Cite as: 12 Harv. Hum. Rts. J. 129 Harvard Human Rights Journal Spring, 1999 *129

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12 HVHRJ 129


(Cite as: 12 Harv. Hum. Rts. J. 129)

Harvard Human Rights Journal

Spring, 1999

Ilene Cohn [FNa1]

Copyright © 1999 President and Fellows of Harvard College; Ilene Cohn

Despite increased international attention to and awareness of children's rights, children are largely overlooked in the peacemaking and peacekeeping process. Rules of engagement for peacekeepers disregard children, and reconstruction and reconciliation programs that emerge from negotiations ignore the differential impact on and particular needs of children. The effect is to marginalize persistent problems like the rehabilitation and reintegration of child soldiers and, more broadly, to miss the opportunity to address widespread systemic problems common to war-torn societies.
Children suffer disproportionately in war, and they benefit disproportionately less in peace. The international community has recognized the deficiency of the international bill of rights in addressing specific classes of injustice or the status of entire groups of persons, and it has acknowledged the need for programmatic tools to address the special needs of vulnerable communities. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to which I refer throughout as a guidepost for children-oriented initiatives, is the most widely ratified human rights treaty and obliges States to take positive measures to ensure the protection of children's rights both in peace and in war. [FN1] A similar approach is both warranted and reasonable in peace processes. *130 Peacemakers must buffer children from the potentially negative consequences of the peace process while respecting their evolving capacities and their right to guided participation. [FN2]
In addition to the CRC, international humanitarian law, which has long provided special protection for vulnerable children, reflects these concerns. [FN3] Many other declarations, resolutions, and regional instruments, applicable in distinct circumstances and binding to different degrees on different actors, also urge greater protection for children in war. [FN4] The law relevant to children's rights may vary depending on circumstances but a child's moral claim to special care does not.
The general thrust behind national and international action on behalf of children is the moral and legal recognition of their emotional, physical and psychological vulnerability, their need for special care, and recognition of the obligation to respect and ensure respect for their rights. These concerns reflect the value that society places on childhood for its own sake, not as a training ground for adulthood. Simultaneously, we must recognize that events in childhood will affect the individual as an adult and consequently, society as a whole.
*131 Today, peacemaking does more than end war; it lays the normative ground for transition and sets the agenda for peace time. Peace processes have sometimes performed as constitutional conferences in which key actors strive to define the political, social and economic framework for a new social and legal order. The international community, states and institutions, local civil society, and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) come together in peace processes to determine how post-conflict society can reincorporate warriors to civilian life, facilitate resettlement of the displaced and return of refugees, advance a national agenda reconciling opposing factions and social or ethnic groups, allocate resources for development, ensure equal access to justice, and remedy past injustices.
Peacemakers do not adequately address children's needs for several reasons: lack of awareness of the nature and extent of the impact of conflict on children, ineffective lobbying by child welfare advocates, and lack of access to information on child-conscious policies and programs that should be adapted or avoided in light of experiences in other contexts. Some child welfare workers, human rights advocates, and policy-makers reject advocating on behalf of specific populations (e.g., children) or specific groups of children (e.g., child soldiers) on moral, practical, and strategic grounds. Implicit in this argument is the unconvincing assumption that programs that redress general systemic wrongs will eventually benefit youth along with the population-at- large. In actuality, children are often marginalized while more aggressive groups ensure their own representation. Peace processes to date demonstrate that, absent specific references to children during peace processes, post- conflict programs and resources are not allocated to reflect children's needs. On the other hand, we have at least one clear example in which a focus on certain child rights issues during a transition period has proven a useful tool in moving society toward higher levels of protection for all groups. [FN5]
*132 This study examines the protection of children during peacemaking and peacekeeping, and the regional and multilateral institutions that now play a role in palliating conflicts around the world. It identifies children's substantive needs, considers efforts made in some peace processes and proposes alternatives. The focus is on what might be done to better ensure that children's rights are considered from the moment mediation efforts begin until the peace-building agenda is fully hammered out. Although many of the issues, such as human rights and peacekeeping, the potential use of regional peacekeepers, and truth, justice and reconciliation, have produced a great deal of writing and debate, no one has yet examined the conflict resolution period from a children's rights perspective.
Part II will describe the nature of war's impact on children, point out patterns common to children across conflict-types and cultures, and stress the psychosocial implications of war-related experiences. Part III seeks to identify the ways in which the modern peace process is not only a forum for determining how material resources, technical assistance, and expertise will be allocated in the post-conflict era and beyond, but is also a context in which the needs of certain populations can be addressed. I identify each of the key actors with the potential for advancing child well-being and their own constraints and concerns.
Part IV reviews the commonly occurring products and by-products of peace processes, their potential impact on children, and ways in which peacemakers can conceptualize and address child rights at each stage.
Part V summarizes a number of recommendations for all key actors. In this Part, I urge recognition by both children's rights advocates and peacemakers of the ways in which their agendas overlap. I suggest a commitment to maximizing the opportunities afforded by peace processes to secure a place for children on the post-conflict agenda.

War affects children differently depending on the region and nature of the conflict. [FN6] Any one child's experience might include direct participation in, witnessing of, or victimization during hostilities; displacement; separation from or loss of loved ones; physical injury; restricted freedoms of movement, expression or association. Types of weapons, methods of recruitment, economic insecurity, exposure to chronic violence, the influence of ideology, politics, religion, peer groups and family, a child's developmental processes and her subjective appraisal of the causes and meanings of events and of her own abilities to cope, all play a role in exacerbating or mitigating war's impact.
The experience of children in war varies widely. Land mines remain a particular danger in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Angola but not in Guatemala. While forced recruitment of children was not a salient concern in the former Yugoslavia, it most certainly was in Mozambique and Liberia and is today in Sierra Leone and Uganda. [FN7] Ideological commitment and political activity allegedly play an important role in buffering Palestinian children from some deleterious effects of the violence in the Israeli Occupied Territories [FN8] and the *134 spirit of jihad armed Afghan children spiritually and emotionally for battle with Soviet-backed government troops; [FN9] but this was not the case in Mozambique or in Uganda today. [FN10]
Treatment of children also varies widely. Sectors of some societies, in Lebanon or the former Yugoslavia for example, managed to continue their children's education and to retain a certain level of family functioning even under siege; the continuity may do much to mitigate war's negative impact and to bolster resiliency. [FN11] Children in other places will never have had access to a pre-war educational infrastructure or will suffer the indirect effects of war's destruction of the existing health, education and welfare infrastructure. [FN12] Unaccompanied children may scarcely exist in regions where extended families can absorb them, but others will become refugees, or internally displaced. Some young children will be forced to become heads of large households after parents have been killed.
How wars are brought to a close can also have varying implications for children. A negotiated partial solution in Bosnia-Herzegovina that leaves many entrenched in hostile environments will have a different impact than a negotiated solution in El Salvador, where post-conflict governmental reform is meant to benefit all citizens and the peace agreements can serve a unifying function. Little data exists on the psychosocial impact of peace processes on youth, but one tentative effort by Palestinian psychologists found that "the peace treaty signed between Israel and the PLO [on September 13, 1993] positively influenced Palestinian children's well-being: [t]hey showed less neuroticism after the peace treaty than before. Those who welcomed the peace treaty by participating in the celebrations suffered less from neuroticism and enjoyed better self-esteem than those who did not." [FN13]
Despite the varied consequences of specific wars for children, patterns emerge in the experience of children that are distinct from those of adults. The explanation for war's differential impact on children and adults is to be found in the very reasons children require greater protection than adults. Age, physical stature, and developmental factors limit children's and adolescents' capacity to adapt or to respond to war crises. [FN14] "A mine explosion is *135 likely to cause greater damage to the body of a child than to that of an adult" [FN15] and maimed child survivors require extended medical treatment and psychological support. Displacement is stressful in general, but for a child, separation from family is devastating. A child's reactions to war often reflects those of a parent or caretaker; a child whose parent can provide physical closeness, reassurance and an opportunity to process the experience will cope better than one whose caregiver is anxious, fearful, and resists a child's attempts at questioning or discussion. [FN16] A child's moral intelligence, more so than an adult's, reflects his war-time experiences and the way in which he is able to make sense of the suffering.
Numerous studies and papers describe the wide-ranging impact of war on children and indicate the psychosocial consequences of exposure to chronic violence. [FN17] Research on children living in war-torn areas "point[s] to numerous domains of cognitive, social, emotional, and psychophysiological functioning that can be severely affected by exposure to violence, including depression, withdrawal, fear, anxiety, affect disregulation, aggression, dissociative reactions, and intrusive thoughts." [FN18] There is little evidence to support the view that "children either are resilient in the face of adversity or are too naive to fully appreciate events that trouble adults." [FN19]


A. The Unique Potential of the Peace Process
Even though peace processes are the defining opportunities for long-term programs and international assistance in the aftermath of armed conflict, it remains standard practice to ignore war's impact on youth once the peacemaking stage is reached. Children's rights advocates must exploit those singular characteristics of peace processes that can serve the protection of children:

. Peace processes are the only opportunity to ensure that the distinctive situation of child soldiers is addressed during demobilization and reintegration;

*136 . Peacemaking and peacekeeping processes offer unique possibilities for raising standards, expanding their scope and ensuring compliance. During the peacemaking process, the application of international humanitarian and human rights norms to non-state actors and the international verification of compliance with negotiated agreements can serve as special backdrops for ending persistent rights abuses and generating confidence in the peace process;

. International peace talk moderators or negotiators confer a coveted international political legitimacy on the parties, [FN20] and can use the resulting leverage to hold the parties to higher standards of conduct than might otherwise have been possible;

. A special constitution of power exists during the peace process that can be utilized to exact precise commitments from all parties. Once election results favor a particular party and guerrilla factions become civilians organized as political parties, the dramatic shift in bargaining power can make it difficult to negotiate new agreements;

. In the transition and post-conflict setting, most funding, support and attention of international agencies is directed to the issues agreed upon in the peace negotiations; a powerful opportunity arises here to make children's issues a priority. [FN21]

B. Key Actors
Children's rights advocates include domestic agencies with single-issue agendas, international actors with specific mandates, or international bodies or agencies like the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child or the International Save the Children Alliance. [FN22] These actors could effectively join *137 forces with representatives of civil society with overlapping agendas, such as criminal justice reformers or agencies addressing family reunification.
Children's rights advocates must acquire the skills necessary to get their concerns for children in war on political, humanitarian, and economic agendas. Lobbying efforts must go beyond traditional, explicitly child-oriented issues. The case of Argentina's Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo illustrates the role domestic child rights organizations can play in the transition to peace and democracy. The work of the Grandmothers also illustrates that advocacy focused on specific types of abuse can shape domestic and international human rights assessments that precipitate national reform. [FN23] Advocates must anticipate the constraints on peacemakers' capacities to incorporate a child- conscious approach to peacemaking and peacekeeping and should help to steer them around these obstacles.
Other peacemakers well-equipped to ensure that children are on the peacemaking agenda include representatives of fighting factions, international or national moderators, and representatives of countries "friendly" to the peace process. [FN24] Other influential actors include bilateral and international donors or lenders approached to fund peace-building programs, and the media. These actors have the capacity to narrow the gap that war typically opens between children's needs and the protection routinely available to them. Full implementation of children's rights requires that all actors involved in the transition to peace acknowledge the impact of their decisions on children and proactively address children's interests.
International bodies such as UNICEF could more actively ensure that peacemaking and peacekeeping actions contemplate the needs of children through the Department of Humanitarian Affairs/Department of Political Affairs/Department of Peacekeeping Operations framework for coordination *138 and by monitoring Security Council meetings. [FN25] The U.N. Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict has challenged the Security Council to deliberate on child soldiers and "what, if anything, can be done to keep children away from combat." [FN26]
The World Bank, the European Union, USAID and other bilateral development agencies increasingly acknowledge that short and long term gains can be anticipated from the provision of social and economic support to children and families in post-conflict societies. Child advocates must exploit and appeal to this new outlook among donor and lending agencies. They must creatively characterize child rights policy concerns in the language of economic incentives and imagine ways of bringing certain child protection issues out of the typically "private" domain into the realm of public regulation and programmatic response.

C. Case Studies

The peace processes in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Liberia offer a wide range of lessons for child advocates. Despite differences, these three cases illustrate that peacemakers too often overlook child rights and needs during peace processes.

1. The Peace Process in El Salvador

In El Salvador throughout the 1980s,

[p]olitical "death squad" killings, disappearances, torture, and bombing of civilian neighborhoods by the security forces, augmented by targeted assassinations by the FMLN, resulted in some 75,000 deaths. An additional 1.2 million peasants, out of a population of 6 million, were uprooted from their homes. The country's institutions--including the police and the judiciary-- were thoroughly politicized and discredited. [FN27]

In late 1989, the U.N. undertook to mediate an end to the decade-long civil war between the U.S.-backed government of El Salvador and the FMLN. The two-year negotiation process produced a complex set of agreements regulating the conduct of the parties and reforming the normative and institutional framework of Salvadoran society. [FN28] A final peace accord was signed on January 16, 1992. [FN29]
*139 From July 26, 1991 to June 30, 1997, the U.N. provided the international verification of all substantive agreements. [FN30] The Secretary-General's final report deems the Salvadoran peace process one of the most successful in which the U.N. has participated and sums up the levels of compliance with commitments on matters ranging from respect for human rights and humanitarian law, reparations programs, agrarian, electoral and justice reform, to the demobilization and reintegration of armed forces and FMLN troops. [FN31] In spite of a number of short-comings, [FN32] the process has generated, "slowly but surely," the grounds for the gradual consolidation of peace in the country. [FN33] Though the confluence of circumstances so conducive and perhaps essential to a successful peace process are "unlikely to be repeated elsewhere," [FN34] there are lessons to be learned from the way key actors in the process used their leverage and exploited opportunities presented within the process to advance and institutionalize greater respect for human rights.

2. The Peace Process in Guatemala

Latin America's longest running civil war ended with the signing of the Firm and Lasting Peace Agreement between the Guatemalan government and the URNG on December 29, 1996. [FN35] This internal conflict began with the CIA- backed overthrow of the democratically elected Arbenz government in 1954 and in the early 1980s, spiraled into the slaughter of an estimated 150,000 civilians, the internal displacement of about 1 million, and an exodus of some 50,000 persons to Mexico. [FN36] Responsibility for this devastation, *140 targeted predominantly at civilians of Mayan ethnic origin, lies almost exclusively with the Guatemalan armed forces and allied paramilitary units. The alleged motive was counter-insurgency, but the violence against civilians was entirely disproportionate to the URNG's limited popular support and military strength.
The persistent civil strife conveyed an image of political instability that discouraged foreign investment and limited the government's economic modernization projects. [FN37] Much as in El Salvador, domestic and international circumstances aligned to create an opportune context in which to end three decades of strife. A desire to improve its international image and attract aid and investment pushed the Guatemalan government towards the negotiating table. The URNG gained some political legitimacy by being at the negotiating table, a feat they never accomplished militarily. In emphasizing a human rights agenda, they made maximum use of the one area in which they had relative political clout.
The first substantive agreement in U.N.-moderated peace talks was the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights, signed on March 19, 1994. [FN38] Efforts to reach a negotiated solution spanned a decade, pre-dating U.N. involvement, and gradually evolved from a means of ending conflict to a forum for the drafting of a blueprint for a new national project (proyecto de nacion). U.N. verification of all agreements was requested in January 1994. The U.N. Human Rights Verification Mission (MINUGUA) initiated verification of the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights in November 1994, and will continue to verify compliance with the array of accords through 2000.

3. The Peace Process in Liberia

The Liberian internal armed conflict began on Christmas Eve in 1989 when the NPFL launched attacks aimed at ousting the dictatorship of President Samuel Doe and "effectively triggered a war that has brought the almost complete destruction of Africa's oldest republic." [FN39] In August 1990, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sent in its Ceasefire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) to halt the carnage. While not authorized by ECOWAS' statute, regional politics, principally Anglophone, *141 determined the ECOWAS agenda and level of ECOMOG involvement. [FN40] U.N. Security Council authorization was eventually obtained in spite of ECOMOG's unclear peacekeeping mandate and aggressive involvement in peace enforcement activities that revealed a lack of impartiality. [FN41] In 1993 the United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) was established to oversee cease-fire agreements and marginally, to report on major violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and assist local human rights NGOs identify funding sources for capacity-building, training, and logistic support. [FN42] "By 1996, three successive interim governments had been installed with the help of the international community. Over a dozen peace accords [had] been acceded to by the various parties to the conflict, but none [had] established a lasting cessation of hostilities." [FN43] On July 19, 1997, Charles Taylor, former NPFL warlord, won national elections that swept him to the Presidency and gave control of the legislature to his National Patriotic Party. [FN44]
In stark contrast to the El Salvador and Guatemala processes, the Liberian experience was shaped by "three crucial factors--the economics of war, the erosion of civilian power and the incoherence of international peacekeeping." [FN45] While the Salvadoran and Guatemalan governments saw peace as the road to economic development and the FMLN and the URNG saw their Cold War funding sources drying up, the Liberian conflict was fueled by national and international processes that "sustained and profited perpetrators of violence at the expense of others." [FN46] Unlike the peace processes in El Salvador and Guatemala, there were no attempts to address the concerns of civilian groups in Liberia. The peacemaking process continually expanded to "include all groups with the capacity to wreck the peace," thus ceding authority to the more powerful factions and legitimizing violence and criminality as paths to political power. [FN47] International peacemaking initiatives in Liberia were irresolute and proceeded in an incoherent manner. [FN48] The clash of interests among ECOWAS member states was reflected in ECOMOG's failure to fulfill its peacemaking mandate, especially early on. [FN49] The slowly deployed U.N. observer forces lacked coordination and professionalism. *142[ FN50] Presently, a tense peace is holding in Liberia as the immense task of rebuilding has tentatively begun.

D. Key Actors' Capacities to Address Children's Rights Concerns

In a foreshortened peace process that aims primarily to stop the guns, as in Liberia, the most conscientious children's rights advocates will be at a loss to intervene. Even in El Salvador and Guatemala, where peacemakers seized the opportunity to craft a post-war rebuilding agenda, they did not take a child- conscious approach. Opportunities abounded to incorporate a child-consciousness into the framework of the Guatemalan agreements, and the lessons learned in El Salvador compelled such an approach, yet no parties to the talks raised children's rights issues. [FN51] Negotiations on the Guatemalan Comprehensive Agreement, the Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples [FN52] and the Agreement on Resettlement of the Population Groups Uprooted by the Armed Conflict [FN53] neither provoked discussion of children's rights nor produced any child-specific provisions. The URNG might have used their credibility and leverage on the issue of human rights to ensure that the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights included specifics on issues such as child recruitment, juvenile justice reform, reparations for past violations, physical and psychosocial recovery programs. [FN54]

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