An estimated 230 million children live in armed conflict-affected countries. Of these, approximately 250,000 children are involved in the conflicts themselves. Some are used for fighting; they themselves turned in to tools of war. Others may act as messengers, porters, cooks, or sex slaves. The UN Secretary-General’s 2016 report on children and armed conflict identified 58 parties to current conflicts that recruit and use children. This includes 7 government security forces and 51 non-state armed groups in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, and Syria. As some of the most vulnerable members of society, children deserve and require concentrated efforts from the international community to protect them in times of conflict, to prevent their use in war, and to aggressively go after those who violate international law by victimising them in conflicts.
On 16 November 2016, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) launched its Policy on Children aimed at strengthening ongoing efforts to address atrocity crimes against children as well as providing a framework for helping the OTP in their interactions with children from preliminary investigations to post-trial. On 18 November 2016, Canada hosted a side event at the ICC Assembly of States Parties (ASP) on “Child Soldiers: Prevention and Accountability”. This event united speakers on the preventative efforts of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative with ones on the accountability measures (from preliminary investigation to post-trial) of the ICC OTP.
“War has changed,” began LGen Dallaire (Ret’d), “therefore our tactics need to change.” As Commander of the UN Mission to Rwanda during the Rwanadan Genocide, LGen Dallaire faced first-hand the horror of children turned into weapons of war and the fundamental moral dilemma all soldiers and police forces face when confronted with an enemy combatant that is not merely a combatant, but also a child. These members of professional forces face the choice: don’t react and either take casualties or give up ground; or, react and have to live with the fact that they have used armed force against a child, they suffer. The Dallaire Initiative aims to address this gap that professional forces have in addressing the child dimension as well as to address the recruitment of children as tools of war. To achieve these ends, it focuses on training, research, and advocacy. Training to military, police, and peacekeepers to provide the necessary tools and knowledge to recognize and prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Research to understand patterns of child recruitment, to identify that such recruitment and use can be a warning sign for mass atrocity and genocide, and to gain insights from former child soldiers. High-level advocacy with states, the United Nations, NATO, the African Union and so on, in an effort to have a direct impact on policy and procedures relating to child soldiers. Critically, the Dallaire Initiative takes a very practical approach to the issue rather than a legalistic approach. In other words, it focuses on practical reasoning for breaking down support among armed forces that recruit and use children, rather than merely on what the law says. Ultimately, the organization seeks to prevent the recruitment of children before they suffer the horrors of being used as tools of war.