On 5 July, after several months of negotiations with Geneva Call, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), and the « Democratic Self-Administration in Rojava » demobilized 149 children from their ranks and signed Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment protecting children in armed conflict during an official ceremony in Ramalan, in the Kurdish region of Syria.
Their signature publically formalized their policy to prevent children under 18 from taking part in hostilities and to protect them from the effects of the conflict. YPG-YPJ and the “Democratic Self-Administration in Rojava” have identified underage members and have started to demobilize them. The 149 children who have already been decommissioned from the YPG-YPJ no longer bear firearms and they have been separated from the military bases as well as being offered educational classes.
Signatories entered a reservation in accordance with the Deed of Commitment that a new “non-combatant category” would be created and that children between 16 and 18 would only be allowed to join this category.“We undertake to no longer use any under-18 children in hostilities, including for combat, spying, guarding tasks or supplies to combatants and we won’t admit any under-18s as combatants in our ranks” said Abdulkerim Sarukhan, President of the Defense Committee of the “Democratic Self-Administration”.
Geneva Call would like to commend the signatories for their commitment: “The war in Syria has terrible consequences on all children, they are very often left with no other option than joining armed forces. The engagement taken today is a difficult one and needs to be supported by the international community. It also raises hope that other parties to the conflict in Syria will take measures to protect children” said Elisabeth Decrey Warner, Geneva Call’s President.
Geneva Call will support the signatories to disseminate the obligations of the Deed to all combatants and officers, to set control mechanisms and to define sanctions in case of violations.Geneva Call urges international and local organizations to support the signatories in their implementation of the Deed of Commitment, to provide assistance to the demobilized children and to help to create alternatives responding to the needs of children victims of the war and other forms of violence.
The YPG-YPJ are the dominant military force in the Kurdish-populated areas since the withdrawal of most Government forces in 2012 and have been mainly fighting against Islamist armed groups, notably the Islamic State and the Al-Nusra Front. The « Democratic Self-Administration in Rojava » was formed in January 2014 and is the de facto governing authority in the Kurdish areas.