“Video shows that Armenia employs child-soldiers. Needs to be investigated”, Assistant of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Head of Foreign Policy Affairs Department of the Presidential Administration Hikmet Hajiyev wrote on his Twitter page. He also added that, “Recruiting and using children under the age of 15 as a soldier is prohibited under international humanitarian law – treaty and customs – and is defined as a war crime by ICC”.
It is not the first time, Armenia commits a war crimes in relation to children. According to the “Child Soldiers Report 2001- Armenia”, “Recruitment of children has been reported to occur in practice. The Committee on the Rights of the Child, at its January 2000 session, raised questions regarding reports of refugee children from Azerbaijan being forced to join the Armenian army. The delegation responded that Armenian children in Nagorno-Karabakh had been known to take up arms against Azerbaijan “in defence of their territory”. The Committee recommended that Armenia should refrain from conscripting children into the armed forces and should take special protection and rehabilitation measures for children affected by armed conflict” (see the UN press release, UN CRC concluding observations on the status of children’s rights in Armenia, 20/1/00, HR/CRC/00/15 and also UN document reference CRC7C794).
Absolutely no actions have been taken by Armenia in regard to the recommendations of the report. Furthermore, they keep repeating to commit this war crime. Now, in 2020, again in Karabakh armed conflict.
International legal framework for prohibition using child soldiers
UN Secretary General in its report titled “Children and Armed Conflict” at the 74th session in June 2020, called upon Member States to respect the rights of the child, including through accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and the endorsement and implementation of the Paris Principles and Vancouver Principles on Peacekeeping and the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers.
International Humanitarian Law prohibits the recruitment and use of children in hostilities. The article 50 of the IV Geneva Convention, stated that, an Occupying Power must not enlist children on the occupied territory (GC IV, Art. 50). This provision is understood to relate only to children below the age of 15 years.
The prohibition is applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts (such as a current Karabakh armed conflict, between Armenia and Azerbaijan). The bans on recruitment of children below the age of 15 enshrined in Article 77 of Additional Protocol I, and in Article 4 of Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 are also considered to prohibit accepting voluntary enlistment (P I, Art. 77 (2); P II, Art. 4(3)(c)).
Article 77 states that, the Parties to the conflict shall take all feasible measures in order that children who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities and, in particular, they shall refrain from recruiting them into their armed forces. Paragraph 3 of the Article 4, of Additional Protocol II is devoted more particularly to the protection of children and reiterates some principles contained in the fourth Convention. Provisions of the protocol includes protection from the effects of hostilities (sanitary zones, evacuation), provision of special care and aid (medicine, food, clothing), protection of personal status, family and community ties (identity, registration, reunification, news), cultural environment, education, or limits to the death penalty. Other provisions specifically regulate the treatment of detained or interned children.
Human Rights Law Framework that protects child soldiers
Children are protected also by general human rights instruments. In addition, they are entitled to the protection provided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which has been ratified by all states in the world, apart from Somalia and the United States of America. Article 38(3) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibiting the recruitment of children below the age of 15 is similarly interpreted as banning voluntary enlistment of such children and, hence, completely outlawing child soldiers.
The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child differentiates between States and non-State armed groups in setting the age-limit for recruitment and use in hostilities. Armed groups that are distinct from the armed forces of a State should not, under any circumstances, recruit or use in hostilities persons under the age of 18 years.
States Parties shall take all feasible measures to prevent such recruitment and use, including the adoption of legal measures necessary to prohibit and criminalize such practices.
Under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, conscripting or enlisting children into armed forces or groups constitutes a war crime in both international and non-international armed conflicts (ICC Statute, Article 8(2)(b)(xxvi) and (e)(vii)).
Paris and Vancouver principles
Another important documents in the sphere of protection of child soldiers are the Paris Principles and the Vancouver Principles.
Paris Principles were adopted in 2007 at the “Free Children from War” conference organized by France and UNICEF. In the last 10 years, 105 states have endorsed these Principles. The signatory States have declared that they are prepared to identify and implement durable solutions to combat the unlawful use and recruitment of child soldiers in conflicts. The Paris Principles has the priority to put an end to the use or recruitment of child soldiers and one the goal is to release children enlisted into armed groups and achive sanctions against people having unlawfully recruited children. I have a big doubts that Paris Principles will achieve its goals in relation to Armenia.
In November 2017, Canada launched the Vancouver Principles on Peacekeeping and the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers at the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Vancouver Principles are a set of political commitments focused on child protection, including all stages of a conflict cycle. They comprise 17 principles that focus on preventing the recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed forces and armed groups.
In 2017, 54 UN Member States were founding endorsers of the Vancouver Principles. The number of endorsing countries is now close to 100. Armenia is among the states which had endorsed the Vancouver Principles. However, as we can see from the practice, their acts in Karabakh are not in line with those principles.
Protection of children in armed conflicts
The protection of children in armed conflict demands to be at the center of the global agenda. The laws, rights and norms governing the protection of civilians in conflict were drafted in response to 20th century wars that illustrate the worst of humanity. Even though international community falling short in their moral duty of protecting children adequately, in increasingly fractured world children can serve as a unifying force. Their rights and their claim on international protection transcend national borders, cultures and faiths.
As Eglantyne Jebb, the founder of Save the Children, once put it: ‘Every generation of children offers mankind the possibility of rebuilding his ruin of a world.’ If humanity cannot come together to protect children from the horror of war, what hope is there for international cooperation in other areas?
Now, it is time for international community to react to the war crime of Armenia, against own population in Armenia, by recruiting child soldiers and use them armed conflict against Azerbaijani army.
Ramil Iskandarli – Chairman of the Legal Analysis and Research Public Union