Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Ladies and gentlemen, it's a pleasure to be in this place, speaking to a House of Commons committee. Given our country's sound system of governance, I place a lot of faith in the work and recommendations of parliamentary committees. They help shape government policy and open the government's eyes to the problems that need fixing, often in relation to the bigger picture.
I am coming to you as an ex-force commander of a UN force way back in 1994, right on the border with, of course, the Congo. I was involved in 1996 when Canada was there looking at how we were handling nearly two million refugees in the eastern Congo, due to the Rwandan crisis, and the extensive actions taken by the extremist génocidaires who did escape from Rwanda but were conducting operations inside Rwanda.
In 1998 I was monitoring the Ugandan, Rwandan, and other countries' invasion and change of government at the time. Then in 2011, a full documentary team went in with me when we looked at the use of children in this conflict, so in both the Kivu, which are the eastern provinces, and Ituri, which is just north of the east. We were in Uganda, where Joseph Kony was operating beyond his borders and influencing the Congo, but also we were in the DRC and we were in South Sudan. The whole region was being affected, and the whole region was using refugees, but also children, in their conflicts.
As founder of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, we have received recently a project from UN peace ops to go into Somalia, where I already have people in, and the Congo, where we're returning, in order to assist the government forces in changing the nature of their ethos in regard to the use of children as instruments of war, and in so doing, help them write their doctrine and produce training that is professional and capable of making them conscious that children are not there as a weapon of war, nor will they ever win a war. They will sustain wars, but they won't win them.
You are aware, of course, of Ebola now breaking out again, and we faced Ebola when we were in Sierra Leone with my Dallaire initiative, and we had to break for about eight months. But we discovered how the proper training of police forces and the military, the security forces, were able to save a lot of the children who would have been abandoned had they not been made conscious of the fact of the vulnerability of children.
Lastly, we are in a business where it is not cultural frameworks that make children more acceptable to be used and abused, particularly in their human rights, be it through child labour, child prostitution, or child trafficking. Because they are youth and in those societies young people are seen to be of an adult status, even as young as 13, we are being held back in any way of imposing on those societies changes of culture in regard directly to child rights. That is to say, anyone under the age of 18 is a child, as the UN defines it. Therefore, a 13-year-old girl who is pregnant is not somebody's wife; she is a 13-year-old girl who is pregnant. As well, a 14-year-old boy who is carrying a weapon and being used as a soldier is a 14-year-old boy and not an adult soldier.
That is the construct in which we are working, and that is maybe a harder perspective in regard to how we are going to effect human rights and change the nature of people's thinking, as an example, on the use of children and the abuse of their human rights in a population that often reaches up to 50% under the age of 18, which is an astronomical reference in regard to the population spread and the availability of children.
I will leave my text, if I may, for your leisure, and I'll touch upon some of the material.
I've also brought some material. This is a storybook of our research in the Congo on Congolese children about what they've been involved in as children used as weapons of war. We use that to educate them and train them, and to also educate the forces. There's also some work we're already doing in Rwanda in regard to eliminating the use of child soldiers.
Yes, I'm an ex-soldier and a force commander, a Senator and a colleague, maybe a bit of a humanitarian, but I'm also a grandfather. In so being, I don't think that the abuse—and massive abuse—of children in conflict zones is, in fact, a sideline activity. It is a mainstream concern in regard to conflicts around the world. There isn't one conflict in the world that doesn't use massively, and in central roles, children under 18 in all capacities to sustain these conflicts.
The Congo is an ideal example of that massive abuse by government forces, which have now been released from being held accountable—that is, held as a witness—in front of the international community because they've officially stopped recruiting child soldiers, but there are a number of children recruited in a variety of capacities, not only gun to gun, but all the way through to porters and girls. Up to 40% of the girls are being used as sex slaves and bush wives, and non-state actors are still using them extensively.
As recently as last week, I met with the NGO community working out of Goma, which is the core of the eastern Congo, the east conflict zone where the UN mission has deployed its headquarters, and it's right on the Rwandan border. They articulated once again that, although people are using children less often, they use them less often when they don't need them; that is to say, when there's no threat in their area. The minute a threat appears or the minute any friction appears, the recruitment of children is immediately launched. They're the easiest and fastest mobilization base, the most effective in regard to bringing them into the fold and getting them to conduct operations that adults won't do, because their brains are often not developed enough to know the difference between extreme risk and empathy for other human beings.
We have been involved extensively in this massive abuse of the human rights of children for nearly 12 years now, but have done research way back, even in 2005, on how they're recruiting children, why they're recruiting children, and how we can counteract that. The child soldiers initiative has built a capacity to go now inside the country and start retraining and re-educating their forces and also their police forces—not only military—in regard to not using children.
Without effective training, peacekeepers, soldiers, and police will face child soldiers and will either under-react, overreact, or not react at all, leading to a situation that can be catastrophic for all involved, from the peacekeeper to the child. We have seen forces, such as in the Central African Republic, where South African soldiers were surprised by child soldiers and, before they were able to react, 13 of them were killed—not child soldiers but soldiers.
Unless there is an introduction of a whole new capacity in building an operational capability in forces to handle child soldiers without necessarily using lethal force, but infusing new doctrinal changes, new tactics—because it's a new way of war—you will continue to sustain casualties on the children where kinetic force is used extensively versus ulterior uses of capabilities. New tactics could reduce the possibility of escalation to kinetic, but also produce scenarios by conducting operations that are not directly related to destroying children where the children could escape, and in fact, create scenarios where they can escape in the confusion of combat.
Ultimately, we're working to try to convince people to prevent their recruitment, and that is by building forces that are far more aware of what they are able to do. In so doing, the work we're doing is not in isolation but it has become quite a national construct in our international development and also in our foreign affairs through a whole new championing of child rights up front. This means it's not human rights, it's not women's rights, but it's children's rights that are up front.
If you are able to reduce the use of children, and if you're able to convince people that using children is inappropriate in conflict, you are getting people around the table with a safe subject: children. As you move that yardstick of getting the people to discuss, as an example, let's stop recruiting them under 13, because they recruit them as young as eight, and bring them to the table to reduce their mobilization base, you'll get them to talk. You will get the belligerents to discuss, and you will look at other opportunities to show good faith. Ultimately, if we get it all the way up to under 18, then all the more for it.
First of all, there's the championing of child rights up front as an instrument to prevent their recruitment, and in so doing, train people to recognize them in their policies. Only 10 out of 180 mandates out of the UN over the last 10 years even mentioned the word “child”, let alone how to protect them.
That's the first element. I have a text that I'll leave you with regard to a definition of child rights up front. However, when we talk about the abuse of children, we're directly talking about the abuse of women and children at large. For child soldiers are not only locked in to being used in a gun-to-gun format, but they're used to abuse the whole population, to create fear through horror, through use of horrific instruments like rape. In so doing, child soldiers can be pushed to an extreme where we will argue, and have argued in research, that the recruitment of child soldiers is a first sign, an early warning indicator, of the possibility of mass atrocities that will grow in that country and ultimately even degenerate into genocide.
In every one of the conflicts we've seen where child soldiers have been recruited, the scenario has degenerated ultimately into mass atrocities and abuses of women, sexually and otherwise, and children in the same way.
The second element is understanding that wars have changed. We're into civil wars, ethnic conflicts, situations where imploding nations and failing states exist. Your normal references, your moral references, have broken down, and in so doing, the use of children as child soldiers by some factions seems to be logical, but it is dead against the International Criminal Court where recruiting children as child soldiers in any capacity, from sex slaves to simply carrying water, by any faction, is a crime against humanity. It's a war crime.
Getting the troops to recognize that and report it and intervene in that sense, and getting the international community to recognize that these wars such as in the Congo have been sustained by the fact that they're recruiting children.... The minute the scenario changes, they massively abuse children by recruiting them, and in so doing, change the nature of the conflict within days.
The third element is Canada's efforts in this regard in two arenas that can have a direct impact on the Congo because we're going in there with this in mind, and also with the support of the African Union.
That is the Vancouver principles, which are principles on how to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and also the Elsie project, with the concept of introducing force multipliers in the forces that are being deployed by encouraging forces to recruit women and put them in the front lines. Children in conflict react differently to women as they see them. Even if they're in uniform, there is a significant difference. Also, women bring new dimensions of communicating with the communities, with different factions of the communities that men can't even get close to.
That force multiplier is a significant factor, in our estimation, of reducing the value of child soldiers, because we will neutralize them. I don't want to use the military term “neutralize”, which means “destroy”, but “neutralize” meaning “render ineffective the use of children”. The more we can be effective in facing them with our security forces and with the application of things like child rights up front, the less they will be useful to those who want to recruit them. They will ultimately even become a liability, because those who do recruitment will be sent to jail by the International Criminal Court.
We're doing the indirect approach. We're not doing frontal assaults on them. We're taking them by training better security forces, police forces, national forces, and changing their concept of how they look at children.
Children under 18 are not instruments of war. They're not to be abused in their rights to be children. Of the six grave violations of children that have been introduced by the UN, the gravest one, graver than child trafficking, and graver than even the use of children in areas of abuse such as mines and the like, is the use of children as instruments of war. All the rest fall flat when you're faced with children used as weapons of war.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.