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Syria: new measures taken by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units to stop recruiting children under 18

Geneva Call welcomes the new measures taken by People’s Protection Units/Women’s Protection Units/Democratic Self-Administration in Rojava (YPG/YPJ/DSA) to address the violations of the Deed of Commitment protecting children in armed conflict signed with Geneva Call in 2014.

Following a field monitoring visit in 2017, Geneva Call shared a confidential report on the respect of the Deed of Commitment with the leadership of YPG/YPJ/DSA at two meetings in April and May 2018. This report lists some confirmed cases as well as allegations of violations of the Deed and made some concrete recommendations to the YPG/YPJ/DSA to tackle non-compliance with their commitment. “At these meetings, we urged them to implement additional monitoring and implementation measures” says Mehmet Balci, Head of the Middle East region.

In an official response to this report, the YPG/YPJ/DSA admitted to committing a number of violations. They also highlighted the challenges they are faced with when attempting to implement their commitments. They reiterated their full conviction that all of their units must respect the pledge made. They also mentioned the implementation of new measures that will be included in their internal code of conduct:

  • New and rigorous internal investigation mechanisms to follow up violations resulting from recruiting or using children aged under 18 years in combat positions.
  • The opening of a special office in the Defence Committee of the Democratic Self Administration, with both civilian and military members, to receive complaints from families on child recruitment or the use of children in combat.
  • Modification of the reservation of the Deed of Commitment by increasing the age of voluntary members and the “non-combatant” category. Until now young people from 16 to 17 years of age have been able to join this category. From now on it will be limited to people who are 17 years old. When the YPG-YPJ/DSA signed the Deed of Commitment in 2014, they activated a reservation which allows children between 16 and 17 to become voluntary members of a “non-combatant” category. Children in this category cannot participate in combat and must not be trained for offensive military actions. Moreover, they should be provided with special protection. According to this reservation, children under 16 years of age– even volunteers– are not allowed to join their rank.
  • DSA/YPG-YPJ will issue an internal circular notice to all its units, forces and centres to explain their new policies and request them to abide by these new instructions.

Geneva Call will pursue its humanitarian engagement with the YPG/YPJ/DSA and keep monitoring the implementation and respect of the Deeds signed with Geneva Call to ensure that children are no longer recruited or used by the YPG/YPJ/DSA. Training sessions to enhance the knowledge, policy and practices in relation to the protection of civilians will be provided to members of the YPG/YPJ/DSA.

The Deed of Commitment is a formal humanitarian commitment that armed non-State actors (ANSA) sign to ensure respect for humanitarian norms. The signature of this commitment does not give any political or legal recognition to these actors. Geneva Call adheres to the principles of neutrality and impartiality in its work and strictly limits itself to increasing compliance with humanitarian norms by ANSAs in order to ensure greater protection for the civilian populations.



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