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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 43, January - February 2000

New UN Protocol on Child Soldiers

On January 21, the UN reached agreement on an Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, raising the minimum age for participation in armed conflict from 15 to 18. The breakthrough was broadly welcomed by the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara A. Otunnu: "This outcome is a victory for children exposed to cynical exploitation in situations of armed conflict. While the new consensus does not go as far as I would have liked, it is an important step towards eliminating the use of children as soldiers and their participation in hostilities. … The one area in which the agreement falls short of the 'straight 18' position that I have advocated is in the area of voluntary enlistment into national armed forces. … I urge all starts to prepare for the early adoption and swift ratification of the Optional Protocol."

The development also received wide international acclaim. According to President Clinton (January 21): "I am very pleased with the final result… I am committed to a speedy process of review and signature and to working with the Senate on this historic achievement to protect the world's children." Expressing the hopes of many campaigners, Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch - which estimates that around 300,000 children under 18 are currently engaged in armed conflict - stated on January 22: "This treaty could really make a difference to hundreds of thousands of children around the world. For the first time, Governments have agreed that the use of children in war is simply unacceptable."

Reports: Secretary-General welcomes agreement on draft optional protocol to Convention on Rights of Child, UN Press Release SG/SM/7238, January 21; Statement by the President, The White House, January 21; Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict welcomes agreement on minimum age for participation in conflict, UN Press Release HR/4455, January 21; UN accord targets child soldiers, Associated Press, January 22; New Treaty bans children in combat, Human Rights Watch Press Release, January 22; Canada welcomes international consensus on optional protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Press Release 10/2000, January 25.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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