UNMISS raises awareness on child protection issues among military personnel in Western Equatoria

unmiss south sudan western equatoria state unpol human rights child protection armed forces workshop

Military officers in Western Equatoria State being told that children should not belong to their ranks. Photos: Denis Louro Oliver/UNMISS

19 May 2022

UNMISS raises awareness on child protection issues among military personnel in Western Equatoria

Denis Louro Oliver

Having recently identified children affiliated with the army of the country’s main opposition group, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan swiftly stepped in to raise awareness on child protection issues related to armed groups.

“This is part of our capacity building. They (armed groups) need to know that they are violating children’s rights, which is also a breach of International Humanitarian Law,” said Moses Bagari, a Child Protection Officer serving with the peacekeeping mission and participating in a workshop held in Lirangu in Western Equatoria State.

A total of 31 officers of the main opposition army, eight of whom were women, were informed about how they should go about respecting human rights and preventing and ending all violations of the rights of children.

The focus of the two-days training session was on how to prevent and end what are known as the six grave violations of children’s rights in armed conflict. 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.

Despite several years of diligently raising military awareness on how to respect children’s’ rights, the workshop in Lirangu made it clear that more capacity building on these topics is necessary.

“This is a very fruitful workshop for us soldiers. If this knowledge had been given to us earlier, violations of the kinds we are discussing wouldn’t have happened. Therefore, we urge UNMISS to reach out to all commanders who have not yet been trained,” said Captain Hellena Batista.

The workshop also included sessions on the peacekeeping mission’s mandate and basic human rights.

“In a democratic society it is fundamental that the military are aware of their obligations regarding human rights and not only the rules of engagement during war. That way they can be partners for peace and strengthen the rule of law,” said Leticia Marino, a Human Rights Officer serving with the UN mission.

The long-term objective, according to Brigadier Luis Uku, a Military Intelligence Officer partipating in the training, must be to have all armed groups in South Sudan removed from the UN list of military forces who still violate the rights of children.

Some progress towards this end has been made in recent years, with both the South Sudan’s People Defense Forces and the main opposition force having been moved, on the UN list, to a category of armed groups that have adopted some measures to improve the respect of children’s rights. One such step has been the signing, by both the main armed forces in South Sudan, of a comprehensive action plan to stamp out any violations of the rights of boys and girls.