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Published On: Tue, Mar 7th, 2017

Colombia’s FARC Demobilizes More Child Soldiers

nsnbc : As part of the ongoing demobilization and disarmament of Colombia’s FARC-EP and its transition to a non-militant political party, the first group of child soldiers of the guerrilla in 2017 was transferred to UNICEF reported the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Courtesy the Office of the Ombudsman. (archives)

Courtesy the Office of the Ombudsman. (archives)

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP) demobilized the first group of child soldiers during the last phases of the negotiations that led to the signing of the peace accord between the FARC-EP and the Colombian government after 52 years of civil war.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed that the FARC transferred “several boys and girls” from demobilization and disarmament zones to a center run by UNICEF. Neither the ICRC nor UNICEF provided details about the number of the children who were transferred into the custody of the center.

The transfer of the minors into the custody of UNICEF happened as the demobilization and disarmament of the FARC-EP has been delayed because many of the demobilization camps had not been established by the government, or because corrupt government contractors has established sub-standard camps lacking even basic sanitary and other requirements.

Consequently, the demobilization of minors has priority for the FARC-EP, for humanitarian reasons too.  Christoph Harnisch, the chief of the ICRC’s regional delegation said in a statement:

“This first release of 2017 represents a significant step for solidifying that to which the parties had agreed”. He added that the ICRC would “continue facilitating operations similar to this one that will take place in the next weeks.. … This way the first exit of minors from the upland areas, as agreed in recent weeks, has been satisfactorily completed.”

FARC Child soldiers_Colombia_(archives)The ICRC also noted the minors would be the first to be medically evaluated before being taken to transitional shelters operated by UNICEF, according to the National Rehabilitation Council (CNR).

The peace accord between the State and the FARC-EP stipulates that FARC members under the age of 15 will be transferred into the custody of Colombia’s Family Welfare Agency while those of 16 and older will go through a transitional justice system that is currently passing through Congress. It is expected that the vast majority of FARC members who have not been directly involved in documented war crimes or crimes against humanity will be granted amnesty.

The  temporary justice system will also grant an amnesty to all minors not accused of human rights violations and allow lowered sentences for minors who did commit war crimes like homicide or rape.

The FARC has long been criticized for the use of minors in the war against the state they’ve been waging since 1964. However, recruitment into the FARC-EP was for many an alternative to lack of education, lack of social opportunity, and for many, an alternative to becoming enrolled as mules for organized crime. The former recruitment and the current demobilization of child soldiers has far more and deeper perspectives than most media or for that sake lawmakers and rights activists would care to admit.

That said, the use of child soldiers under 15 is a violation of international humanitarian law and one of the most common war crimes committed by the guerrillas in their half-a-century existence. Some rights activists would argue that many countries’ “boy and girl scout organizations” who have roots in the paramilitary use of minors and their indoctrination requires as much scrutiny as the FARC’s “use of child soldiers”. Several FARC leaders will have to stand trial for the recruitment of children as a war crime within the framework of the transitional justice system.

CH/L – nsnbc 07.03.2017

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