Preventing the use of child soldiers: preventing genocide.

Author:Dallaire, Romeo
Position:The United Nations at 70

We are living in an era in which the level of human suffering as a result of intra-State conflict seems to be escalating exponentially. The essential challenge remains how to create the political impetus for timely, non-selective responses to human suffering (MacFarlane and Weiss, 2000). At the very heart of the human suffering we are witnessing the plight of vulnerable populations, and most notably children. Of all the threats that define contemporary conflict, the use of child soldiers presents one of the farthest-reaching and most disturbing trends today. If in the past children were made to fight in spite of their youth, they are now being made to fight because of their youth.

New approaches to conflict prevention must include how we prioritize the protection of children. As Graca Machel stated: "Our collective failure to protect children must be transformed into an opportunity to confront the problems that cause their suffering" (2001, p.XI). It is possible that our failure to prevent and react to conflict is directly correlated to our failure to protect children and prevent their deliberate use in armed conflict.


Since its introduction in 2005, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine has attempted to promote prevention of conflict. Using the idea of early warning indicators, R2P aims to compel the global community to take action early to prevent mass atrocities. The United Nations intended to establish "'an early warning capability' to inform timely and decisive action" (Guehenno, Ramcharan and Mortimer, 2010). If we can understand and recognize when this mobilization towards mass atrocities occurs at its earliest stages, we can use this critical opportunity to create more effective responses.

"There is an apparent failure within the United Nations system to fully appreciate that the character and urgency of situations leading to genocide requires a unique analysis and approach, justifying a mandate narrowly tailored for this purpose" (as cited in Akhavan, 2011, p.21). R2P is specifically designed to prevent mass atrocity crimes and genocide by engaging a "narrow but deep" approach as outlined by the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon:

Our conception of R2P, then, is narrow but deep. Its scope is narrow, focused solely on the four crimes and violations agreed by the world leaders in 2005. Extending the principle to cover other calamities, such as HI V/AIDS ... would undermine the 2005 consensus and stretch the concept beyond recognition or operational utility. At the same time, our response should be deep, utilizing the whole prevention and protection tool kit available to the United Nations system, to its regional, subregional and civil society partners and, not...

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