warfare has contributed new categories to the lexicon of warethnic
cleansing, strategic rape, disappearing your enemy, and the
phenomenon that needs more coverage than it gets, child soldiers.
Ethnic cleansinga term translated from Serbo-Croatianwas
widely employed in the 1990s to describe the brutal treatment
of civilian groups in the conflicts that ensued the disintegration
of the former Yugoslavia.
Some critics contend that campaigns by Albanians and Serbs
to homogenise their section of territory by cleansing
it of the other ethnic group was historically
neither new nor remarkable.
They point to the forced resettlement of peoples throughout
history at the hands of one dominant group or anotherpeoples
driven from Mesopotamia by Assyrians in the ninth century,
Jews expelled from Spain in the 15th, repeatedly expelled
in fact, till Hitlers final solution; Indian
tribes annihilated by American settlers in the 18th and 19th
centuries, Armenians driven out and decimated by Turks during
World War I, down to the present, where we see for ourselves
history brutally repeating itself.
Thus, whether ancient, modern, or contemporary, if ethnic
cleansing lacked depth or density before, thats
hardly the case now.
It attached not only to dealings between Serbs and Albanians,
but to the treatment by Indonesian militants of the people
of East Timor, and to the killing spree by Hutus in Rwanda
Rwanda was not, as we perhaps thought, the last instance of
never again becoming yet again. Today
thousands of Africans from Darfur, Sudan, continue to be driven
from their homes and killed by Arab militias, in the worst
case of ethnic cleansing since Kosovo.
Rape is a somewhat different case. Throughout history it has
been practically synonymous with war. The clearing of the
dust of battle meant the annihilation of surviving males,
and the women raped and carted off into slavery.
The difference today is that rape has become an instrument
of war itself, a feature consistently catalogued by Human
Rights Watch, in conflicts from West Africa (Sierra Leone,
Liberia, and Ivory Coast), to Serbia, Chechnya, East Timor
Under international humanitarian law, rape and sexual violence
are now specifically enumerated offences. Within the statutes
of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia
and for Rwanda, they are codified as independent and recognisable
crimes, instruments of torture and genocide.
Disappearing the enemy (the verb in the active voice) is Latin
Americas special input. Los desaparecidos, the disappeared
ones, became public currency in Argentina following the 1976
military coup, and remains for many the symbol of an unended
Between 1976 and 1983, thousands of people, many of them dissidents
and innocent civilians unconnected with terrorism, were arrested,
only to vanish without a tracedisappeared by the army.
After the return of democracy, the report of a national commission
on their fate revealed the systematic abductions of men, women,
and children, the existence of secret detention centres, and
the methodic use of torture and murder.
Following the Falklands War, all records were destroyed by
the military. To this day los desaparecidos have never been
seen nor heard from.
Which brings me to child soldiers. According to Human Rights
Watch, child soldiers are reported as participating or having
participated in 33 armed conflicts in almost every region
of the world, particularly in Africa and Asia, but including
the Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma, Indonesia, Croatia,
Chechnya, Colombiathe list goes on and on. While the
majority of the children are between the ages of 15 and 18,
some are as young as seven or eight.
Children are uniquely vulnerable to military recruitment because
of their emotional and physical immaturity. They are easily
manipulable and can be drawn into violence. They are too young
to resist or understand. Immaturity also leads them to take
excessive risks. According to one rebel commander in the Democratic
Republic of Congo, (children) make good fighters because
theyre young and want to show off. They think its
all a game, so theyre fearless.
Technological advances in weaponry and the proliferation of
small arms have also contributed to their increased deployment.
Lightweight automatic weapons are simple to operate, often
easily accessible, and can be used by children as easily as
According to a UN report, children are often snatched from
their own neighbourhoods where local militia or village leaders
are obliged to meet recruitment quotas.
In the Sudan, children as young as 12 have been rounded up
from buses and cars. In Guatemala, youngsters have been grabbed
from streets, homes, parties, and even violently removed from
churches. In the 1980s, the Ethiopian military practised a
vacuum cleaner approach, recruiting boys, sometimes
at gunpoint, from football fields, markets, religious festivals
or on the way to school.
In the different armed forces, government, opposition, or
other radical militias, children serve in supporting roles
such as porters, spies, messengers, look-outs, and sexual
slaves. They also serve as human shields, or otherwise as
fully conscripted soldiers. The numbers run into the hundreds
of thousands, but solid figures are hard to come by, as government
and other groups deny or downplay the childrens roles.
The UN report, however also notes that children are often
deliberately brutalised in order to harden them into greater
ruthlessness. In some conflicts, they have been forced to
commit atrocities against their own families.
In Sierra Leone, for example, the Revolutionary United Front
forced captured children to take part in the torture and execution
of their own relatives, after which they were led to neighbouring
villages to repeat the slaughter. Elsewhere, before battle,
young soldiers have been given amphetamines, tranquillisers
and other drugs to increase their courage and
to dull their sensitivity to pain.
Its difficult to reintegrate demobilised children after
a peace settlement is reached. Many have been physically or
sexually abused by the very forces for which they have been
fighting, and have seen their parents killed, sometimes in
the most brutal manner, in front of their eyes. Most have
also been led into participating in murder, rape and other
atrocities. These children have no skills for life in peacetime
and they are accustomed to getting their way through violence.
Were used to thinking of veterans programmes as
involving adult veterans of war, and including a range of
programmes in heathcare and further education. Demobilising
and re-integrating child solders include quite a different
agendaplacement in orphanage-type institutions, the
training of teachers sensitive to the needs of child victims,
and a return to school. What it cannot include, of course,
is any return to childhood.