South Sudan to implement zero tolerance for children in army
30 September 2013 - Following the expiration of a grace period for proper reporting of children associated with the army, South Sudan will investigate and take punitive action on all incidents of child recruitment, child use or school occupation by armed forces, the head of the national army’s Child Protection Unit said in Juba today.
“From this moment… any report that comes to my office about violations… accountability will automatically start,” said Brig. Gen. Chaplain Khamis at a workshop for Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) officers.
SPLA child protection officers, legal advisors and judge advocates are attending the three-day workshop, which aims to implement an order signed by Gen. James Hoth Mai, Army Chief of General Staff, on 14 August.
The punitive order declared that “children shall not be recruited into the SPLA or used by or within the SPLA in any capacity for any purpose and SPLA units and/or soldiers will not under any circumstances attack, occupy or use for any purpose schools or school buildings or property.”
The order, which followed a 13 March extension by one year of the Revised Action Plan signed by the United Nations and the SPLA on 13 March 2012, gave a grace period of one and a half month for voluntary reporting and initiation of reintegration of children without penalty.
“This grace period shall terminate on 30 September 2013, after which time all incidents… shall be investigated with a view to severe judicial and administrative action,” the order said. “These prohibitions are without exception and unconditional.”
Brig. Khamis said that although it was clear that SPLA was no longer recruiting children into its ranks, there were still individual soldiers who were bringing children into the barracks. He also urged all army commanders with forces still occupying schools to evacuate them immediately.
“People used to say that we are in the bush, but we are not anymore,” he said. “We are now (governed by) international laws. Without changing our mentality, we will not professionalize our army.”
Speaking on behalf of UNMISS and UNICEF, UNMISS Child Protection Unit head Hazel de Wet urged participants to address root causes of children still associated with armed forces.
“It is in the interest of the UN to support and see how best to leverage our technical capacity to gain an environment where children in South Sudan are able to access school, not military barracks,” she said.
Noting that in the coming weeks 16 similar workshops will be conducted across South Sudan , Ms. de Wet commended the partnership between the government, army, UN agencies and the U.S. State Department’s Technical Assistance and Advisory Team in joining resources to implement the action plan.
“The vast majority of officers are seriously committed to getting SPLA off the Secretary-General’s list of shame,” said State Department Military Justice Advisor Dan Lizzul. “They will do everything to ensure that this order is enforced.”