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Yesterday, two armed non-state actors from Burma/ Myanmar – the Karenni National Progressive Party/ Karenni Army (KNPP/KA) and the New Mon State Party/ Mon National Liberation Party (NMSP/MNLA) – became the first signatories Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment for the Protection of Children from the Effects of Armed Conflict.
By signing the Deed of Commitment, the two groups formalised their commitment to take positive action to protect children from the effects of armed conflict. Most importantly, the Deed of Commitment includes a total ban on the use of children (persons under 18) in hostilities and constitutes an undertaking from the two groups that children will not be recruited into their armed forces, either voluntarily or non-voluntarily. The Deed of Commitment also contains a broad set of international obligations relating to the care of children in armed conflict situations. These require the two groups to take positive steps to provide children with the aid and care they require in situations of armed conflict.
In signing the Deed of Commitment, the representatives of the KNPP/KA and NMSP/MNLA also committed themselves to issuing the necessary orders and directives to their military and political organs, commanders and fighters to implement and enforce the commitment. Crucially, the groups also agreed to allow and cooperate with Geneva Call’s monitoring and verification of the Deed of Commitment.
In signing the Deed of Commitment on the Protection of Children from the Effects of Armed Conflicts, Khu Oo Reh, KNPP Secretary 1 stated:
“It is important for us to show that we are willing and able to comply with international humanitarian law. It is for this reason that in 2007, we made an initial agreement with UNICEF. But today we would like to go further in signing the Deed of Commitment of Geneva Call, and we need Geneva Call’s help to continue along this path and implement our obligations on the protection of children in our country and for our people.
Brigadier General Nai Layeh Gakaung, the Vice Chief of Staff of the MNLA stated:
“We are honoured to sign the Deed of Commitment and look forward to cooperating with Geneva Call and other organisations to ensure that children enjoy the protection and assistance that they deserve”.
For readers who are not familiar with the organisation, Geneva Call is a neutral and impartial humanitarian organisation that engages with non state actors, with the aim of improving their compliance with norms of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
Geneva Call was set up in 2000 as part of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Its first Deed of Commitment on landmines – the Deed of Commitment for Adherence to a Total Ban on Anti-Personnel Mines and for Cooperation in Mine Action – has now been signed by 41 non-state actors. Geneva Call also plays an active role in monitoring the compliance of the non state actor with its undertakings in the deed of commitment.
The philosophy behind the organisation can be said to be the ‘ownership of norms’. This is the idea that if armed groups feel as if they ‘own’ humanitarian norms – i.e. have taken positive action to express their adherence to them – they will be more likely to comply with them.
Since the organisation was founded in 2000, Geneva Call has widened its focus to include programmes relating to the protection of children and women in times of armed conflict. On 19 July 2012, Geneva Call launched a new Deed of Commitment on the Prohibition of Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict and towards the Elimination of Gender Discrimination.
For the Geneva Call press release on yesterday’s event, see here.