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In a report released on Friday the UN named and shamed armed groups worldwide who used children in 2009 as “spies, soldiers, and human shields,” and highlighted Burma’s ongoing violation of international law on use of child soldiers.
A statement accompanying the report, which was written by Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN special representative for children in armed conflict, listed three groups in Burma as guilty parties: the Burmese national army, the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).
In the full report they concede that “information received indicated that the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) had scaled up its recruitment efforts and many children reportedly have been recruited in 2009. The reports also indicated that DKBA was actively recruiting in order to meet the quota of 6,800 soldiers to form border guards”.
The report admits however that: “The United Nations country team in Myanmar [Burma] remains unable to establish contact and undertake formal dialogue with non-State armed groups” because “the Government has not granted access to those groups”.
But it also noted that the Karen National Union (KNU), the political wing of the KNLA, whom the UN accused in their statement of using child soldiers, had called on the junta to allow the UN access to their areas.
Similarly, the KNPP had “invited the United Nations on several occasions to monitor its military bases and areas of operations, [and] has offered open and independent access for compliance verification.”
Moreover, “in accordance with the Karenni state constitution, article 29 (5), all under age children shall be free from conscription into the Karenni Army”, the report said.
This would appear to differentiate the two groups from the junta, which not only uses child soldiers, but according to DVB interviews forcibly recruits children for the armed forces, a practice that is seemingly not conducted by the KNLA. Former Karen child soldiers told DVB that they volunteered due to personal circumstances of war rather than forcibly being kidnapped to join the army.
Other areas of the report tell of more sinister policies: “Reliable information received in March 2009 through the country task force indicated that every household in Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (Kokang Army) areas with more than one child has to provide at least one child to the group.”
The annex further lists the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Shan Sate Army South (SSA-S) as armies who also “recruit and use children.”
Conversely no parties or groups in Burma are listed as ‘killing or maiming children’, or committing rape or sexual violence against children, despite the fact that most of the groups listed are either fighting each other or the junta.
The use of rape meanwhile as a weapon of war has been widely documented in Burma, with UN experts reporting that women and girls are subject to the practice. Despite the report claiming to involve “broad consultations within the United Nations”, it fails to categorise the Burmese army as a group “that commits rape and other forms of sexual violence against children”.
This may be indicative of the fact that they were only able to communicate with the very same people that previous UN visitors had accused of allowing such practices to take place.