Zakho – Armed groups in Iraq affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party have recruited boys and girls in the Yezidi district of Sinjar [Shingal] and other parts of Kurdistan “despite pledges to Geneva Call that they would stop the use of underaged fighters”, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday.
“In two cases the armed groups abducted or seriously abused children who tried to leave their forces. The groups should urgently demobilize children, investigate abuses, pledge to end child recruitment, and appropriately penalize commanders who fail to do so,” the HRW said.
The international watchdog said they documented 29 cases in which Kurdish and Yezidi children were recruited by two armed groups, the People’s Defense Forces (HPG) and the Shingal Resistance Units (YBŞ)–both affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
“The PKK should categorically denounce the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and commanders in affiliated armed groups should know that the recruitment and use of children under age 15 constitute war crimes,” said Zama Coursen-Neff, children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Boys and girls should be with their families and going to school, not used as means to military ends.”
Moreover, the HRW reported that some children were arrested by Iraqi Kurdistan’s security forces and abused, with some of the child soldiers and their families evicted from refugee camps because their children had joined PKK-affiliated groups.
“Kurdistan Regional Government authorities should treat children suspected of involvement with the armed groups primarily as victims of abuse, not as criminals, in accordance with international norms on child soldiers set out in the Paris Principles of 1997. The authorities should not penalize the families of suspected child recruits,” the HRW said.
The HPG pledged to end recruitment of children under article 16 on October 5, 2013, when commanders signed a “Deed of Commitment” with the Geneva Call, an international nongovernmental organization that promotes adherence to the laws of war by armed groups. The HPG’s commanders said they would “make all efforts to ensure that all 16-18 year olds are separated and kept away from combat zones.”
PKK officials did not respond to a letter from Human Rights Watch asking if the HPG has penalized commanders for violating these internal rules, and other questions including the minimum age of recruitment, the international watchdog said.
“The YBŞ should demobilize any children in their ranks, end all recruitment of children under age 18, and punish recruiters,” Human Rights Watch added.
“Kurdish and Yezidi communities in Iraq have suffered unbearable horrors from war, but there is simply no excuse for using children to fight even if they are volunteering to join up,” Coursen-Neff said. “The PKK should take immediate steps to root out all child recruitment, refuse to accept child volunteers, and make amends to the families and children who have suffered.”