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Myanmar military officers salute at their national flag during a ceremony to mark the 72nd anniversary of Independence Day in Naypyitaw, Myanmar.
© 2020 AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo
On October 5, Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, allegedly forced a group of farmers including several boys to walk ahead of their troops to clear a path through mines in an operation against the insurgent Arakan Army in Rakhine State. Fighting broke out and two boys were killed and a third was wounded. Using civilians as “human shields” is a war crime, as is using children in combat. The Tatmadaw says it will investigate the deaths, but this incident highlights a deeper problem.
The United Nations Country Taskforce on Monitoring and Reporting on Grave Violations against Children in Myanmar has called for a “full, transparent, and expedited investigation of the incident and for anyone responsible for the use and for the killing of the children to be held accountable.” Any investigation should be conducted with impartiality and independence. But the military has repeatedly failed to do so when its soldiers are accused of violations.
The Tatmadaw has a long history of using children in armed conflict. Despite the UN’s continued documentation of the military’s recruitment and use of children, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in June decided to remove the Tatmadaw from his annual “list of shame.” The delisting is conditioned on the government immediately ending and preventing any misuse of children, including in non-combat roles. This recent incident shows that the Tatmadaw is still making use of children in hostilities, violating the terms of the “delisting.” The secretary-general should return the Tatmadaw to his list for the recruitment and use of children.
In September 2019, Myanmar ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which establishes 18 as the minimum age for direct participation in hostilities. The 2007 Paris Principles, which Myanmar has endorsed, prohibits children being used as porters, cooks, messengers, or for sexual purposes. The use of children as porters also violates Myanmar’s 2019 Child Rights Law, which forbids the use of children for forced or mandatory labor.
Myanmar’s government should immediately and publicly order its armed forces to cease using porters as human shields, such as by having porters lead military columns. The UN Security Council should sanction Myanmar authorities implicated in the sickening practice of using civilians, and children in particular, as human shields. These are war crimes for which all those responsible should be prosecuted.