A new report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) yesterday warns that armed militias operating across the Liberian-Ivorian border are recruiting children. Since July 2011, raids have killed some 40 people, including women and children, says the New York-based watchdog.
The HRW report, Liberia: Ivorian Government Foes Wage, Plot Attacks, is based on interviews conducted with former Liberian and Ivorian mercenaries. Police officers, other authorities and area residents were also consulted. Fieldwork was carried out in the border country of Grand Gedeh in Liberia, we well as other towns, villages and mining camps in the borderlands.
One resident reported seeing young boys returning from the April 25th attack on the Ivorian village of Sakré. Another resident worried about the apparent recruitment of adolescent boys within their own community.
The militias are reportedly loyal to former president of Côte d’Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo. The cross-border raids on villages in the western part of the country are in defiance of the current elected head of state, Alassane Ouattara.
With the country split between the rebel-held north and government-run south, a power-sharing deal was brokered in 2007. But in October 2010, elections hoped to consolidate peace were disputed. Mr. Gagbo refused to concede to the internationally-recognized victor, President Ouattara, spurring six months of deadly conflict between the supporters of both men. The violence claimed the lives of 3,000 people.
Mr. Gbagbo, now in custody, is to stand trial for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Netherlands. But, his supporters are said to have fled to the bush and to Liberia. Liberian mercenaries are among them.
The recruitment or conscription of child soldiers under the age of 15 contravenes the international Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which both Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire are state parties. An optional protocol to the convention extends protection to children under the age of 18. The recruitment of minors is also a war crime, the other set of offenses prosecutable by the ICC.
Yet, the anti-Ouattara militias are recruiting children between the ages of 14 and 17, training them and using them in cross-border attacks.