A watch tower at Camp X-Ray, which was the first detention facility to hold ‘enemy combatants’ at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images).
By Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada
From Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay and now the outskirts of Edmonton. Who would have thought that human rights campaigning that began with a short news report that a 15-year-old Canadian had been arrested by U.S. forces on the battlefield in Afghanistan in the summer of 2002 and continued through a decade of activism, media interviews and legal work while that same young Canadian endured the lawlessness and injustices of Guantánamo Bay; would now bring me to a maximum security prison outside Edmonton?
But that is where, after eleven years of working on his case, I recently traveled to meet and spend some time with Omar Khadr.
Former child soldier, now rapper, Emmanuel Jal has an important message for President Obama that can save lives. Jal is speaking out and joining thousands of activists around the world in supporting a treaty that would end the unregulated flow of weapons globally.
Every minute, at least one person dies as a result of armed violence and conflict. There is currently no universal piece of legislation to regulate and monitor the international trade of arms. Beginning this week, world leaders from roughly 150 countries have gathered in New York to negotiate such a treaty that could keep weapons out of the hands of bad guys likely to use them to rape, recruit child soldiers or commit other severe human rights abuses.
Emmanuel Jal is a hip-hop artist and humanitarian, as well as a former child solider.
Below is an open letter from hip-hop artist, activist and former child soldier Emmanuel Jal, urging President Barack Obama to push for a strong Arms Trade Treaty at the U.N. conference this month. This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.
In Sudan and around the world, children are forced into warfare. Many end up as child soldiers, forced to take lives and continue the cycle of violence that they have been born into. Child soldiers are found today in as many as 20 countries.
I was one of them. I was fortunate enough to have escaped to Kenya and found another life through music. But the lives of many children are cut short before they can escape. The most difficult part of this situation is that these children do not have a choice when they are introduced, often after they have been orphaned, to a perpetual war zone and raised by the harsh reality of the violence around them.
Child soldier with adults, Sanghe, Democratic Republic of Congo, June 2002.
By Angela T. Chang, Advocate, Crisis Prevention and Response Team, Amnesty International USA
When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery. When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family—girls my daughters’ age—runs away from home, or is lured by the false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists — that’s slavery. It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.
– US President Barack Obama, September 2012
Despite these strong words by President Obama against the use and recruitment of child soldiers a few months ago, he got reprimanded earlier this week for falling flat in delivering on tangible actions to address this issue.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child released a new report on Tuesday, calling out the U.S. and the Obama administration for failing to adhere to its international human rights obligations by continuing to waive sanctions on military assistance, per the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act, to countries that are known to recruit and use child soldiers – a clear violation of children’s rights and a war crime if the children are under the age of fifteen. Yes, you read that right. Seems confusing and backwards? That’s because it is.
In a victory for children in war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, the DRC government recentlysigned a plan of action with the UN to eliminate the recruitment and use of child soldiers in their military forces, including a first-of-its-kind plan for protecting children from sexual violence.
This historic step comes after several years in which the Government of the DRC had part of its US military aid withheld under the landmark Child Soldier Prevention Act (CSPA). Moving forward, it is imperative that the world and the United States keep a close watch to ensure there is a robust implementation of the national action plan including, for example thorough screening processes to prevent child soldiers recruited into the M23 rebel forces from joining the DRC military. It is arguable that given the links between M23 and the government of Rwanda restrictions on US aid should also considered for Kigali. Whether there is effective pressure on Rwanda and M23 or not, the decision to grant the DRC a partial waiver, allowing some military assistance to go forward must be leveraged to keep the government of President Kabila on track with further incentives tied to specific benchmarks.
Civilians keep bearing the brunt of the current conflict: Amputations and other corporal punishments, sexual violence, daily harassment with the aim of imposing new moral codes, child soldiers, extra-judicial executions are ongoing violations against civilians.
A child soldier in Liberia. (Photo Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images)
Growing up in central Texas, I had a lot of friends who were responsible gun owners. Many would hunt deer or sport shoot. Some even carried a gun for self-protection. It was part of the culture. But there was always a heavy emphasis on the “responsible” component of bearing arms.
My gun-owning neighbors in Texas may have embraced the unofficial motto of the National Rifle Association – guns don’t kill people; people kill people – but they would never in a million years have put a loaded weapon in the hands of someone who they knew was likely to use that gun to kill or maim.
So as we watch in horror the slaughter of innocent men, women, and children in Syria, or stare aghast at our computer screens at images of brutal violence and child soldiers in remote regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, what are we to call those countries and international arms brokers who irresponsibly sell guns to thugs intent on violence? Profiteers? Bad actors?
I am sure that many of you have recently heard or read about the armed conflicts and humanitarian crises in Syria and the Sudan (the latter thanks to some serious attention from celebrity actors and journalists). Less attention is being given to a country that is facing its worst human rights crisis in half a century: Mali.
The regional organization ECOWAS has been very invested in mitigating the crisis and is even preparing to send in troops. While these regional efforts are backed by the United States and other international actors, Mali’s crisis is not getting the attention it deserves and rarely makes the headlines.
Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanda Dyilo listens at the International Criminal Court. MARCEL ANTONISSE/AFP/Getty Images
Today, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced a historic decision, finding Thomas Lubanga Dyilo – the alleged founder of a vicious Congolese armed rebel group – guilty of war crimes for his use and abuse ofchild soldiers during the armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between 2002 and 2003.
Lubanga’s conviction sets a historic precedent for international justice and accountability for those who commit the most unspeakable of crimes. Crimes like rape. Torture. Enslavement. Crimes common among Lubanda’s Union of Congolese Patriots and its armed wing, the FPLC.