Aware of the fact that it is rare for one organisation alone to achieve major policy changes, JRS cooperates with other groups with common aims at a variety of levels: local, national, regional and international. Although most of the time cooperation takes place at project level in an ad hoc manner, some of these issues need to be tackled internationally and in a more structured way. For this reason, JRS is a member, in some cases a founding member, of four international coalitions: the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Cluster Munitions Coalition, International Detention Coalition and the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.
In eastern Africa, JRS has provided support to former child soldiers in Kitgum, northern Uganda until the end of 2009, helping them to handle their trauma and reintegrate into their communities. Even though JRS is not directly involved in assisting victims of landmines in eastern Africa, we are aware of the challenge landmines pose to the population of Southern Sudan in particular, while rebuilding their lives after over 20 years of civil war. JRS has accompanied Southern Sudanese returnees in various ways for over 10 years, helping them to re-build their education system and build a sustainable peace.
- Landmines/ cluster bombs
- Child soldiers
Landmines/ cluster bombs
Up until the 1990s, antipersonnel landmines were used by almost all the world’s armed forces, in one form or another. Thanks to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, landmine use has dramatically dropped. Today, although the weapon is only used in a handful of conflicts, it continues to pose a significant and lasting threat.
JRS helped establish the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) in 1994, to accompany those injured by landmines, help survivors tell their stories, promote solid ethical reflection and support national campaigns. The awarding of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize to the Campaign gave a boost to the many tireless JRS staff who participated in the campaign. Tun Chunnareth, who has worked with JRS Cambodia for years and is himself a landmine victim, has been a prominent spokesperson for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. It was he who accepted the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on behalf of the campaign. JRS continues to lobby for the signing and ratification of the Mine Ban Treaty by other countries.
JRS provides information for the ICBL's annual 'Landmine Monitor', an in-depth study into the on-going use, production and destruction of landmines, as well as a watchdog style report on states' commitments under the Mine Ban Treaty (1997 Ottawa Convention). JRS has played a leading role in the campaign and contributed research on Cambodia, Thailand, and Indonesia for the 'Landmine Monitor'. In addition JRS continues to support landmine survivors in countries such as Bosnia, Cambodia, Thailand, and Kosovo, and actively raises awareness of the issue in these and other landmine-affected countries.
Following the signing of the treaty banning landmines, civil society groups, including JRS, established the Cluster Munitions Coalition, and shifted their advocacy activities to concentrate on the prohibition of cluster munitions. These weapons, when fired, release hundreds of submunitions and saturate an area as wide as several football fields. Like landmines, cluster munitions, or cluster bombs, often fail to explode on impact, representing a fatal threat to anyone in the area. Most cluster munitions, therefore, hit areas outside the military objective targeted.
After years of campaigning, in May 2008 in Dublin, Ireland, 107 countries negotiated and adopted a treaty that bans cluster bombs and provides assistance to affected communities. The Convention on Cluster Munitions, CCM, prohibits all use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions. Separate articles in the Convention concern assistance to victims, clearance of contaminated areas and destruction of stockpiles. It becomes binding international law when it enters into force on 1 August 2010.
Some reasons to campaign for a total ban on landmines and cluster munitions
The presence of these weapons poses a threat to displaced civilians returning to their homes, hampers post-conflict development, renders agricultural land inaccessible and forces people to work in contaminated areas because there is no other means for them to earn an income. It also hinders the provision of aid and relief services and threatens, injures and kills aid workers.
The human costs
Antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions still maim and kill ordinary people every day. They blow off their victims' legs, feet, toes and hands. They fire shrapnel into their faces and bodies. They kill. Moreover, medical treatment for survivors, where available, is costly, burdening already overstretched healthcare systems.
Civilians bear the brunt
The vast majority of victims are civilians and not soldiers. This is not just during a conflict – most of the countries where casualties are reported are at peace.
Under international humanitarian law, parties to an armed conflict are obligated to protect civilians. Weapons that cannot discriminate between civilian and military targets or cause excessive humanitarian harm constitute a grave concern, and this is why countries signed a treaty banning antipersonnel landmines in 1997. It is important that countries do the same for cluster munitions.
Once planted or fired, cluster munitions and landmines remain unless they are cleared. The only way to prevent long-term damage is to stop their use altogether and devote resources to clearing contaminated areas and helping survivors.
Children are victimised
A child who is injured by a landmine or a cluster bomb may face months of recovery. A growing child with a prosthetic limb will need it refitted each year. Some never return to school after their accident. Many face social exclusion. Like adult victims, they will face enormous practical, economic, social and psychological challenges in their rehabilitation and reintegration process.
Border protection: there are alternatives
Mines are largely ineffective in protecting border regions, for example from non-state armed groups. Instead of offering protection, minefields terrorise and impoverish the communities living in the area. Alternatives exist and include the use of mobile and fixed border patrols and motion detection equipment and barriers.
JRS is committed to stop the use of child soldiers, prevent their recruitment and use, secure their demobilisation, and promote their rehabilitation and reintegration. JRS also works with young people who may be vulnerable to recruitment into armed groups in a number of countries and with former child soldiers in places such as Uganda.
In 1998, JRS came together with six other leading NGOs to establish the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (CSC). JRS teams contribute key information to the group which is used in the publication of the global report on child soldiers.
As a member of the CSC, JRS promotes the adoption of and adherence to national, regional and international legal standards (including the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict) prohibiting the military recruitment and use in hostilities of any person under eighteen years of age; and the recognition and enforcement of this standard by all armed groups, both governmental and non-governmental.
The website of The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers can be found at www.child-soldiers.org
In recent years, progress has been made in developing an international legal and policy framework for protecting children from involvement in armed conflict. An increasing number of governments have "ratified" or agreed to become legally bound by a series of international laws banning the use of child soldiers.
Moreover, the UN Security Council has issued a series of resolutions condemning the use of child soldiers and proposing measures to stop child recruitment. These include dialogue with parties to armed conflict aimed at the immediate demobilisation of children; and targeted measures to sanction those who continue to recruit and use them as soldiers. Such measures could include the suspension of military aid or assistance, travel bans on political or military leaders and/or the freezing of foreign assets of groups or countries involved in child recruitment.
Child soldiers perform a range of tasks including participation in combat, laying mines and explosives; scouting, spying, acting as decoys, couriers or guards; training, drill or other preparations; logistics and support functions, portering, cooking and domestic labour; and sexual slavery.
While most child soldiers are boys, girls are also involved with armed groups. They are frequently recruited and used for sexual purposes. However, they are virtually always also involved in other military tasks, including combat, laying explosives, portering, and performing domestic tasks.
Unfortunately child soldiers exist in all regions of the world and in almost every country where there is armed conflict.
Africa has the largest number of child soldiers. Child soldiers are being used in armed conflict in Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Sudan.
Children are forcibly recruited into armed groups in many conflicts but the vast majority of child soldiers are adolescents between the age of 14 and 18 who "volunteer" to join up. However, research has shown that a number of factors may be involved in making the decision to join an armed conflict and in reality many such adolescents see few alternatives to enlisting. Armed conflict itself is a major determinant. Economic, social, community and family structures are frequently ravaged by armed conflict and joining the ranks of the fighters is often the only means of survival. Many youths have reported that desire to avenge the killing of relatives or other violence arising from war is an important motive.
Poverty and lack of access to educational or work opportunities are additional factors - with joining up often holding out either the promise or the reality of an income or a means of getting one. Coupled with this may be a desire for power, status or social recognition. Family and peer pressure to join up for ideological or political reasons or to honour family tradition may also be motivating factors. Girl soldiers have reported joining up to escape domestic servitude, domestic violence, exploitation and abuse and enforced marriage.