Messages of support for Child Soldiers International Jo BeckerAdvocacy Director, Children's Rights DivisionHuman Rights Watch I was privileged to serve as the founding chairperson of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (now Child Soldiers International), when it formed in 1998. At the time, it was still legal under international law for children as young as 15 to be recruited and sent into armed conflict, and we estimated that as many as 300,000 children were fighting in some 30 countries worldwide. We formed the Coalition to build public support and political will to end the use of child soldiers. The Coalition/CSI has accomplished a great deal in the past 21 years. After two years of intense campaigning, the UN adopted the optional protocol to the CRC, setting new standards around the recruitment and use of children in conflict. 168 states have ratified the protocol, with many changing their deployment practices. More than 20 states raised their minimum age for voluntary recruitment to at least 18. We’ve learned a great deal about how to create effective rehabilitation and reintegration programs. The number of children fighting and the number of countries where it takes place have declined. Although child recruitment and use still persists, we’ve made real progress. I’m very sorry to see CSI close its doors, but am proud of what it was able to achieve and grateful to the Dallaire Initiative for continuing its work. It’s up to all of us to build on this legacy and keep working to end the use of child soldiers, once and for all. Virginia GambaSpecial Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Dear CSI friends, I am deeply saddened by the news of the closure of Child Soldiers International, a long-time partner of the Children and Armed Conflict Office since the early stages of this mandate. This is a huge loss for the whole CAAC community. We know too well that together, with the support of each and every organization, we advocate best for the protection of children. Losing an important voice like CSI’s is a terrible news for boys and girls and affected by conflict for the mandate I represent. I want to commend CSI’s team for its tremendous work to improve the protection of children, but moreover for its important contribution in reaching the global consensus that children do not belong in armed forces. Isabelle, you and your team can be proud of CSI’s achievement. Its legacy will stay alive through the projects and programmes supporting boys and girls, but also through the hundreds and thousands of lives that your work has contributed to improve. My Office will continue to make sure that the voices of the most vulnerable in times of conflict are heard and that the work of all CAAC partners is recognized, supported and valued. Rob Williams OBEChief Executive OfficerWar Child UK Child Soldiers International gave all of us a solid foundation of analysis, objectivity and legal argument. War Child’s work on reintegration fits into a world which has been shaped by CSI’s energetic promotion of the rights of children and young people involved in armed groups to get the help they need to return from the nightmare of conflict. They have played a vital role in winning the arguments around the recruitment and reintegration of vulnerable people and in helping agencies like War Child to improve the support we can offer when children and communities need it most. I will miss this organisation because I can see that their departure leaves a gap to be filled, and a challenge to all of us to uphold the values and commitment which they have championed so well. Murhabazi NamegabeDirecteur du BVES, asbl en RD CongoAmbassadeur de la Main Rouge La lutte contre le recrutement et l'utilisation d'enfants soldats à travers le monde, et particulièrement en République Démocratique du Congo, a été ces dernières décennies une violation grave des droits de l'enfant en période de guerre (et des conflits armés) marquée par le silence, la peur et le tabou. Il a fallu l’initiative unique de la Coalition pour mettre fin à l’utilisation d’enfants soldats – qui est devenue Child Soldiers International – pour rompre ce silence à travers ses recherches et sa mobilisation internationale, pour étaler ce crime de guerre et crime contre l’'humanité au grand jour et lancer la Main Rouge contre ce crime ! Depuis lors, grâce à CSI, des milliers, voire des millions, d'enfants (filles et garçons) ont été protégés ou sauvés directement des forces armées et des groupes armés à travers le monde grâce à l'adoption de lois et la ratification de textes juridiques internationaux relatifs aux droits et à la protection de l'enfant en situation de conflits armés. Cette réforme juridique et judiciaire a permis aux ONG de mener une campagne sans précédent contre ce crime, avec le leadership de CSI. Je suis un Témoin vivant et actif de cette lutte acharnée de CSI contre le recrutement et l'utilisation d'enfants soldats ! Alors que Child Soldiers International ferme ses portes et entre dans la logique de la survie de ses projets, il m'est un devoir de reconnaitre l’historique de son travail et impact, et de présenter mes profonds remerciements à toute l'équipe des fondateurs, des dirigeants (je pense particulièrement à Victoria dans le passé et à Isabelle à présent) et d'animateurs – sans oublier tous les bailleurs de fonds individuels ou institutionnels qui ont soutenu cette organisation jusqu'au bout ! Je remercie particulièrement Child Soldiers International de nous avoir laissé un partenaire héritier, Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, avec laquelle les organisations de la société civile vont continuer de travailler pour mettre définitivement fin au recrutement et à l'utilisation des enfants soldats en République Démocratique du Congo et ailleurs ! Christine McCormickChild Protection Advisor, Fragile StatesSave the Children Child Soldiers International has been instrumental in improving knowledge and understanding on the scale, nature and impact of the recruitment and use of boys and girls around the world for many years and have made a significant contribution to addressing recruitment through programming and advocacy work, notably your contribution to the Paris Principles Steering Group over the past 12 years. The absence of CSI will leave a huge gap in the community of agencies working on this issue. From a personal perspective, it has been an absolute delight and privilege working with you and previous colleagues over the years. I sincerely hope there will be other opportunities to work with you again in the future. Bo Viktor NylundDeputy Regional DirectorUNICEF Office in Eastern and Southern Africa In 1998 as I joined UNICEF’s Office of Emergency Programmes, I began interacting with the newly formed Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (the Coalition). As I worked on policy at the time, engagement with the process of crafting the new Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict was a key advocacy topic of great concern. Just a couple of years earlier the Graça Machel report on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children had been released, with a set of recommendations related to strengthened legal and programmatic action to address the situation of children who were being recruited and used by armed forces and groups. In the years that followed and as I worked in situations where children were being recruited and used, in Sri Lanka and in Sudan, I continued benefitting from the expertise of colleagues in what was at the time the Coalition, and with its member organizations, to identify opportunities where we could make the most out of the global human rights and advocacy machinery to prevent recruitment and release as many children as we possibly could, through local, but also global advocacy efforts. While it was often a balancing act, it was clear that in complementary roles, the Coalition and its members, and now Child Soldiers International (CSI), would be better placed to do or say things, that if presented by operational agencies in the field, would perhaps put at risk some of the work with children. It was on this basis, that I found it not only tremendously important to be working together, understanding our distinct roles and complementarity in action, and indeed it lead to positive results for children. Over the last couple of years, I have had the opportunity to serve on the Board of CSI, and to see the key role that the organization has played in advancing critical issues in the child soldiers work, notably in the area of gender, and addressing the quite specific needs of girls who have served in armed forces and groups. Despite the excellent work that the CSI has been doing, donor support was not coming through at the rate that it needed to. It has been a sad period for all of us who have been involved in engaging with CSI as we all recognize the legacy that this organization will leave behind. I have been much impressed by the strong technical skills, dedication and tireless efforts of the Coalition and CSI team over the many years I have seen the staff in action. Given that this organization will no longer exist, it means for all of us who are focusing on providing support to children who are involved in armed conflicts that we will need to ‘get better at what we do’ as one of the critical actors in this domain is no longer going to be there to support us. Sincere thanks to all the great individuals who at one point or another have worked with or supported the Coalition and CSI over the years. Véronique AubertSenior Conflict Research and Policy Adviser Save the Children I have had the privilege to work closely with Child Soldiers International – from its days as a Coalition when I was a researcher with the Amnesty International’s secretariat in early 2000s, to now in my Save the Children capacity. I will forever command the pioneering work of the organisation on the issue of the recruitment and use of children in wars. The work undertaken by Child Soldiers International has for 20 years greatly advanced awareness and actions that have benefited countless conflict-affected communities and children at risk in situation of armed conflict. Child Soldiers International’s approach is unique – combining in-depth research, advocacy, awareness-raising and campaigning in collaboration with local, national and international NGOs. It is this truly collaborative approach that makes their work stand out - they do not aim to build new responses, instead they work to strengthen what already exists in so many communities. Their work in Congo on girl soldier reintegration was so successful because of this approach – they truly listened to what the girls themselves were telling them on the help they needed to be better accepted back home. Save the Children has greatly benefited from Child Soldiers International’s expertise on child soldier prevention and reintegration, in particular its recent work on best practice of the reintegration of formerly associated girls. I have been a Trustee of Child Soldiers International for several years and I have always been impressed at how a small team was able to punch above its weight. The London office was typically no more than 8 people, yet you wouldn’t always know this if you looked at the amount achieved. So many people and organisations have contributed towards Child Soldiers International’s work and impact and I have been proud to be a part of this team. Christine WatkinsChild Protection Expert Consultant I first came into contact the Coalition in 2000 when working on a reintegration programme in Sierra Leone. The organisation soon became a source of information on child soldier issues and provided a network to a wider scope of people and organisations. Soon after this I was working in Sri Lanka on the prevention, release and reintegration of children recruited by the LTTE. I worked closely with staff from the Coalition on advocacy messaging and supporting field staff. As others have mentioned the Coalition was instrumental in the development and adoption of the Optional Protocol which is as critical today as it was at its inception. Central to CSI's work was the global reports they researched, providing a valuable source of information; plus providing invaluable advice on advocacy to individual organisations as well as the organisation being a voice itself. Over the years I have remained in contact as the organisation evolved into CSI, and began to do some programme work. CSI identified where there were gaps in programme provision and in particular noted the dearth of provision for girls. The guidelines developed on reintegration for girls provides sound pragmatic advice that can be adapted for most situations. CSI's recent work with girls in DRC and South Sudan has provided an example of giving girls a real chance with an education. The development of the World Index is an illustration of the breadth of the organisation's knowledge and capacity; as this on-line resource grew it has proved an invaluable resource. It has been a privilege to be a trustee of the organisation for the past 4 years. Overseeing CSI through the closure process has been a difficult time, but I have been proud of the CSI staff and how they have worked so hard to ensure that the current programmes will be carried on by others and the legacy of their work shared with others to continue. Whilst they will not know it, many children have benefited from the work of CSI over the past 20 years, and the work of the UN and NGOs was enriched by the organisation, and will be a hard gap to fill.