Ashby child soldier

Ashby child soldier - '— S _l Ll. Z O U D 2 it LU E 2 D...

Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–3. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 2
Background image of page 3
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Unformatted text preview: '— S _l Ll. Z O U D 2 it LU E 2 D Lu 2 Child combatants: a soldier’s perspective Phil Ashby ust outside Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, is a beach called River Number Two, where miles of gleaming white sand stretch out under palm trees. It is so idyllic that the original Bounty choco- late bar advertisements were filmed here, with the slogan “a taste of paradise”. Yet now, only 20 yards away, is a rehabilitation centre for former child sol- diers. These children have terrible physical scars— in addition to war wounds, most have been branded like cattle by their commanders. Their emotional scars can. only be imagined. Trained as a Commando, [was looking forward to using brains as well as brawn to persuade Sierra Leone’s fighters to disarm. The country was struggling to recover from a decade of brutal civil war, typified by extreme human rights abuses and financed by the illicit trade in “blood diamonds”. A report by Human Rights Watch describes the events of January, 1999, when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) attacked Freetown in a campaign they named Operation Annihilate Every Living Thing. It makes sobering reading. “The rebel occupation of Freetown was characterized by the systematic and widespread perpetration of all classes of gross human rights abuses against the civilian population. Civilians were gunned down within their houses, rounded up and massacred on the streets, thrown from the upper floors of buildings, used as human shields, and burned alive in cars and heuses. They had their limbs hacked off with machetes, eyes gouged out with knives, hands smashed with hammers, and bodies burned with boiling water. Women and girls were systematically sexually abused, and children and young people abducted by the hundreds.” Sadly, all too often it was these abducted children and young people who became the next generation of combatants. Forced to act as cannon fodder or Major Phil Ashby is a Commandotrained officer in the British Royal Marines. From January to May. 2000. he was a UN Military Observer in Makeni, Sierra Leone. disarming combatants from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). a brutal militia. many of whom were child soldiers. When a fragile ceasefire broke down on May 1. the RUF rebels turned on Ashby and his UN colleagues. UK (P Ashby QGM Royal Marines} (e—mail: slaves for sadistic warlords, they too soon became brutalised, the victims becoming the aggressors in a downward spiral of violent chaos. RUF recruitment was brutal but effective. A typical method was simply to attack a village, kill or maim the adults, and abduct the Children. To ensure loyalty, the RUF would then force their new recruits to take drugs and commit an atrocity against their own family or community. Once the children were orphaned, the RUF would then become the surrogate family. It was hard to hold a rational conversation with a child combatant, but their stories were depressineg similar. I’m sure all children are capable of cruelty and aggression—in the UK, they enjoy running around with toy guns, playing “war”. In Sierra Leone the guns are real. As a child, I remember the thrill of feeling part of a gang, and the dread of being bullied or being an outcast. Had I been brought up in Makeni, the RUF stronghold and military headquarters, I suspect I would have joined the RUF. In a place where you can’t play Streecfighter on a PlayStation computer, you might as well become a real street fighter. Who needs a my gun when you can get your hands on a real one? And if you don’t like the name your parents gave you, then why not call yourself after your favourite superhero? I found interaction with child soldiers problematic, both morally and practically. On the one hand, I realised they were children and that their wrongdoings were not really their own fault. On the other hand, their very ignorance of normal morality made them particularly dangerous. Most of the rebels I encountered were too young to remember life before the civil war, and their commanders were quick to exploit this. Negotiating with armed rebels was hazardous enough. Add the unpredictability of a child soldier who has no understanding of life and death, let alone concepts such as neutrality or the United Nations, and you have a nightmare scenario. My team and I were posted to Makeni, with three main tasks: monitoring the ceasefire, sensitising the local population to the peace process, and disarming the rebels themselves. As military observers, we were not allowed to bear arms. Our weapon was deemed to be the solidarity of representing the “rest of the World”. We were not there to fight the RUF, and carrying arms was only likely to provoke a violent reaction from trigger-happy rebels. As part of the disarmament process, child soldiers would be separated from the adult combatants and every effort made to reunite them with surviving members 51] 'E‘HE LANCET Supplement [Vol 360 | December 2002 | mvw.thelancet.con1 of their families. As our Disarmament Officer, I personally disarmed nearly a thousand RUF combatants before the ceasefire broke down. The average age of rebels I disarmed was 12 years old. I e-mailed my wife on February 20, 2000, doing my best to describe dealings with RUF child combatants that were by turn shocking, frightening. and comic: “. . . it’s all a bit Lord of the flies—like. Promotion is a result of successful rebel action (ie, killing) and I‘ve yet to meet anyone whois less than a self» promoted Captain. Generally, as long as you are firm with them you can go where you want, but they‘re so drugged up they don’t often know their own names, let alone that there’s a Peace Process." The following is a typical conversation: Me: Hello, what's your name} Rebel: I am Dead Body. Me: Pleased to meet you, Mr Body. Rebel: Staff Captain Dead Body! Me: Sorry, Staff Captain. How old are you? Rebel: I am 12 years old. Me: How long have you been a rebel? Rebel: 15 years. Me: Ahli. Rebel: Give me money. Give me drugs. Me: We can’t give you anything today, but if you can guarantee the safety of UN personnel then we can ask aid agencies to come to this area where they can help everyone in the area. . . Rebel: You bring 2 million bags of rice tomorrow. (Next day, same checkpoint, same rebel) ll-‘Ie: Hello, Staff Captain Dead Body. how are you today? Rebel: I am Major Sylvester Stallone. Me: Pleased to meet you, I an) Major Rambo. (Irony has a low pick-op rate, but doesn’t stop me trying. I was, however, subsequently to discover that Major Rambo was a common nom de guerre so maybe I made a bad choicel) How did you get those wounds? (fresh lacerations obvious on arms) Rebel: You have something for me? (ie, drugs, food, or money) 1H5: Not today; how did you get these cuts? Rebel: Drugs. (Due to a lack of needles, the best way to inject is to cut open a flap or skin and insert the drug.) Me: Where did you get your drugs from? Rebel: From my gun. (This sounds odd.) .Me: How? Rebel: I take the powder from my bullets, and put it under my skin. (Gtmpowder is an irritant.) Me: Why do you take drugs? Rebel: Drugs make you strong. You remind yourself they’ve not known anything else and that they‘re only children, but a temper tantrum when they’ve got a grenade launcher is not quite the same as a temper tantrum without a grenade launcher. In our predeployment briefings back in the UK, we had been warned to expect to encounter child soldiers, but it was still a shock to see the reality that there were many more child fighters than adults. Male life expectancy in Makeni was only about 26 years, and, after a while, I stopped regarding teenage soldiers as “child combatants". Some were much younger. Every day, for example, two 5-year- olds walked past our house, with rifles longer than they were, on their way to man their checkpoint. Both claimed to have killed their own parents and had a bush rank of Regimental Sergeant Major (typically 45 years old in the UK). Later I saw them in a group that had summarily executed Kenyan peacekeepers and would try to do the same to us. These boys“ daily routine consisted of extorting money or food at gunpoint from civilians and smoking or injecting drugs. The little boy who gave the following testimony was 12 years old. He had been a rebel for 8 years, and had scar tissue on his chest, spelling out the letters RUF (a common way to prevent child soldiers from running away). This child was lucky and had been rescued by the charity CARlTAS. Child combatant in West Africa “I was captured in front of my father‘s house“, he said. “They took me with them. Then they gave me drugs. After they gave me drugs, I started killing. I killed a lot of people. I don‘t know how many. While I was shooting, I had no idea how many people I was killing. I chopped otf hands. I killed. But I wasn‘t myself when I was doing it. They would have killed me if I‘d refused." Soon, it became hard to View rebel child soldiers as anything but savage little hooligans with no sense of right or wrong or value for life. They were armed with high velocity rifles and were normally high as kites on cannabis, cocaine, or palm wine usually all three. And when bullets started flying, I'm afraid their age became irrelevant. Rays of hope, however, do exist. Despite the scars, child soldiers seem to revert quite quickly to being normal kids again once removed from the brutality of war. Only by ending the civil war and starting their rehabilitation will we allow them to be children again. THE LANCE'I' Supplement IVol 300 December 2002 |‘| Lu 2 1— (J Lu 0. In D: LU n. E” 0: E O _J O U! I: {ii p— Z ‘1 [— 4 {D E O O O :‘ I U Copyright© 2002 EBSCO Publishing ...
View Full Document

This note was uploaded on 10/08/2009 for the course ENGL 104 taught by Professor Smith during the Spring '08 term at Texas A&M.

Page1 / 3

Ashby child soldier - '— S _l Ll. Z O U D 2 it LU E 2 D...

This preview shows document pages 1 - 3. Sign up to view the full document.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Ask a homework question - tutors are online