Protecting children in armed conflict in Myanmar – The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) reaffirms its signature of Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment on the Protection of Children from the Effects of Armed Conflict
9 November 2023
On Thursday 12 October 2023, the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) signed the Deed of Commitment on the Protection of Children from the Effects of Armed Conflict in a closed-door ceremony that took place in the historical Alabama Room at the Chancellerie d’État of the Republic and Canton of Geneva. The ceremony served as a counter signature for the Deed of Commitment, which had been previously signed at the headquarters of RCSS in Loi Tai Leng in November 2019 by RCSS and Geneva Call’s Director General. However, due to travel constraints related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of the military coup, only in 2023 RCSS was able to travel to Geneva to complete the signing process under the auspices of the Republic and Canton of Geneva, which signs and receives the Deed as its custodian.
In Myanmar, the need for humanitarian assistance and protection for the most vulnerable groups is considerably high. The February 2021 military coup transformed the conflict situation by ending a decade of peace processes and ceasefire agreements and started a new wave of violence and violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. A rapid proliferation of new armed groups has emerged to fight against the military, alongside long-standing ethnic armed organizations. The amplification of the armed conflict, combined with the expansion of the conflict into urban areas, has generated increased protection risks, including for children, and created obstacles to humanitarian access.
RCSS, also known as Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), is an ethnic armed group that was formed in 1996 from the Shan United Revolutionary Army (SURA) for the self-determination of Shan people. The SURA was a breakaway faction of the Mong Tai Army and previously the original Shan State Army. Despite frequent clashes with the Myanmar Army, RCSS decided to enter a bilateral ceasefire with the Myanmar Government in 2012 and signed a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in October 2015. Additionally, RCSS has engaged in peace talks with the State Administration Council following the February 2021 coup d’état. As of October 2023, RCSS counts around 10 000 fighters in their ranks, who are present in about 10 townships in Shan State and exercise influence on a territory where almost 1.2 million people live.
With this Deed of Commitment, RCSS pledged to adhere to a total ban on the use of children in armed conflict and to prevent them from participating in hostilities. In addition, in the areas where it exercises authority, the Restoration Council of Shan State has committed to providing children with food, education, healthcare, and leisure and cultural activities in cooperation with other organizations. Finally, with this document, RCSS also vowed to protect children against sexual and other forms of violence as well as to avoid using schools or other facilities used by children for military purposes.
“Since the signing of this Deed of Commitment in 2019, RCSS has continued to demonstrate its commitment and has maintained cooperation with Geneva Call on child protection, as well as other topics” confirmed Atif Hameed, Geneva Call’s Director of Operations, during the signing ceremony. “At Geneva Call, we constantly strive to support the efforts of armed groups to abide by international humanitarian norms. As a humanitarian organization, we strongly believe that a meaningful dialogue with armed groups and de facto authorities (AGDAs) is needed to enhance the protection of civilians. This dialogue is not always easy but, as reflected today, it can take a very positive dimension for civilians”.
“Despite RCSS having a policy to protect and not recruit children in its armed forces, we were listed by the UN as a party that recruits children in its ranks. Since then, RCSS has strengthened its commitment to child protection and engaged with Geneva Call for several years on this issue” claimed Sai Yawd Muang, RCSS’s representative at the signing ceremony in Geneva. “On this basis, RCSS has sent out orders to all regional commanders to inform them about this commitment and urge them to comply with its provisions to protect children. At the same time, RCSS has also implemented programs to promote child rights and their education”.
Starting from 2019, right after the signing of the Deed of Commitment, and thanks to the implementation plan put in place with the support of Geneva Call, RCSS has indeed protected children by avoiding recruiting them and using education facilities for military purposes. At the same time, the group has also implemented positive obligations related to the Deed such as the promotion of education in the areas under its authority through the establishment of informal education facilities and the distribution of material to formal schools.
“We are very pleased to witness these positive results” said Marie Lequin, Geneva Call’s Head of Region for Eurasia. “Since the signing in 2019, we have established an implementation and monitoring plan of the Deed with RCSS leadership, and we have ensured that the group is equipped with the essential knowledge and resources required to fulfill the obligations outlined in the Deed. During this time, there has always been solid cooperation with the group, and we truly hope that this signature will pave the way for other commitments from RCSS, or that other groups in Myanmar will follow the same path and agree to sign a Deed of Commitment under Geneva Call”.