SOHR: recruitment of children is a red line | “Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah” and child soldiers in Autonomous Areas
Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah (in English “Revolutionary Youth”) is blamed for seeking to recruit children in its ranks in areas held by the Autonomous Administration. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), as well as other human rights organisations, has warned against recruiting and exploiting the conditions of children after escaping their houses due to family differences and domestic issues.
SOHR has called on various parties not to abuse children or involve them in political or military conflicts under any circumstances. The human rights watchdog demanded the Autonomous Administration to stand firm against the exploitation of under 18-year-old boys and abide by all the international agreements in this regard.
What is Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah? What are its objectives? What is the relationship between Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah and the Syrian Defence Forces (SDF)?
Mahmoud Habib, a leading member in the SDF has told SOHR that Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah is one of the civil society’s natural results that pay attention to educating and nurturing the youthful generations and developing their capabilities and skills.
“It is part of a comprehensive project for cleansing society of ISIS extremism and authoritarianism and totalitarianism, and guiding the youth to understand and practice democracy and its values,” said Habib, highlighting that the project also aims at enhancing solidarity and raising the level of the political awareness after five decades of regression.
The leading SDF member adds that Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah is a product of the Syrian society’s movement towards developing individuals of different ages, noting that raising political awareness is not an accusation. It is a rather important tool to prevent a person of different age groups from falling prey to terrorism and extremism that seeks to recruit people to serve their destructive projects.
Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah is an educational awareness-raising movement rather than an abusive phenomenon, Habib added, arguing that “recruiting children in a military institution does not exist to discuss its legality.”
He considered the fleeing of some children from their families is not a phenomenon and if some cases are found, women and children institutions will deal with it and refer those children to protection and rehabilitation programms to help them.
Habib affirmed that the Syrian society along the eastern Euphrates and the Autonomous Administration-held areas is protected and it is hard to violate the international norms, laws and agreements that had been agreed upon.
Furthermore, he described the SDF experience as successful at the national level as it has fought terrorism and extremism and has produced a real project. But the SDF has been subject to many of accusations by the defeated parties and hypocrites who “traded” the Syrian issue.
“Not only accusations, the SDF has been encountering assaults in all military, security, economic and social forms in a bid to weaken its resolve,” he said.
Habib also referred to the SDF anti-children recruitment agreement with the UN that was signed in July 2019 as a sort of commitment.
Habib adds Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah has foiled some sabotage attempts in the east of Euphrates, noting that the misleading and false accusations are also failed and baseless, and stem from political manipulation in order to mobilise regional and international public opinion against the Autonomous Administration and to distort its image.
On the other hand, Khalid Jabr, member of the joint presidency of one of the agencies that protects children during armed conflicts in the Autonomous Administration told SOHR that centers for returning or repatriating children to their families are found across the north part of Syria and always seek to keep the under 18-year-old boys away from military involvement.
He notes that the SDF cooperates closely with those centers for protecting children and endeavours to provide care for them. The SDF has prevented 200 children from joining military formations and Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah.
He emphasises the SDF’s commitment to the principles of human rights and the international charters, admitting that some breaches happened but the SDF has swiftly intervened.
Jabr adds that a committee for reviewing SDF’s enlisted and joining members has been formed a month ago. The committee excluded 54 under 18-year-old boys out of 213 and repatriated them to their relatives.
He stresses that the reports f kidnap and exploiting of minors by the SDF for military purposes are baseless, referring to the great work of the special centers dedicated to returning children to their families.
Jabr adds that the SDF and the NDF work according to international agreements on protecting human and child rights in general.
However, Abu Omar Al-Idliby, a leading SDF member, stresses that Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah is a civil organisation that cares for adults and has no connection with any military affiliation to the SDF.
Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah task focuses on framing the adult activities and developing their hobbies at this important age as a base for forming a future personality.
Moving from teenage till the youth requires attention and care of the society at the individual and groups levels, he noted adding that “not containing the youth’s energies within organised frames that develop and promote their mental capabilities and talents will end with negative repercussions and will put them in a state of devastation.”
Al-Idliby says the ten-year lasted Syrian crisis left death and destruction and the outbreak of terrorist organisations and extremism and brought ignorant generations who are exploited by extremists’ organisations and turn into murderers.
In north and east Syria, the Autonomous Administration institutions exerted utmost efforts to rehabilitate the destruction caused by terrorist organisations and war at all levels, Al-Idliby said, noting that the SDF has endured the burdens of combating terrorism and fighting extremism to provide security and stability.
“The SDF does not seek to abuse children and works in accordance with the human and child rights principles in cooperation with the concerned bodies,” he added.
Al-Idliby notes that the SDF has signed in July 2019 an agreement with the UN to prevent recruiting children into its ranks, stressing the group works on respecting the international obligation adding it is normal when some individual violations are spotted especially in a country that lives unnormal conditions.
He criticised the baseless media and public opinion campaigns by Damascus and Ankara and other media institutions and social media platforms on the issue of recruiting children.
Meanwhile, Ahmad Hemo, a Kurdish journalist, told SOHR that Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah seeks to limit ignorance and encourages young people for searching and developing minds and thoughts away from extremism.
He adds that Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah has been formed for protecting areas in Rouj Afa, Al-Jazeera, Koubany and Afrin from the Syrian regime arrests since the beginning of the revolution.
He agrees that the SDF had not used children in its war against terrorism, adding that during the peak of fighting ISIS, several young men volunteered and took part in the security and military campaign against the terrorist groups.
However, after years of formation and organisation, the SDF worked on keeping the under 18-year-old boys away of fights when the SDF general leader Mazloum Al-Abadi signed in Geneva on agreements for protecting the minors from involvement in the armed conflicts.
Hemo says the main task of the offices of the Autonomous Administration that were established a year ago, is to coordinate with the families of the children who joined some military forces in the region whether the People Protection Units, the SDF or the Internal Security Forces via individual mistakes of leaders of the factions or the brigades. These offices coordinate with the SDF to reach the families and repatriate their children and managed to settle dozens of cases.
The journalist stressed that the SDF task is to protect the region with its women and children against any attempts of exploitation or manipulation.
Syria has been living serious breach of the international laws since the revolution has turned into an armed conflict The Syrian regular forces and the armed factions bear complete responsibility for those violations and several sides have been involving in recruiting the under 18-year-old children in direct fights.
SOHR documented several cases and appealed to the international community to condemn such practices and to issue firm sanctions to bring the criminals to justice.
The International Humanitarian Law (War laws) and the International Human Rights Law prohibit the recruitment of children as fighters or collaborators. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC) that Syria signed in 2003 prohibits recruiting under 18-year-old children in any direct offensives or the under 15-year-old children in any collaborating acts. Any breach of those laws will be considered as a crime of war based on the definition of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.