Vancouver summit to combat use of child soldiers

The international community has been quietly working on the so-called Vancouver Principles for some time

Vancouver is poised to become a symbol for protecting children and preventing the use of child soldiers when a series of commitments bearing the city’s name is rolled out at this week’s peacekeeping summit.

The international community has been quietly working on the so-called Vancouver Principles for some time, which a senior UN official hoped would give a shot in the arm to efforts to protect children in conflict.

“It’s a way of re-energizing the mobilization of the international community, and I think this is very important,” said Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the UN’s undersecretary general of peacekeeping operations.

“The notion of having states committing to a set of principles to do certain things and not to do certain things is also very important.”

Canadian officials have said little about the initiative, which will be unveiled when representatives from about 80 countries gather in Vancouver starting Tuesday for the two-day peacekeeping summit.

But Australia’s ambassador to the UN, Gillian Bird, described it last month as including “concrete steps on how to prioritize and further operationalize child protection within UN peacekeeping.”

Sources have revealed that retired lieutenant-general Romeo Dallaire, one of the world’s most fervent advocates for ending the use of child soldiers in war, will be attending the Vancouver meeting.

Dallaire’s Child Soldiers Initiative helped the Canadian military develop a series of guidelines to ensure Canadian troops are properly trained and emotionally prepared for dealing with child soldiers.

Defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance issued those guidelines in February.

Lacroix said the UN has made great efforts to better protect children in conflict, particularly child soldiers, over the past 15 years, “but I think we can do more.”

“We can also have stronger commitments from member states,” he said. “That’s the idea behind the Vancouver Principles. People are very supportive of that.”

The UN released a report last month that found more than 8,000 children were killed or injured in conflicts around the world in 2016 and thousands of children had been recruited or used by warring factions.

The number of children in Syria who were recruited or used in conflict more than doubled to 851 verified cases, according to the report, while more than 1,900 were recruited or used in Somalia.

There were also more than 1,000 verified cases of children being recruited or used in South Sudan and 442 reported cases in Mali, which is considered a strong candidate for a future Canadian peacekeeping mission.

The UN said it has been trying to talk to rebel groups and other non-government factions in Mali, Sudan, the Central African Republic and other places to try to reduce the use of child soldiers.

Aside from the moral imperative of trying to prevent the use of child soldiers, their presence on the battlefield is a potential minefield for militaries like Canada.

The French learned that the hard way in January when they were criticized for killing a 10-year-old boy in Mali.

While the French military said the boy was acting as a lookout for an armed group suspected of planting improvised-explosive devices, the killing marred its counter-terrorism mission in the African country.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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