problem, then we need to address how we convince groups that they aren’t an advantage.”

So Whitman, then working as deputy director of Dal’s Centre for Foreign Policy Studies, approached Dallaire to speak at the university.

He wasn’t able to visit at that time. But as time passed, she became more immersed in the organization’s work, eventually becoming executive director of an initiative whose primary focus is prevention.

“We always talk about it as this being our bite of the elephant,” she says, noting many organizations are trying to help child soldiers.

“There’s an African saying: One cannot eat an elephant alone and this is our bite of it.”

Today, when she plans training programs in places like Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Botswana and Congo, memories of what she’s seen there and heard from the children themselves are a constant motivator to keep going.

It’s “common” to see girls and boys, some as young as six, carrying weapons, she says. Some have been kidnapped from their homes; others “volunteered,” thinking it could mean a better life. Others are orphans or have been offered by their parents for money in poverty-stricken countries where food and other necessities are scarce.

“You’re not going to see six-year-olds out on the battlefield. But if they’re around that lifestyle, they’re learning how to do things like clean weapons, to collect the food, to spy. Then that way of life is all that they ever know, and later on, when you try to rehabilitate those children, they’re the most difficult because they can’t remember what life was like before.”

Girl soldiers — who number almost as many as boys, an estimated 40 per cent— endure an extra level of degradation — “domestic servitude” and “sexual slavery.”

“We were interviewing a girl soldier in the (Congo) back in 2010 when I was there and we were asking her about the roles that girls undertake, and she was saying it depends on what day it is.

“Sometimes you choose to go to the front line because it’s better than being raped by three men. Some days you choose to stay off the battlefield because you’re thinking that it’s going to be such a horrific situation that I’d rather stay back and face the sexual slavery. So it’s not much of a choice.”

Teaching armies to make a different choice is a big part of the organization’s education process, says Whitman, who also teaches a summer course at Dal called Children and War.

Commanders often see children as cheap, malleable and convenient. They are small and can spy or get into small places without being detected. They’ll often take more risks because they’re not old enough to consider the consequences. And, says Whitman, their leaders don’t even have to feed them. They can just give them permission to loot villages.

But Whitman and her staff turn that around, stressing the potential disadvantages, everything from a child’s unpredictability to how easily they might be manipulated by the enemy.

“Also there are times when that physical size is a disadvantage as well. Children who use AK-47s, there’s increasing evidence showing that the kickback from the AK-47 is too powerful for the children and creates a lot of hernia problems for them and if the child becomes injured, then you have a liability.

“Some of the tactical disadvantages too are also things related to the emotions of the children,” says Whitman, whose group receives office space from Dal (falling under its foreign studies department) and funding from individuals, corporations and foundations.

“So they may not cope that well with being away from their mom and their dad if they have never had this situation before so that can be a detriment in terms of them thinking about those issues when you want them to be thinking about the battlefield.”

Whitman has managed to keep her own emotions in check in often-demoralizing or dangerous situations.

While in the Congo, she met many commanders who ordered adult and child troops to commit atrocities. One of them, Jean-Pierre Bemba, is now being tried in the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

Like many other leaders of rebel factions, he didn’t come with “horns on his head.”

He came across as “very charming,” she says, “well spoken, well dressed —someone who would have had an Armani suit on and a Rolex watch.”

But then, in the world of child soldiers, things are often not entirely as they seem.

These boys and girls of war carry AK-47s and they’ve been trained to kill. But, says Whitman, always in her mind is that they are still children.

“This could make me cry,” says the mother of children aged 21 months to 20, recalling an encounter with about 85 of them at a UNICEF transition centre in Congo.

“They had just been released (from the battlefield) within the last two months, and I remember walking into that centre and not really knowing what was going to face me when I walked in. There was no security or anything, and I just went in with the people who were running the centre and it was remarkable. All of them looked like they were between the ages of about eight and 12, 13 and I thought, how do I start to have a conversation with these boys?

“And what I just thought immediately was let me go up to them and just put out my hand and say ‘Hi, my name is Shelly.’ And when I did that, they were coming from every corner to come over and line up to just touch (my) hand. And at the time, I realized they just wanted the human touch, and I had to gather myself together for a minute and turn away because I saw my own children.

“The only difference is that my children weren’t born here.”


Child pirates: A world away from play

Original Article Link

By: DalNews

When an international naval vessel is being attacked by modern day pirates off the coast of Somalia or Nigeria, the crew is not scrutinizing the pirates’ appearances — they are focusing on staying alive. But if they did get a good look at the group of armed pirates, they would see that sometimes, up to one in three of them are children.

“You can get killed just as easily by a 10-year-old as by a 30-year-old,” says Hugh Williamson, lead investigator of the Dalhousie Marine Piracy Project.

Children are being used in piracy for the same reasons they’re used in armed conflicts around the world: they are cheap, easily available and easy to lead, says Prof. Williamson. But the lasting impact on both the children involved and the piracy market is massive.

When “catch and release” no longer works

Piracy is complicated from a legal perspective, in that the attacks do not take place within national borders. Because of this, many countries adopt the “catch and release” tactic, confiscating the pirates’ weapons and releasing them back to the high seas instead of dealing with the legal process.

But recognizing the role of children complicates the legal scenario even further, because vastly different standards exist for dealing with juvenile criminals. Not only do countries have a obligation to deal with children differently in the legal system, they are bound by obligations of the International Labour Organization (ILO). Piracy is considered one of its “worst forms of labour,” which means that nations have a responsibility to remove children from the line of work.

Prof. Williamson, an adjunct professor with the Marine Affairs Program, has actually been criticized at international meetings for raising the issue. He’s been confronted by dignitaries and delegates who prefer terms like “possible juvenile pirate suspects” as opposed to “children in piracy.” It’s easier to just avoid the problem, which is what Prof. Williamson and his team of researchers are trying to change.

“Our attitude is that if it’s everybody’s problem, then everyone has an entitlement to work on these issues,” he says. “A country cannot turn around and say it’s not their problem.”

Huge financial impacts

Last year, the two-year interdisciplinary project, which goes by the acronym PIRACY (Policy Development and Interdisciplinary Research for Actions on Coastal Communities, Youth and Seafarers), hosted an international workshop to identify areas of piracy that are not being dealt with adequately despite the large amounts of money spent on combating the issue — and money wasted because of inaction.

It’s estimated that the global transportation industry loses $7-12 billion each year due to piracy, raising the price of consumer goods that are travelling the globe.

“For $7-12 billion a year, I could hire every pirate in Somalia into a semi-professional soccer league, provide them all with uniforms and have them play soccer,” says Prof. Williamson, speaking hypothetically to the opportunity cost of avoiding the piracy issue. “It would be a lot cheaper doing that then paying the cost of piracy.”

Given that cutting off child labour would represent a huge economic hit to global piracy, the Dalhousie Marine Piracy Project, working with the Dalhousie-based Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, is developing strategies to combat the issue, starting with raising awareness.

“If you can get the problem recognized and have it added to the responsibilities of international agencies so they will be looking at the issue and identifying the problem, then you’ll start getting some international action,” says Prof. Williamson.

If the use of children in piracy can be recognized as an international crime against humanity, then systematically the adult pirates coercing children into their crews can be arrested for that, as well as for their piracy crimes.

Another asset will be reliable data. Prof. Williamson is pushing for the international shipping organizations to start recording the numbers of children in piracy, in order to address the severity of the problem.

Next, the project is seeking support for a handbook that would help organizations address children in piracy.

“The idea would be that it is a set of rules, procedures and best practices to be distributed to security forces and shipping companies so that when they run into a situation, they would know which steps to take and how to deal with it,” says Prof. Williamson, suggesting that the Child Soldiers Handbook will be a starting point.

Fire prevention

Despite their work so far, the people involved in the Marine Piracy Project see that the international community is doing more firefighting than it needs to. Consider a country like Nigeria, which has become a new hotbed for piracy and where the world really only took notice when international shipping community was affected.

“The easiest way to stop a fire is don’t let it get started in the first place,” says Prof. Williamson. For that reason, the project is working on pre-emptive strategies such as local radio programs and a PR campaign to encourage parents and children not to get involved in piracy.

“If we can keep youth from getting involved, it can really weaken the capabilities of piracy to evolve into a well-organized entity.”

The project still has a long way to go, but Prof. Williamson is pleased with the work that they’ve accomplished to date.

“The first step to any solution is recognizing you’ve got a problem, and we’re recognizing it and publicizing it.”

New Initiative Sets Out to Prevent Child Soldiers

By: Nina DeVries

It’s been over a decade since the civil war ended in Sierra Leone.  During the war, 50,000 people were killed and millions displaced.  Child soldiers played a key role in the conflict, as rebels recruited them to pick up weapons, fight and be used as sex slaves and spies.  Now, a non-profit group is looking to help Sierra Leone change its image and become a leader in the campaign against the use child soldiers in Africa.

Twenty-seven-year-old Adama – not her real name – was recruited by rebels in the north of Sierra Leone during the country’s civil war.

“They asked my father to have sex with me, he refused, when he refused, he lost his life… Seeing your dad [killed] in cold blood in front of you, it’s not easy,” she said.

A rebel then raped her at 12 years of age.

Adama says she spent two years with the rebel group The Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

She says normally she would’ve become a permanent sex slave for them but brigadier general’s wife took a liking to her, and she only had to cook and clean for the RUF members.

Or act as a spy.

“So we are the ones they send as intelligence to get info for them, so we go back and say hey, there’s this many police and soldiers around and they get ready to go for the fight,” she said.

She eventually managed to escape to Guinea where she received refugee status before coming back to Sierra Leone when the war ended.

Thousands of other children captured by rebels during the Sierra Leone civil war have similar stories, according to a Canadian-based organization, the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

The organization, created in 2008 by Roméo Dallaire, a retired lieutenant-general and former force commander of the U.N. Assistance Mission for Rwanda, estimates that 10,000 children were victims of military recruitment in Sierra Leone.

Shelly Whitman, the executive director of the organization, says the initiative aims to create training and education programs to prevent the future use of child soldiers.

Whitman says the organization plans to with work the military and police in Sierra Leone as well as youth.

“So teaching kids that if conflict does break out, you need to be aware that you could be taken by an armed group, here is how we suggest how you might prevent yourself from being taken, if you are taken, here are some pointers on how to escape being taken,” she said.

Whitman says the Child Soldiers Initiative has trained troops around the globe on how to deal with child soldiers in combat but this is the first time the organization is working directly with a country for a nationwide project.

“What if we look at this as creating a model for how the rest of world could prevent the use of children in armed conflict and take it and mold it so can be used in DRC [the Democratic Republic of Congo] or Somalia or other contacts around the world,” she said.

Kalia Sesay, the officer for police peacekeeping operations in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, says many former child soldiers have now been reintegrated into society but more rehabilitation could still be done.  Some former child soldiers have gone on to lead a life of drugs and crime.

“There might be one or two bad eggs that need rehabilitation and it is a police concern which we need to work on,” said Sesay.

Meanwhile, Adama is pleased the initiative is happening.  She says it’s been hard to be accepted back into society because of her past.

“When these things have happened, there are stigmas around us.  Some are even afraid of coming close to us and interacting with us so I think with this program things will change,” she said.

The project is expected to be fully operating in Sierra Leone by June.

Analysis: Girl child soldiers face new battles in civilian life

Original Article Link

By: IRIN News

JOHANNESBURG, 12 February 2013 (IRIN) – Girl child soldiers are often thought of only as “sex slaves”, a term that glosses over the complex roles many play within armed groups and in some national armies. This thinking contributes to their subsequent invisibility in the demobilization processes – in fact, girls are frequently the most challenging child soldiers to rehabilitate.

The broad categorization of girl soldiers as victims of sexual abuse obscures the fact that they are often highly valued militarily. While sexual abuse is believed to be widespread, girls’ vulnerability may vary, as attitudes toward women differ extensively across militias: In Colombia, the Marxist-leaning groups the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN) treated female soldiers as equal to males, while right-wing paramilitary groups were known to embrace gender stereotypes.

Some have argued that disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes (DDR) are ill-equipped to address the needs of girls. DDR was designed for adult male combatants, and over the years has incorporated female combatants, followed by boy soldiers and then girls.

A January 2013 World Bank briefing, Children in Emergency and Crisis Situations, says: “The use of girls [by armed forces] has been confirmed in Colombia, DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo], East Timor, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Uganda and West Africa. There are some 12,500 in DRC. However, girls are generally less visible and up to now have hardly benefited from demobilization and reintegration programmes for child soldiers.”

“No one knows what has happened after a DDR process to the large majority of girls associated with the armed groups,” the briefing said.

About 40 percent of the hundreds of thousands of child soldiers scattered across the world’s conflicts today are thought to be girls, but the numbers of girls enrolling in child soldier DDR programmes dwindles to five percent or less.

Girls often conceal their association with armed groups, Richard Clarke, director of Child Soldiers International, told IRIN. In traditional societies, enrolling in DDR could confirm a past that imperils their future: “In contexts of entrenched gender discrimination, and in situations where a girl’s ‘value’ is defined in terms of her purity and marriageability, the stigma attached to involvement in sexual activity, whether real or imputed, can result in exclusion and acute impoverishment,” he said.

Seeking gender equality

Then there is the uncomfortable reality that some conflicts may actually fast-track gender emancipation.

A 2012 report by Tone Bleie of the University of Tromsø’s Centre for Peace Studies (CPS) explores this issue. During Nepal’s civil war, when Maoists conscripted “one member per house”, some parents offered their daughters to spare “sons whom they considered as their life insurance.” Of the Maoists’ 23,610 combatants at the cessation of hostilities, 5,033 were female, and of them 988 were girls.

“Female combatants developed a new sense of pride and dignity due to personal sacrifices, military courage, feats in the battlefield and prospects of promotion in the ranks”

“Female combatants developed a new sense of pride and dignity due to personal sacrifices, military courage, feats in the battlefield and prospects of promotion in the ranks,” the report says.

In the wake of Nepal’s 2006 ceasefire, during the cantonment of Maoists rebels and the subsequent reintegration process, girls and women were returned “to [the] very low position of women in traditional Nepalese feudal society,” Desmond Molloy, a panellist at the International Research Group on Reintegration at the CPS, told IRIN.

“Inter-cast marriage, and marriage in general, was encouraged in the cantonment. This is taboo in Nepali society and proved a major obstacle for reintegration of young girls back into society, especially when they have children, as many do. Further there is in [Nepal’s] society a perception of a promiscuous environment in the cantonment. So many young girls were viewed with suspicion by their families, rejected by their new in-laws or ostracized by the community,” Molloy said.

Abdul Hameed Omar, programme manager for the UN Development Programme’s Interagency Rehabilitation Programme, told IRIN that acceptance of inter-cast marriages was particularly problematic. “Children have been denied birth certificates, and women have been denied their citizenship certificates. When the community knows that a woman has been part of the PLA [People’s Liberation Army], these women sometimes face a stigma,” he said.

He said attitudes of male Maoist ex-combatants “vary widely” but that “many voiced opinions that were not in line with their previous [gender equality] beliefs during the conflict. Other male ex-combatants who played traditionally female roles during the conflict, i.e., cooking or childcare, no longer feel that these are appropriate roles for men outside of the PLA.”

Loss of power

Many Colombian girl soldiers, who fought as equals to their male counterparts, struggled with the double standards of civilian life.

“For some girls, belonging to an illegal armed group gives them a sense of power and control that they may not otherwise experience living in a relatively conservative, ‘machista’ [chauvinist] society,” said Overcoming Lost Childhoods, a Care International report about rehabilitating Colombian child soldiers.

By the end of Eritrea’s 30-year-long liberation war, in 1991, females comprised between 25 and 30 percent of combatants. The gender-equality ideals espoused by the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front’s (EPLF) had proved an attractive lure for female recruits, including some who were teenagers or younger.

“Many Eritrean female ex-fighters experienced the years of war as preferable to the time that came afterwards”

But “many Eritrean female ex-fighters experienced the years of war as preferable to the time that came afterwards… They had felt respected, equal and empowered, but this was all lost after the war when women were pushed towards traditional gender roles,” said the 2008 report Young Female Fighters in African Wars, Conflict and Its Consequences.

Eritrea’s DDR programmes initially tailored economic opportunities for women to traditional gender roles – basket weaving, typing and embroidery – but this did not provide a sustainable livelihood. Training women in traditionally male trades also proved fruitless because society’s norms ultimately dictated who could get which jobs.

“Furthermore, female ex-fighters had a hard time getting married after the war as men usually claimed that these women had lost their femininity during the war. Many male ex-fighters also divorced their fighter wives for this reason and married civilian women,” the report said.


Girl soldiers’ versatility – they serve as combatants, spies, domestics, porters and “bush wives” – makes them highly valued among armed groups, which can also increase their difficulty reintegrating into civilian life.

Despite this, punishments for girls in northern Uganda, such as whipping or caning, were meted out for the smallest infractions, Linda Dale, director of Children/Youth as Peacebuilders (CAP), told IRIN.

“There is a strong tendency to force a kind of passivity on girls while at the same time they are expected to be combatants. This duality, as well as the effect of sexual violence, makes their rehabilitation more complicated, in my view,” she said.

The length of captivity also differed between the sexes; average internment period for girls in northern Uganda was six to seven years, while boys faced about three years, Dale said. “Because of that, the effects of the experience, and therefore the need for more assistance in re-integration, will be higher. For example, many girl returnees are illiterate because they have been out of school so long.”

Shelly Whitman, executive director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative told IRIN that some girls can be seen as suffering from Stockholm syndrome, where captives develop a sympathetic association with their abusers.

“Girls were raped but then given to or chosen by a commander to be a ‘wife’. They are confused about their experiences, their guilt, their families’ expectations and religious beliefs. Additionally, many have children fathered by their captors. They are often rejected when they return home and viewed as non-marriageable material, damaged goods. With this kind of a homecoming, it creates confusion about your identity and your self-worth,” she said.


The assumptions and expectations of people operating DDR programmes may also affect girls’ reintegration.

Girl soldiers are often assumed to be “‘following along’, rather than girls who have been recruited and used, however informally, for military purposes… These assumptions have resulted in tens of thousands of girls being literally ‘invisible’ to DDR programmers, although the situation has improved somewhat in recent years,” said Clarke of Child Soldiers International.

“Boys with guns are easier to see and easier to fear”

Phillip Lancaster, former head of the DDR programme for the UN Organization Mission in DRC, told IRIN, “Boys with guns are easier to see and easier to fear.” DDR programmes might “ignore girls on the assumption that they don’t present the same threat.”

“My own experience is that girls are often invisible to DDR programmes that draw narrow categories around the notion of combat,” he said. “It’s tricky to avoid getting caught up in categories as soon as one starts trying to define parameters of qualification for DDR programmes, and most of the decisions tend to have a somewhat arbitrary flavour simply because of the complexity of the subject matter.

“Most of the Congolese armed groups… draw on local community resources… The definition of girl child soldier in this setting could, in theory, extend over all the young females in a community who were supporting, supplying, informing or directly fighting with a relevant armed group.”

Coming of Age in a Guantanamo Jumpsuit

Original Article Link


TORONTO, Oct 3 2012 (IPS) – Plenty of monikers have been attached to Omar Khadr, one of the most famous Guantanamo Bay detainees – child soldier, terrorist, war criminal, Al-Qaeda family member, security threat.

One thing is certain: Khadr’s release last weekend to Canadian custody after 10 years has proven highly provocative. His return to Canadian soil has triggered passionate debate about how he should be regarded and whether a man born into a radical family championing terrorism can reintegrate into a society he barely knows.

The tendency to characterise Khadr as a convicted war criminal, given that his confession was made under duress, indicates there are “so many factors related to this particular case that are not being challenged enough” and that the context of children’s use in armed conflict must be reexamined, said Dr. Shelly Whitman, the director of Dalhousie University’s Child Soldiers Initiative in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Now 26, Khadr, a Canadian citizen, was a 15-year-old when captured during a 2002 firefight with U.S. military forces in Afghanistan. He threw a grenade, killing Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer, for which he pleaded guilty to murder, although his supporters argue evidence points to a death resulting from friendly fire.

Khadr, whose sentence began in 2010 and will end in 2018, also admitted to providing material support for terrorism, attempted murder, conspiracy and spying, according to a statement issued by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews over the weekend. The minister added that Khadr, raised in Canada, Pakistan and Afghanistan, was an Al-Qaeda supporter whose accomplices included Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri.

While Khadr’s life thus far has been a whirlwind of activity, the challenges will not end once he is a free man. Whitman told IPS that he will face hurdles to find employment, struggles to catch up with education and “deep problems” from a psychosocial perspective because he experienced torture. However, she cast doubt on the negative influences of his family.

“As far as I’m concerned, this notion that because they have an association and they’ve said some things which are viewed as radical to others in this country, it doesn’t mean necessarily that he’s going to want to commit anything (that forces him) to go back to prison… Why would he do anything to jeopardise going back to that context?”

A poll conducted last month suggested the aversion of many Canadians to Khadr’s return, a problem some say is rooted in the tendency of his portrayal as a child soldier or as a terrorist.

Under the Paris Principles of 2007, guidelines to protect children from recruitment and to assist those already involved with armed groups, “the things that define a child soldier are the very things that would define a child terrorist,” Whitman said. As it stands, there are perception problems in Canada about the definition of a child soldier, a worldwide phenomenon involving boys and girls assigned a variety of roles depending on the particular conflict, she said.

Gail Davidson, executive director of Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada in Vancouver, disagrees with both the terrorist and child soldier claims.

The United States has not presented any evidence to any court that Khadr threw the grenade killing the U.S. soldier, she told IPS, adding that it would have been classified as “murder according to the laws of war” had he, as an armed combatant, killed an opponent.

“As far as Mr. Khadr being a child soldier, we don’t know whether he was a child soldier or not,” Davidson argued. “We don’t know of any instance of him ever bearing arms or otherwise engaging in warfare.”

The October 2010 plea agreement by which the U.S. government agreed to limit his additional imprisonment to eight years if he pleaded guilty to all the U.S. offences “should be properly viewed as a confession obtained through the use of torture and not as a reliable and legitimate determinant of guilt or innocence”, she said.

During his detention, Khadr complained of being forced into painful stress positions, threatened with rape and rendition to third-party countries, hooded, and confronted with barking dogs, some of which was confirmed by U.S. government witnesses, according to a Sep. 29 press release issued by Human Rights Watch. The organisation added he was denied legal counsel until 2004.

For the most part, Khadr has received positive assessments by psychiatric experts.

Last year, psychiatrist Stephen Xenakis reported no “indication of aggressive or dangerous behavior” after 300 hours of interaction with Khadr, who has “consistently emphasized his goal to establish a constructive and peaceful life as a Canadian citizen”, according to a letter written to Minister Toews.

In several conversations, Khadr “repudiated” the beliefs of terrorist groups and demonstrated a “capacity to engage with others in a healthy way”, added Katherine Porterfield, a clinical psychologist for the defence team, in a letter to the minister in 2011.

Still, there are detractors, among them psychiatrist Michael Welner. Welner worked with Khadr for 500 to 600 hours and described him as dangerous. Citing the Canadian’s demonstrated capacity to kill, Al-Qaeda affiliations and “hardened” family members conveying “belligerence towards the United States”, Werner testified that he feared the young man’s history and associates will all “contribute mightily” to bolstering Al-Qaeda’s North American presence.

Khadr advocates are concerned that Welner’s testimony heavily influenced the Canadian government. Upon Khadr’s release to Canadian authorities, the public safety minister expressed anxiety about the 26-year-old’s romanticisation of his father’s activities (which he viewed as NGO-related) and many of the issues raised by the psychiatrist. Ottawa pledged to offer appropriate programming during Khadr’s imprisonment and strict conditions if he is granted parole as early as next year.

Other reintegration proposals are based on keeping Khadr away from the negative influences of his family, but it was never clear which feasible assurances could be offered since media reports indicate his family wishes to see him, David Harris, the director of the international and terrorist intelligence programme at INSIGNIS Strategic Research Inc. in Ottawa and a former chief of strategic planning for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, told IPS.

Overall, the saga of Omar Khadr has been impacted by “possible simple-mindedness” surrounding the question of his child-soldier status, as some have insisted on the label without fully examining the specific merits and implications of the evidence, Harris said. Certain individuals have regarded as “wholly irrelevant” the issue of criminal responsibility, he added.

These “sentimental” views neglect to a large extent the public safety implications of cases like Khadr’s and understate the “burgeoning terror issue that I fear will become an extremely prominent feature of Canadian life”, Harris said.