Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sudan: ICC Warrant for Al-Bashir on Genocide

Published by Human Rights Watch. Full article available at

(New York) - The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant on July 12, 2010, for President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan for genocide committed in Darfur. An earlier arrest warrant for al-Bashir was issued in March 2009 by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

This is the first time the ICC has issued an arrest warrant for the crime of genocide. The warrant is for al-Bashir's alleged role as an indirect perpetrator or indirect co-perpetrator of genocide in Darfur through killing, causing bodily or mental harm, and deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring physical destruction.

"President al-Bashir's stonewalling on the initial ICC warrant against him appears only more outrageous now that he's also being sought for genocide," said Elise Keppler, senior counsel with the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. "Security Council members and other concerned governments should actively press Sudan to stop its blatant obstruction of the ICC and to see to it that al-Bashir appears at the court."

The ICC has jurisdiction over international crimes committed in Darfur, even though Sudan is not a party to the court, under Security Council Resolution 1593, which referred Darfur to the ICC and obligates Sudan to cooperate with the ICC.

The ICC pre-trial chamber declined to include genocide charges when it issued the first warrant for al-Bashir. The prosecutor's office appealed the decision on the basis that the chamber had used an inappropriate standard of proof in declining to include the genocide charges. In a March 2010 ruling, the appeals chamber agreed and instructed the pre-trial chamber to reassess genocide charges on the basis that genocide could be one reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the material submitted, while not necessarily the only reasonable conclusion. On July 12, the pre-trial chamber issued a ruling that resulted in the second warrant on genocide charges.

Human Rights Watch has found in its research on Darfur that the highest levels of the Sudanese leadership, including al-Bashir, are responsible for creating and coordinating the government's counterinsurgency policy in Darfur, which deliberately and systematically targeted civilians in violation of international law. Human Rights Watch has described the crimes in Darfur as "ethnic cleansing," war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Human Rights Watch has not taken a position on whether the crimes constitute genocide due to insufficient information in its research on whether the actions were carried out with the "intent to destroy in whole or in part an ethnic group," an element of the crime of genocide.

Young Blood

By Simon Roughneen

Published in the Irrawaddy, full post available at

BANGKOK—The number of child soldiers in Burma is impossible to verify and recruitment appears to be ongoing in the Burmese armed forces and ethnic militias, despite some positive steps to curb the practice.

Burma's ruling military has long stood accused of a practice perhaps better known in west Africa's civil wars, popularized by scenes of drugged 12-year-olds firing AK-47s at Leonardo DiCaprio's mercenary character in the movie “Blood Diamond,” which was set in Sierra Leone.

In 2002, Human Rights Watch estimated that there were about 70,000 child soldiers in Burma, a figure that has never been effectively confirmed or rebutted. The NGO Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers says Burma as the only Asian country where government armed forces forcibly recruit children.

According to the US State Department’s newly-released “Trafficking in Persons” report: “The regime’s widespread use of and lack of accountability in forced labor and recruitment of child soldiers is particularly worrying and represents the top causal factor for Burma’s significant trafficking problem.”

Worldwide, there are thought to be between 250,000 to 300,000 combatants under the age of 18 in state armies or militia groups.

Speaking in Bangkok, International Labor Organisation (ILO) liaison officer in Burma Steve Marshall told The Irrawaddy that “Whilst a lot more still needs to be done, the [Burmese] army has taken positive steps toward enforcing the minimum age for recruitment and discharging children found to have been illegally recruited.”

The ILO is responsible for monitoring and reporting on the recruitment and use of children in the UN-led MRM Task Force under UN Security Council Resolution 1612 (2005), working through its complaint mechanism on forced labor established in February 2007.

The ILO has a complaint mechanism enabling Burmese to report that a child is being used by the army or a militia group—though this is limited to the parents concerned. The number of complaints is increasing over time as awareness of the procedure spreads—though whether this is having a decisive impact on the number of child soldiers across the country is unclear given the paucity of real information to hand.

“Perpetrators have been disciplined for breaches of the law,” said Marshall. “And children, being the subject of complaint to the ILO, are in most cases discharged back to the care of their families.”

While top brass directives state that recruiters should neither accept nor coerce underage people joining the army, and the military government seems generally cooperative when evidence-based cases of child soldiering are put before them, in practice the regime's drive to create the largest army in Southeast Asia puts pressure on local officers to fill the ranks and meet recruitment quotas.

Precise military spending in Burma is unknown, but on top of senior roles in the country's dominant institution, senior military figures enjoy a lifestyle and access to lucrative commercial contacts unknown to ordinary Burmese or lower level officers.

Desertion and low army morale is thought to be common—according to defectors interviewed by Benedict Rogers in research for his new biography of Burma's military leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe. These factors, if replicated at local levels around the country, would make recruitment for the Burmese army more difficult and perhaps increase the temptation to use child soldiers.

It is thought that around one-third of child soldiers in the Burmese army volunteer to join or are asked to do so by family members due to extreme poverty and an inability to make a living or support their parents. Another third are tricked into joining by brokers who promise jobs in the private sector, while another third are coerced into joining.

Voluntary child soldier recruitment takes place among the country's ethnic militias. A May 2009 report by the US-based Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, titled “No More Denial: Children Affected by Armed Conflict in Myanmar,” said, “Most non-state Armed Groups (NSAGs) have reportedly recruited and used children in their armed groups, albeit on a much lower scale than the Myanmar Armed Forces.”

According to Marshall: “There is evidence that a number of the NSAGs (encompassing both those with and without cease-fire agreements) also have children in their ranks.”

Listed alongside the Burmese army as violators in the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's latest annual report on children in conflict, are a number of the Burmese ethnic militias. The proportion of volunteer under-18s in ethnic militias is thought to be higher than that in the Burmese army, with some militias having, at various stages in recent years, a one-child per family recruitment policy to boost numbers.

However, some of the armed groups say that they are working to stop child soldier recruitment.

Assessing the number of child soldiers in ethnic militias in Burma, and whether steps are being take to end the practice, is difficult; the ILO cannot access ethnic areas inside Burma to establish the full facts on the ground.

There is increasing pressure on the ruling junta to do something about the country's child soldier problem, and during the June 16 UN debate on the Secretary-General's report, junta envoy Than Swe said, “The Myanmar government had taken serious measures to address under-age recruitment, but in some cases, in the absence of official birth certificates or national IDs, some underage children slipped into the military. There was, therefore, stringent scrutiny at various stages, as a result of which, hundreds of children had been discharged and punitive actions taken against military personnel who failed to abide by rules and regulations.”

He was backed indirectly by Chinese representative Li Baodong who said, “Local conditions must be considered, as conflict situations—both on and outside the Council’s agenda—were different.”

The report outlined that “New information received by ILO indicates that recruitment and use of children by the Tatmadaw-Kyi [Burmese army] continued during the reporting period. Reports have recently been received from Shan State (north) and Irrawaddy Division, indicating that the Tatmadaw-Kyi is ordering Village Peace and Development Council chairmen to organize mandatory military trainings for village militias known as 'Pyithusit.' A trend may be emerging in both those regions, where adult males, who are the primary breadwinners of the family, are unable to attend the military training sessions and are sending their children instead.”

The junta clearly prefers that it be removed from the UN Security Council “register” of child soldier offenders. During the June 16 debate, Than Swe questioned the logic used to keep the junta on the list, saying that “Myanmar was not in a situation of armed conflict and, therefore, should not be discussed under the theme of children and armed conflict.”

He said he regretted that the country’s well-trained national army was still listed in Annex I of the report and urged that the progress achieved by the government be duly recognized and the army de-listed from future reports.

He received implicit support from Thailand's representative Jakkrit Srivali, who said the report's scope should be confined to situations of armed conflict and that “there should be more transparency on the listing and de-listing of parties in the annexes.” He added that “reference to countries in which there was no armed conflict and 'sweeping generalizations' were misleading and counterproductive.”

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is due to visit Burma in August, after a trip scheduled for 2009 was postponed due to the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi for alleged breach of house arrest terms.

With UN human rights envoy Tomás Ojea Quintana saying in March that a Commission of Inquiry should be set up to investigate whether war crimes and crimes against humanity have been carried out in Burma, the issue takes added significance. Child soldier recruiters may face prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC), whose statute defines the use of children under 15 in hostilities as a war crime. It is thought that the bulk of child soldiers in Burma are 15-16 years of age, thought there are documented cases as young as 11.

In 2006, the ICC successfully prosecuted a Congolese warlord for the recruitment of child soldiers. Heads-of State are not immune, taking us back to West Africa . The indictment issued by the Special Court for Sierra Leone against former Liberian President Charles Taylor includes charges of recruiting or using children under the age of 15 to fight in Sierra Leone, where a proxy militia linked to Taylor sought to overthrow the government.

Friday, July 9, 2010

ILO: Forced Labor Still Widespread in Burma

By Ron Corben

The United Nations' International Labor Organization (ILO) says Burma has made limited progress in curtailing the use of forced labor.

Steve Marshall, the International Labor Organization's liaison officer in Burma, says over the past three years there have been "significant steps" toward eliminating forced labor in the country. The most progress has been in private organizations and the civil administration.

"To an extent, the government has passed laws which say that forced labor is illegal, which is a very important first step of cours," said Marshall. "The government has undertaken quite a lot of educational activity among local authorities particularly within the military as to the law and the responsibilities under the law."

Burma's military government has long used forced labor in everything from building roads to carrying military supplies through the jungle. At its extremes, there have been reports of people being pressed to walk through mine fields as human minesweepers.

Rights groups say thousands of Burmese are forced to work against their will, including children and the elderly. Many suffer abuse, including gang rape and murder.

Marshall said Thursday in Bangkok the military particularly continues to use forced labor.

"There are some indicators within the civilian side of the administration, which is very good," said Marshall. "In the military side of the administration, there is no clear evidence of any change whatsoever."

One area of progress has been a new system that allows citizens to complain to the ILO. That has helped the rescue children forced to join the military.

In its new report, the ILO report says the government now regularly discharges under-age soldiers if complaints are filed.

Some armed ethnic groups also use child soldiers and Burma's government has allowed the ILO to talk with them to try to end the practice.

Marshall says there are moves to write new labor laws to allow trade unions once a new parliament is convened after elections later this year.

Regional political analysts say Burma's government appears to be taking a more cautious approach in dealing with labor and economic issues ahead of the elections. The vote will be the first in 20 years and is expected to place the government under the international spotlight.