MILF calls on UN to ensure children’s rights are protected by all

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/25 May) – With the United Nations’ report that accused the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and two other Philippine rebel groups as among the “most persistent violators for recruiting and using children” in combat, the MILF has now called on the UN “to ensure that the rights of children are safeguarded by all and sundry, especially governments.”

In the latest editorial of its website, www.luwaran.com, the MILF said “the right to protect the people, including children, is a responsibility of governments. They must be told to comply and be held accountable when they renege.”

As it welcomed the Annual Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict, the MILF lauded the UN “for speaking the truth about child soldiering in the Philippines.”

The UN Report cited the MILF, Abu Sayyaf and the New People’s Army (NPA) as among the most persistent violators of children in conflict.

“We do not dispute this report. It is factual and documented. We confess that even to this day, the MILF is not totally immune from child soldiers in its ranks for various compelling reasons,” said the MILF.

“We have explained this to Madame Radhika Coomaraswamy, the United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, during a meeting more than a year ago. However, since we signed with the UNICEF an agreement to protect children’s rights and to delist the MILF as users of child soldiers last year, progress has been made in this regard. The annual report sent to the UN Security by the same group attested to this and it said that progress has been made with some groups which have recently signed action plans in which they aim to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers. This included the MILF, alongside the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist. All three insurgent groups have signed such plans with the UNICEF,” the MILF said.

The MILF, however, lamented “the light sentence obviously accorded to the Philippine government, which in previous report identified it as the main violators of children’s right. Of the 100% violations recorded, 50% were committed by the state, the remaining 50% by the NPA, ASG and MILF in that order. However, only 1% of these were committed by the MILF.”

“We are not trying to taint the personality of the UN; that we will never do. We just want to be clarified, because in said report, it merely ‘expressed serious concern about national armed forces using children for military intelligence and interrogation purposes’. It does not come to our mind that governments are exempted from provisions of the UN Resolution on children’s rights particularly the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Philippines is a member of the UN and therefore must abide by every UN Convention,” the MILF stressed.

The MILF listed some instances of the Philippine government’s violations of child rights, such as “the recruiting, training, and arming of minors – including sending them to combat – as members of the Civilian Volunteers Organizations (CVOs) and Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGUs); the continued recruitment of children as military assets or informers, spies, or as laborers, etc.; the continued recruitment and admission of persons below 18 years old into the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) and the National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM), and in the field of sports, boxing especially, young people are continuously recruited.” [Editor’s note: Maybe the MILF is referring to the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA), not NAPOLCOM.

“Boxing,” the MILF said, “is almost a sport of death.”

“To be absolutely clear on this, let us have a mathematical computation. A child enrols in grade I at age 7; finish the primary school at age 11; elementary school at 13; and high school at age 17. The moment he qualifies to the PMA or NAPOLCOM, he is below 18 years old. The UN says, a child soldier ‘is a person under the age of 18 who directly or indirectly participates in an armed conflict as part of an armed force or group,’” the MILF elaborated.

The said UN report noted “total of six cases of children used by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to carry supplies, for intelligence purposes, or who had been illegally detained for their alleged association with MILF recalcitrant commands or NPA have been documented by the country task force. In one case, three children were blindfolded and mistreated by elements of the 7th and 40th Infantry Battalions of the Philippine Army (IBPA) in an attempt to obtain confessions regarding their membership in MILF.”

The MILF gave an assurance that “we would like to see the 1% violation on our part becomes zero. After all, it is not to our liking and interests that children are in our ranks. We want them sent to schools and other child-friendly activities not just soon but if possible right now.” (Taher G. Solaiman / MindaNews contributor is the President of the Cotabato Center for Peace and Development Initiatives, Inc., nongovernmental organization that is based in Carmen, North Cotabato)

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