NEW YORK -- The UN Children`s Fund (UNICEF), which has been closely monitoring the growing recruitment of child soldiers by the LTTE, wants the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute rebel leaders and armed groups that abuse children.
But ICC action -- including a declaration labelling rebel leaders as war criminals -- can be initiated only by the UN Security Council or alternatively triggered by a member state that is a party to the Rome Statute that created the criminal court.
`Sri Lanka cannot initiate action against the LTTE because it is not a party to the ICC treaty since it has neither signed nor ratified it,` a UN official told the Sunday Times.
`If, however, it decides to ratify the treaty, the government can take the LTTE all the way to the criminal court in the Hague, for all the illegal actions that the Tigers commit in the post-ratification period.` he said.
Asked why Sri Lanka is refusing to sign and ratify the treaty, a knowledgeable source said it was obvious that the ICC could cut both ways: even government leaders accused of war crimes could be hauled before the same court.
A delegation from the New York-based Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) was in Sri Lanka recently to convince the government to sign and ratify the treaty.
The 15-member UN Security Council, which refused to impose sanctions and travel bans on recruiters of child soldiers, adopted a tame resolution last month setting up only a monitoring mechanism.
`The Security Council must make good on its promises to take `measures` against parties that continue to recruit and use children as soldiers by imposing targeted sanctions, such as arms embargoes and travel bans on their leaders,` Julia Freedson of the `Watch List on Children and Armed Conflict` told the Sunday Times.
In 2003, Uganda`s President Yoweri Museweni referred the Lord`s Resistance Army, a rebel group notorious for recruiting child soldiers, to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.
Last year, the ICC determined that there is sufficient basis to start an investigation against the rebel group. In a move to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the UN, the LTTE wrote two letters to Olara Otunnu, the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, seeking to establish a dialogue with him.
At a news conference last month, Mr. Otunnu said that when 54 parties were identified as child recruiters on the `list of shame`, he recalled that the first rebel group to get in touch with him was the LTTE.
`They indicated their concern about being placed on the list and wanted to engage in a dialogue to address the issue,` he told reporters. But Mr. Otunnu cold-shouldered the request -- primarily because the LTTE has broken virtually all of its pledges to stop recruiting children.With Mr. Otunnu`s term of office having come to an end on July 31, he has been temporarily replaced by, Karin Sham Poo, one of the highest ranking Norwegians in the UN system, who until recently was a deputy executive director of UNICEF. Since Norway has been brokering a peace deal and going soft on the Tigers, the LTTE may try to get a toe hold in the UN by making a third attempt at sending a delegation to New York.
Although the LTTE is banned in the United States, one of the LTTE leaders has already given an assurance to the UN that it is expected to receive a `special visa` to enter the US.
The new resolution adopted last month could also provide the LTTE with a backdoor entrance to the Security Council, although successive Sri Lankan governments have refused to `internationalise` a primarily domestic issue. India, for example, has succeeded in keeping its Kashmir problem out of the Security Council chamber for a similar reason.
If and when the Security Council decides to impose targeted sanctions on rebel groups such as the LTTE, there is also a proposal to exempt rebel leaders from the travel ban, particularly if they are involved in peace negotiations. So the bottom line would be that the Tigers will still be able to roam Oslo, London and New York -- travel ban or no travel ban.