Protecting civilians in armed conflict
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The KNU/KNLA commits to the protection of children and the prohibition of conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence

24th July 2013 | Burma-Myanmar - Gender issues

After seven years of dialogue with Geneva Call on international humanitarian norms, a ground-breaking step has been taken by the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army (KNU/KNLA). KNU/KNLA has signed Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment for the Prohibition of Sexual violence in Situations of Armed Conflict and towards the Elimination of Gender Discrimination and the Deed of Commitment for the Protection of Children from the Effects of Armed Conflict. The ceremony took place in Pa’an in Karen/Kayin State on 21 July 2013 and gathered representatives of the senior leadership of the KNU/KNLA and Government officials, as well as representatives of the diplomatic community, NGOs and UN agencies.

By signing these two Deeds of Commitment, the KNU/KNLA is publically formalizing an already long-standing commitment towards the protection of civilians and collaboration with the international humanitarian community. Before it was listed in the UN Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict in 2006, the KNU had already entered into dialogue with the UN. As a result of this dialogue, in March 2007, its then President Ba Thin Sein signed an undertaking prohibiting the use and recruitment of children in the organization. The Geneva Call Deed of Commitment for the Protection of Children from the Effects of Armed Conflict has a broader scope than this original undertaking. ‘We consider that it complements this previous undertaking with UNICEF’, explained Padoh Kwe Htoo, General Secretary of the KNU, ‘unfortunately the UN discontinued communication with us soon after we signed that undertaking, and we remain open to resuming dialogue with the UN towards our delisting.’

Evidence of KNU/KNLA willingness to tackle the issues included in both Deeds of Commitments include a series of steps undertaken by the organization to show its respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. The KNLA `Army Acts` provide some guidance for soldiers’ conduct in regards to adequate behaviour towards civilian women, and punitive mechanisms have been
established to prosecute offenders. Regarding children, the KNLA Military Law and Rules clearly state that recruitment is for those over 18 years of age. The KNLA has previously acknowledged that this rule had not always been respected in the past, but protective mechanisms have been re-enforced to seek to ensure ground-level compliance.

In 2010, the KNU/KNLA participated in a Geneva Call workshop on improving the protection of women and girls during armed conflict. As a result of this workshop, the KNU started to develop internal rules on the prohibition of sexual violence.

‘We congratulate the KNU/KNLA for this clear commitment towards the protection of some of the most vulnerable people in conflict situations – women and children,’ said Katherine Kramer, Asia Programme Director of Geneva Call. ‘Perhaps for the first time, an armed non-State actor has made a humanitarian commitment in the presence of its adversary. This bodes well for the peace process.’

The Government of the Republic and Canton of Geneva serves as the custodian of the different Deeds of Commitment. Geneva Call will support the KNU/KNLA in the implementation and dissemination of its commitments and monitor compliance with the collaboration of partners, civil society as well as the communities themselves.

The KNU/KNLA join the New Mon State Party/Mon National Liberation Army (NMSP/MNLA) and the Karenni National Progressive Party/Karenni Army (KNPP/KA) as signatories from Burma/Myanmar of the Deed of Commitment for the Protection of Children from the Effects of Armed Conflict. It is the first signatories in the country of the Deed of Commitment for the Prohibition of Sexual Violence in Situations of Armed Conflict and towards the Elimination of Gender Discrimination.