Armed and security forces and the protection of children in armed conflicts
Discussion paper for ICRC delegates
Members of armed forces need to be well acquainted with provisions of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols protecting children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict also need to be known, despite the fact that those instruments have been less widely ratified. Obligations relating to child protection and welfare have to be emphasized in the training of armed forces in the law of armed conflict. They are therefore covered in several chapters of the new teaching file on the basis of the applicability of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols in conflict situations, and of relevant human rights instruments in situations relating to internal security operations.
The minimum age for persons recruited into armed forces or taking a direct part in hostilities is one of the issues treated differently in the various treaties. States that have ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child must respect the age limit it prescribes. In developing future treaties, the Advisory Service on International Humanitarian Law should follow the established policy of the Movement.
For FAS delegates and instructors, however, the situation is different: if they were not to follow the rules of established international legal instruments in teaching the law of armed conflict to armed forces, they might lose the credibility it has taken them years to earn.
The plan of action concerning children in armed conflict endorsed by the Council of Delegates in 1995 was based on two commitments:
To promote the principle of non-recruitment and non-participation in armed conflict of children under the age of 18 years.
To take concrete action to protect and assist child victims of armed conflict. The 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent held in 1995 recommended that States abstain from arming children under the age of 18 years. FAS delegates and instructors are advised to emphasize this policy. The resolution reads as follows:
The Conference recommends that parties to a conflict refrain from arming children under the age of 18 years and take every feasible step to ensure that children under the age of 18 years do not take part in hostilities.
The Conference encourages States, the Movement and other component entities and organizations to develop preventive measures, assess existing programmes and set up new programmes to ensure that child victims of conflict receive medical, psychological and social assistance, provided if possible by qualified personnel sensitive to the specific issues involved.
At the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent held in 1999, a number of States and components of the Movement reiterated their support for the plan of action and announced a series of concrete measures.