50 South Sudanese military commanders in Akobo receive child protection training, request verification of barracks
When civil war broke out in South Sudan, education was disrupted for tens of thousands of children. Many were separated from their parents and, worse still, recruited into armed forces and groups themselves.
Protecting child rights is, therefore, a key aspect that the Government of South Sudan and the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) are collaborating on as part of the nation’s bid to establish itself as a true democracy with a spotless human rights record.
The long-term objective is for South Sudanese armed groups to be removed from what is known as the ‘list of shame.’
The list being referred to is part of the UN Secretary-General’s report on the situation of children in armed conflict and contains national armies and other military groups known to perpetrate one or more of the six grave violations.
These consist of the recruitment and use of children, killing and maiming, sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals, abductions, and the denial of humanitarian access to children in need.
Some progress towards this end has been achieved: By adopting the Comprehensive Action Plan to stamp out violations of the rights of these children, both the South Sudan’s People Defense Forces and the main opposition force have been moved from Annex A to Annex B, which lists armed groups who have taken significant steps to address these problems.
But much more remains to be done.
This is precisely the reason why military officers from the South Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-iO) are pushing for UNMISS to be given access to military barracks in the country to monitor and evaluate the situation and to verify that no soldier within their ranks is a minor.
“We also recommend punitive action against perpetrators of child rights violations and call for the full implementation of the provisions within the Revitalized Peace Agreement related to the unification of forces,” said Brigadier-General Peter Gatkek Tolchek, a commander of the 8th Infantry Division of the SPLA-iO, who led some 50 of the soldiers under his command to attend a sensitization workshop organized by the UN Peacekeeping mission in Akobo, Jonglei.
“This will make it easier to identify any underage soldier, ensure they are immediately discharged and reintegrated into society,” added the Brigadier-General. “We also commit to consistently sensitizing soldiers under our command about the need to protect every child. Children should be in school. There is no place for them in armed conflict. Our aim is to professionalize our soldiers so that they are at par with accepted international military standards.”
Topics discussed were the six grave child rights violations, listing, and delisting, the roles and responsibilities of participants in protecting children and progress made in implementing the Comprehensive Action Plan.
Brigadier-General Tolchek also revealed that the SPLA-iO has appointed Child Protection Focal Points across Jonglei to ensure that the Action Plan is disseminated and upheld widely.
For his part, John Chol, a Child Protection Officer with UNMISS commended the Brigadier-General for these concerted efforts.
“Our focus is to assist all South Sudanese military to embrace the Comprehensive Action Plan. We are delighted that many commanders have taken such active steps to ensure every child can look forward to a peaceful, prosperous future.”