Geneva Call held a workshop with commanders of 8 brigades of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to discuss the laws of armed conflict with a focus on the issues of child recruitment and protection of education in armed conflict.
This meeting occurred between 15th and 17th of February in Geneva. The participants included senior commanders, and political and legal advisers from the FSA brigades active in Hama, Idlib, Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta. Their forces are estimated to more than 20’000 combatants.
Experts from Geneva Call and other specialized international organizations held training sessions and discussions on the laws of armed conflict, child protection or the prohibition of sexual violence and gender discrimination. Geneva Call also presented in details its three Deeds of Commitment. Several participating brigades showed interest in signing them. « We can lose militarily but we should win on the ethical ground, this is what we have to uphold all the time » commented one of the participants.
Every session was followed by a discussion through which attendees gave practical examples of complex situations they faced in the field. “Children have no IDs. Children pretend to be older and they look older due to the conflict” said one of the participants about the recruitment of child soldiers “It is very difficult to make sure how old they are.” The trainers explained that if they are not sure about the age of the child, they should consider her or him as under 18.
« Over these 3 days, we learnt a lot on international law regulating the conduct of hostilities or those protecting children in armed conflict » said Asaad al-Hanna, Political Adviser to one of these brigades. « What we learnt here in Geneva won’t stay in Geneva. We will bring it back to Syria and share it with our commanders, our fighters and all our partners, for the benefit of civilian populations ».
« In the Syrian conflict, violations of humanitarian norms are widespread, in particular indiscriminate bombing, the deliberate targeting of civilian populations or buildings such as schools or hospitals, that’s why no effort should be spared to increase the dissemination of these norms to all armed actors » declared Céline Morgan, Geneva Call’s Programme Manager for Syria.
This workshop was held after 19 training sessions had been held in Syria and neighboring countries during 2016 and reached out to hundreds of fighters. It sought to reinforce the adherence of Syrian armed non-State combatants to the rules protecting the civilian population.
The workshop came one year after a similar meeting in Geneva where the basic rules of the law of armed conflict were presented to some of the FSA. Over the next few weeks, each brigade will inform Geneva Call about concrete measures they will take to reinforce the dissemination and respect of these norms in the areas they control.