MAC: Mines and Communities

Dirty looking stones

Published by MAC on 2010-09-14
Source: Hard News (Delhi)

Despite solemn rhetoric, blood diamonds and child soldiers continue to enact a sub-human trail of tragedy and savagery in the dirty wars of Africa.

By Meha Dixit Delhi 

Hard News

7 September 2010

The Hague is currently the centre of all the drama where the former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, infamous for his association with the notorious Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF), is on trial. He is accused of selling 'blood diamonds' and purchasing weapons for the RUF during the civil war in Sierra Leone (1991-2002). Taylor has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity - murder, sexual slavery, rape, torture, and using child soldiers. In 2007, Taylor became the first head of state in Africa to face an international court on the allegations of war crimes when his trial began in the Hague before the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL).

In July 2009, Taylor decided to defend himself. Denying all charges, Taylor audaciously portrayed himself as a peacemaker. If this was not enough, the Hague became the stage for added melodrama. Enter Naomi Campbell.

Campbell, a British supermodel, is alleged to have received a diamond from Taylor in 1997. For sometime the supermodel evaded the issue. In a recent interview she declared, "I don't want to be involved in this man's case." Prosecutors say Campbell's testimony is important since it would prove that Charles Taylor "used rough diamonds for personal enrichment and arms purchases".

Since the commencement of the trial, Taylor has persistently denied that "he ever owned or traded in diamonds". Recently, Campbell was ordered by the court to give evidence on July 29, in the Charles Taylor war crimes trial. In her evidence to the SCSL, the model admitted receiving "dirty-looking stones" after a dinner at Nelson Mandela's residence in Pretoria in 1997 where Taylor was also present. The model claimed she did not know who sent her the diamonds. However, actor Mia Farrow and Campbell's former agent Carole White - both of whom were present at the dinner - contradicted Campbell's version that she did not know who gave her the diamonds.

This whirligig of evidence and counter-evidence has attracted much public attention. However, it is yet to be seen what course Taylor's trial takes - the man whose hands are muddied in the blood diamond trade and recruitment of child soldiers.

An armed conflictis often like a deadly communicable disease spreading across landscapes, maiming the limbs of civilisations, devouring thousands, or rendering them homeless and displaced. Among the worst affected are children. Besides the physical hazards, children are likely to experience lasting psychosocial damage. In conflict zones, children often get trapped into the culture of guns and drugs, some eventually ending up as child (below 18) combatants or are used by rebel factions to work in diamond or other mines to fund the war.

Child soldiers are not new phenomena. However, the enormity of the problem in contemporary times is unparalleled, both in the numbers of young people involved and the extent and magnitude of this practice. Almost all continents have witnessed the use of children and youth in combat. However, to understand the phenomena of child soldiers, it is imperative to understand the crucial question: Who is a child soldier?

A 'child soldier' is any person under 18 years of age who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to cooks, porters, messengers and anyone accompanying such groups, other than family members. The definition includes girls recruited for sexual purposes and for forced marriage. It does not, therefore, only refer to a child who is carrying or has carried arms. (Cape Town Principles 1997)

The end of the Cold War spawned an era of intra-state armed conflicts in various parts of the world. Parts of Africa, Asia, Latin America, Middle East and Europe are still experiencing intra-state conflicts resulting in high civilian casualty rates, mostly involving women and children. Wars often leave lasting scars within peoples' minds, especially children, and with schools and basic infrastructure ruined, children are deprived of leading a healthy and normal life. Those at the refugee or displaced people's camps are at risk of being recruited in armed groups.

Child combatants spend their early life within armed forces or factions and often end up with no education and skills. At times families and com¬munities fail to accept them, either due to the atrocities committed by them or the fear of brutal retribution for the abuses perpetrated by them. Demobilisation, Disarmament and Re¬integration (DDR) programmes often exclude child soldiers. Besides, these programmes are mostly gender-biased.

Apart from failing to cope with the social and economic needs of their citizens, a number of 'failed' African states have been unsuccessful in providing good governance. This offers a fertile ground for incessant conflicts and exerts pressure on young people, considering that Africa is a continent of the young, and African children and youth constitute the majority of African citizens. Deep discontentment with the political and economic structures has also propelled young people into joining armed groups in many African states. By several indicators, Africa has been judged as the most 'insecure' region in the world. According to the Failed States Index 2009, Somalia, Sudan and Sierra Leone figure in the 'alert' category with Somalia and Sudan finding themselves in the first and the third place respectively (The Fund for Peace 2009).

All the above factors are linked to increased risk of armed conflict. The ragbag of pervasive poverty, poor infrastructure, weak administration, plethora of cheap weapons and conflict minerals including blood diamonds, implies that armed conflicts in these countries are hard to circumvent or bring to a halt. With burgeoning child soldiers, conflicts become even more intractable. Consequently, it is imperative to analyse armed conflicts not just from the perspective of State security but human security as well. Human security and State security are interlinked. Several armed conflicts are sustained through the involvement of child soldiers. And in a number of conflict zones, the conflicts are funded through mineral wealth.

For instance, blood diamonds were largely responsible for sustaining the war in Sierra Leone. And now it is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where the conflict is being funded through mineral wealth. Children are being made to work in the mines in horrible, sub-human conditions.

Uncannily, laptops, smart phones and digital cameras are created from minerals that are fuelling the bloody conflict in Congo. The conflict is funded partly through the sale of mineral ores which contain tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold. Tantalum from Congo is used in making electrical capacitors that are present in computers, phones and gaming devices.

Child soldiers as well as conflict minerals are used to sustain conflicts, and this in turn often leads to spilling over of the hostilities into neighbouring states. Also, movement of child soldiers across borders may threaten State security. The DDR processes, which exclude child soldiers, are likely to deteriorate human security since these neglected children are vulnerable to being re-recruited. Therefore, it is essential to focus on human security to ensure State security.

To deal with the problem of child soldiers, several international and regional legislations have been adopted. These include the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (2002), African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. However, international laws are often scarcely known or understood by people in several regions of the world. Therefore, as Alcinda Honwana (author of Child Soldiers in Africa) argues, it is essential to spread awareness regarding these laws at the national as well as local level. It is important to reconcile international laws with local understandings.

For tackling conflict diamonds, the Kimberley Process (KP) was launched to stop "the flow of conflict diamonds - rough diamonds used by rebel movements" to fund "wars against legitimate governments". The KP began in May 2000 when Southern African diamond-producing states gathered in Kimberley, South Africa, to thrash out ways to end "the trade in 'conflict diamonds' and ensure that diamond purchases" were not being used to fund violence.

The UN General Assembly, in December 2000, adopted a resolution supporting "the creation of an international certification scheme for rough diamonds". In 2003, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) came into force. The KPCS document has laid out "the requirements for controlling rough diamond production and trade". The KPCS "imposes extensive requirements on its members to enable them to certify shipments of rough diamonds as conflict-free".

The trade in diamonds has fuelled devastating conflicts in a number of countries such as Angola, Cote d'Ivoire, the DRC and Sierra Leone. In most of these nations children and youth were used for work in the diamond mines. In post-conflict Sierra Leone, a number of former child soldiers ended up in the Kono diamond mines. Former child soldiers in Sierra Leone were subsequently engaged in heavy labour in diamond mines under harsh conditions.

In the discourse on child soldiers, young people who participate in combat are often represented as victims in need of protection and passive actors in contemporary warfare. This representation denies these young people their agency as political actors and conflict stakeholders. In a number of African conflicts, it has been observed, for many young people, one of the root causes for their involvement in combat was their exclusion from the economic, political and social structures of their States. Therefore, in such cases, it is not advisable to treat young people as mere victims in combat. For their successful reintegration into society, it is imperative to address their grievances and involve them in peace initiatives.

Successful reintegration of child soldiers into civilian life is only possible if the war ceases. This is because as long as wars persist, it is likely that children and youth, especially those who are economically, socially or politically disadvantaged or marginalised, will continue to be recruited in armed forces or groups - either by volition or through coercion.

The writer is writing her doctoral thesis on 'Human Security and Post Conflict Reintegration of Child Soldiers: Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) Programmes in Mozambique and Sierra Leone', School of International Studies, JNU, Delhi

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