Halifax youth pave the way for child protection

From left: Dustin Johnson, Research Officer for Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative; Diya Nijhowne, Director of Washington’s Global Coalition to Prevention to Prevention Education from Attack; Jonathan Somer, Senior Legal Advisor of the Canadian Red Cross. Photo: Karli Zschogner

From left: Dustin Johnson, Research Officer for Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative; Diya Nijhowne, Director of Washington’s Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack; Jonathan Somer, Senior Legal Advisor of the Canadian Red Cross. Photo: Karli Zschogner

Over 51 different non–state actors around the world are using children to fight their wars and acts of terrorism, says Dustin Johnson. Johnson is from Halifax’s Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative. The worldwide exploitation of children in warfare has no easy solution. Although, Halifax students brought in Canada’s on-the-ground experts in child protection in war at the 13th Annual International Humanitarian Law Conference. The conference was held at Dalhousie’s Schulich Law on Sept. 29.

“For the topic of child soldiers, we thought it was a really timely and important topic right now, considering how it’s been tied to current media over the summer,” said Kate Yurkovich, Dalhousie student organizer from the John E. Read International Law Society. Her words are a response to recent media coverage of Omar Khadr.

“We wanted to keep people interested and get people who were part of those conversations.”

This comes from July 2017, when the federal government apologized and provided a $10.5 million settlement of the treatment of Omar Khadr. Khadr was a Canadian youth who was tortured at Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. The Supreme Court made the decision that every Canadian has the right to be treated fairly and in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice and the rule of law following the government’s apology.

Guillaume Landry, director general of Montreal’s International Bureau for Children’s Rights, monitors children currently detained in conflict regions as in Mali. In militarized regions, children are detained in poor conditions, where regional security do not receive training on handling children.

Jonathan Somer is the senior legal advisor of the Canadian Red Cross. He says that child protection under international laws continues to be a large challenge in history’s worst form of warfare. While recruitment of children under the age of 15 is recognized as a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, accountability to those armed groups continues to be the greatest challenge. Another challenge the international community faces is the lack of consensus on what the legal age to enlist should be.

The Romèo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative has taken on research that Landry says is needed: providing the national and international tactile skills training with military and security sector. Their grassroots training enables the leadership and responsibility in child soldier prevention and de-radicalization. Their most recent training was in Rwanda, Uganda and with Canadian police.

Diya Nijhowne, Director of Washington’s Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack on armed groups who have taken over schools. Source: Karli Zschogner

Diya Nijhowne, Director of Washington’s Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack on armed groups who have taken over schools. Source: Karli Zschogner

Since 2014, 28 countries have taken over schools for military use, said Diya Nijhowne, director of Washington’s Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack at the Dalhousie conference. She provided case examples where schools are being used for firing positions, training grounds, weapons cache and torture centres. Although, partnerships with the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative have moved international milestones through the Safe Schools Declaration. With this document, they have been able to negotiate with armed groups to vacate schools, including five in Central African Republic and in Somalia where they had been controlled for over ten years. Sixty-nine states have signed the declaration since 2015, including Canada in February.

These organizations are working together by putting pressure on governments and armed groups to be accountable for the well-being of their aging youth. With the Coalition, the Dallaire Initiative is currently working with the Canadian Armed Forces and veterans. Their aim is to make military doctrine changes in how to best interact with these children, and act in prevention. Through peer-to-peer advocacy with governments, security organizations, and non-governmental organizations, they are encouraging more states to commit.

An attendee, professor Ian McAllister of Dalhousie’s Economics Department, points to the economic sector to take responsibility for the needs of children. He says in World Bank’s projects, “you will not find people asking, ‘What is the impact on children?’ That is the question we ought to be asking but it’s not done very often.”

In January 1994, Lieutenant-General Dallaire signed the fax demanding UN support in Rwanda, “peux ce que veux. Allons-y” – “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Let’s go.” As a result of the lack of will from the international community millions of Rwandan were killed, raped, and affected by life-long wounds. Allons-y publications serves as a call to action for young people today to add their talent, perspectives, and experiences by fostering discussion and innovative thinking on issues relating to children in war, terrorism, and violence. Submission to Allons-y through the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative website gives the opportunity to bridge gaps between academics and practitioners.