Protecting civilians in armed conflict
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Kurdish region: amidst concerns about child recruitment, Geneva Call launches a campaign on the protection of the civilian population

7th February 2017 | Iraq - Turkey - Child protection

Child-soldiers

On 14th February 2017 Geneva Call is launching a 10-day video campaign on social media – mainly Facebook and Twitter – to raise awareness on the issue of recruitment and use of children during armed conflict and the protection of children during hostilities, but also on humanitarian norms as a whole.

Using its 12 “Fighter not Killer” videos, Geneva Call seeks to reach fighters and leaders of armed actors active in the Kurdish region of Turkey, but also the population at large to inform them about their own rights and the responsibilities of the conflict actors. « This campaign will also support the direct dialogue we are having with some of the armed non-State actors on this issue » declared Anki Sjoeberg, Geneva Call’s Programme Director.

Numerous allegations of child recruitment by several armed actors have been recently reported including allegations concerning a signatory of Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment protecting children in armed conflict, the People’s Defences Forces/Kurdistan Worker’s Party (HPG/PKK).

Geneva Call is concerned about a recent report on the situation of child soldiers in Iraq, published by Human Rights Watch (HRW). The organization has documented several cases of recruitments by HPG/PKK and by the YBS a Kurdish Yezidi armed force active in the Sinjar area in Iraq. “Despite the rare participation of underage youths in our ranks without our approval, our movement has […] made efforts to fulfill the convention we are a party to. There are no fighters aged under 16 in our ranks. Those youths aged 16-17 […] are not involved in the battle by our movement, and these are receiving training in areas outside the battle field.” »  stated HPG’s leaders in a public statement.

Geneva Call is currently discussing this report and other allegations through letters and direct conversations with HPG/PKK leadership.

Since their official pledge to stop recruiting and using children in hostilities in 2013, and despite restricted access, Geneva Call has been monitoring the situation closely and investigated the reported allegations through a constant dialogue with HPG/PKK but also through direct information from actors on the ground. “The tense political situation in Turkey has made our monitoring activities more difficult than before, families of the kids who may have been involved with HPG/PKK might not dare to contact us any more” according to Ms Sjoeberg.

“We were aware at the time of the signature that a lot of work would need to be done. HPG/PKK reaffirmed recently their commitment not to use under-18 children for combat-related activities and we are encouraging them to take further measures to ensure compliance” said A. Sjoeberg.

Many of the cases documented by HRW are related to YBŞ, which is an organization close to HPG with whom Geneva Call has recently established contacts. Geneva Call is investigating these allegations and maintaining a close communication with the HPG/PKK on these issues.

As HPG/PKK has presence in the area in which YBS is operating and there are joint actions, HPG/PKK should take all feasible measures to prevent the use of children during military operations even by organizations that would not be directly under their control, as stipulated in the Deed of Commitment.