RDF, Dallaire Initiative join hands to end use of child soldiers

Gen Roméo Dallaire speaks at the conference./Courtesy

The Dallaire Initiative and the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) on Thursday engaged governments and partners in discussions, in Kigali, on new ways of ending the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative is a global partnership committed to ending the use and recruitment of child soldiers worldwide, through ground-breaking research, advocacy, and security-sector training.

It was founded by celebrated Canadian humanitarian Lt Gen (rtd) Roméo Dallaire, who was Force Commander of UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) in the run up and during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Dallaire told reporters that the time has come to prioritise the protection of children by focusing on how to address the six grave violations against children in armed conflict, not by simply reacting but by preventing.

The one-day regional conference aimed to empower nations to take proactive, early and coordinated action to prevent the recruitment and use of children as soldiers by implementing the Vancouver Principles. 

 Launched in November 2017, the Vancouver Principles on Peacekeeping and the Prevention of the Recruitment and use of child soldiers, also known as the Vancouver Principles are a set of political commitments endorsed by member states regarding the prevention of recruitment and use of child soldiers in a peacekeeping context.

Dallaire urged countries not to just simply pay lip service to “protecting children” but to commit and cooperate with his initiative to implement the Vancouver Principles, and make them part of modern-day soldering and policing in prevention of conflicts.

Dallaire said: “We will continue to do so, country by country, and until one day, we will make the use of children as soldiers, as weapons of wars, unthinkable.”

Rwanda was the first African nation to endorse the Vancouver Principles, which are now endorsed by 95 nations globally.

Rwanda is, currently, the second-largest troop contributing nation to UN peacekeeping missions, and has expressed committed to furthering the protection of civilians, as was demonstrated through the creation of the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians.

The Kigali Principles are a set of 18 pledges for the effective implementation of the protection of civilians in UN peacekeeping. 

They emanated from the High-level International Conference on the Protection of Civilians held in Rwanda in May 2015.

The Kigali Principles address the most relevant aspects of peacekeeping, including assessment and planning, force generation, training and equipping personnel, performance and accountability.

Maj. Gen. Albert Murasira, the Minister for Defence, noted that the Dallaire Initiative has an ambitious but critical mission that focuses on ending the recruitment and use of child soldiers globally, “a commitment that Rwanda fully supports.”

Murasira said: “We have seen cases in various conflicts in Africa where children are used in violence instead of being sent to school.”

“Today, the vulnerability of children extends beyond the traditional battlefields. As a result of transnational criminal networks that prey on children for the purposes of child labour, trafficking, sexual exploitation and indoctrination for armed groups in terrorism, the need to protect children is critical to the future of humanity and the attainment of peace and security.”

This is why, he explained, the implementation of the Vancouver Principles is important not just for Rwandan troops engaged in peacekeeping missions but also for the benefit of the country’s domestic security.

“Improved training and capacity building for our military and police enhances the protection of children abroad and at home.”

Among others, the Dallaire Initiative and the Ministry of Defence have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to further commitment to the prevention of the recruitment and use of children in Africa and around the globe.

According to Dr Shelly Whitman, Executive Director of the Dallaire Initiative, children are the priority and they need to be protected from joining armed forces and armed groups and, “we have a duty to humanity to do this.”

She said the role of participants who are from countries including Rwanda, Kenya, and South Sudan is that they will go back home to their countries and talk about what they have learnt and advocate for the fact that the Vancouver Principles should be endorsed.

She added: “We want, every year, to have a follow up to understand how is this implementation guidance is being rolled out in countries; to learn the lessons from this and how it can be improved each year.”

By endorsing the Vancouver Principles, countries commit to prioritizing the prevention of the recruitment and use of child soldiers in the context of UN peacekeeping operations and to helping ensure that all peacekeepers – military, police, and civilian – are prepared and directed to take appropriate action.

Implementing the Vancouver Principles, Dallaire stressed, will help countries “take away the tactical and strategic advantages that those who currently recruit and use children poses.”

Operationalising the Vancouver principles can improve developing rules of engagement tailored to the areas of operation support where the recruitment and use of children as soldiers are known to be present.

He said it will also help in conducting child protection training for military and police focal points and dedicated child protection advisors.