HRW urges Kurdish forces to end use of child soldiers in Syrian conflict

14 July 2015 (Last Updated July 14th, 2015 18:30)

The Kurdish People's Protection Unit (YPG) is yet to fulfil its commitment to demobilise child soldiers and to stop using boys and girls aged under 18 in combat in Syria, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has revealed.

Kurdish fighters

The Kurdish People's Protection Unit (YPG) is yet to fulfil its commitment to demobilise child soldiers and to stop using boys and girls aged under 18 in combat in Syria, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has revealed.

As part of a 'Deed of Commitment' signed with Geneva Call that called for theexpulsion of all fighters under 18 from its ranks within one month, the group has already demobilised 149 children.

However, HRW has over the past year come across cases of children under 18 joining and fighting with the YPG and its female branch, YPJ, with some apparently killed in combat in June.

Human Rights Watch special adviser Fred Abrahams said: "The YPG promised to stop sending children to war and it should carry out its promise.

"Of course the Kurdish forces are fighting groups like ISIS that flout the laws of war, but that's no excuse to tolerate abuses by its own forces."

"The Kurdish forces are fighting groups like ISIS that flout the laws of war, but that's no excuse to tolerate abuses by its own forces."

Based on information provided by local and international organisations, the watchdog compiled a list of 59 children, ten of them under 15, who were allegedly recruited by, or who volunteered for, YPG or YPJ forces since July 2014.

Earlier this month, the YPG and YPJ issued a circular to commanders and heads of recruiting centres banning them from recruiting or accepting anyone under 18. The individuals failing to comply will face 'maximum disciplinary measures.'

In response to a letter sent by HRW in June, YPG acknowledged that it faced 'significant challenges' to stop its use of child soldiers due to the ongoing armed conflict, but confirmed the demobilisation of 27 boys. The YPJ has also disbanded 16 girls.

The internal regulations of the YPG, as well as the Kurdish-run police force, called Asayish, already prohibited the use of children under 18.

The group has also created a 'non-combatant category', wherein it will continue to recruit and keep children aged 16 and 17, but will not deploy them for military functions.

As per customary international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the recruitment and enlistment of children under 15 by armed forces or non-state armed groups to participate actively in hostilities amounts to war crime.

In its June report, the UN claimed that 271 boys and seven girls were used by groups affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, YPG and YPJ, ISIS, and al-Nusra Front. The actual numbers are believed to be higher.


Image: A convoy of YPG fighters enter the Syrian village of Tel Khanzir after retaking the area from Islamic State fighters. Photo: © 2015 Reuters.