In this issue:
Latest news and reports
- Child recruitment
- State violence
- LGBT rights
- Male circumcision
LATEST NEWS AND REPORTS
Young people considering joining the armed forces and their parents are inadequately informed about the risks and obligations of a military career, a new report by Child Soldiers International has found. The report shows that some of the world’s most economically-developed nations capitalise on the social, economic and psychological vulnerabilities of disadvantaged adolescents to meet military recruitment targets. While international law allows state armed forces to enlist and train older children, provided their best interests are safeguarded throughout, the report shows that recruits face misinformation, weak consent arrangements, routine ill-treatment and an unacceptable risk of mental health problems. The report argues that the coercive and often abusive nature of a military environment introduces multiple risks to young people, including sexual assault and physical and psychological abuse, potentially violating the minimum safeguards required under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict.
Myanmar has not done enough to fulfil its promise to end the use of children as soldiers and to halt underage recruitment, a UN official has said. Though the country’s army committed to ending the use of children as soldiers in 2012, experts say children remain at risk as new underage recruits continue to trickle into the ranks of both the military and insurgent groups. The UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, said that the army was not providing timely evidence that it was discharging children. Human rights groups have also been highly critical of the country's lack of progress in demobilising children. "Myanmar remains on a watchlist because of the military's absolute failure to protect children in areas of armed conflict," said David Baulk from regional watchdog Fortify Rights. Many child recruits have been sent to remote areas near Myanmar's border with China, where a recent upsurge in fighting between rebel groups and the military has displaced thousands of people. There are no concrete figures on how many children are still among the estimated 500,000 troops that serve in Myanmar's military or insurgent forces.
The UN’s human rights chief has called on Mexican authorities to end a wave of disappearances in and around the city of Nuevo Laredo, amid signs that these crimes have been committed by federal security forces. The UN Human Rights Office in Mexico has documented the disappearance of 21 men, two women and at least five children in Nuevo Laredo between February and May of this year. According to a local human rights organisation, there have been at least 40 disappearances during this period, allegedly perpetrated by a federal security force, often late at night or at dawn. In some cases, families have undertaken their own searches, without any protection, and relatives have to-date found the bodies of at least six victims. Several witnesses have been subjected to threats, and one was disappeared for two days. The UN also expressed concern that these enforced disappearances are taking place just a few months after the adoption of a new law on disappearances.
Several former high-ranking Guatemalan military officers have been convicted of crimes against humanity, aggravated sexual abuse against a young activist, and the disappearance of a 14-year-old boy. Three of the officers – the former head of the armed forces, Benedicto Lucas García, former intelligence chief Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas, and local commander Hugo Ramiro Zaldaña Rojas – were found guilty of the forced disappearance of 14-year-old Marco Antonio and sentenced to 58 year in jail. Military officers took the boy on 6 October 1981, abducting him and leaving his family to spend decades searching for him and his kidnappers. The Guatemalan state admitted responsibility for grave crimes against the boy’s family in 2000, but it has taken 37 years for the perpetrators to be brought to account. The verdict was hailed as a milestone by anti-impunity campaigners, as it is the first time senior military officers have been prosecuted for serious human rights violations since the 2013 genocide charges against the former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt were sent back to trial.
A survey of high school students in Lithuania has revealed that 95 percent of LGBT pupils have experienced hate speech in school. Rights organisation Lithuanian Gay League (LGL) carried out an anonymous survey in which 644 respondents between the ages of 14 and 18 described the experiences of LGBT adolescents in schools. The survey found that half of LGBT young people feel unsafe in Lithuanian schools because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and that only five percent have never experienced homophobic, biphobic or transphobic hate speech in educational settings. Respondents also noted examples of teachers telling classes that LGBT people were “ill” and that there were ways to “recover”. Students also revealed that there was little support from staff and next to no reading material made available to them to help cope with homophobic bullying.
The Czech Republic’s Supreme Court has recognised for the first time two gay men as the legal parents of a newly born surrogate child. The child was born a few months ago to a surrogate mother in the United States after being conceived using IVF. In its ruling, issued at the beginning of May, the Czech Supreme Court sustained a previous decision issued by a court in California which recognised the two men as the baby girl’s parents. Since 2006 same-sex couples in the Czech Republic have been able to live in an officially registered partnership, but they are still prevented from adopting children as a couple. As a result the partner in the relationship with no biological connection to the child would ordinarily not have the same legal relationship as they would with a child they had conceived.
A court in the Netherlands has found that the binary gender option of ‘male’ or ‘female’ on official documents is too restrictive and should be revised. The ruling, which also applies to birth certificates, is being praised by intersex and transgender activists as a step in the right direction. The ruling by a district court referenced similar decisions in India and Nepal, suggesting that the Dutch legislature should provide a way for citizens to legally identify as neither male nor female if they prefer. The case was brought by a 57-year-old applicant whose gender could not be determined at birth, but whose parents decided at the time to register as male. Years later, the applicant formally changed their gender to female, but over time found they did not identify as female either, so asked the court to recognise a third gender identity. The court ruled that self-identification prevails over bodily appearance or medical status.
In the autumn, Denmark’s Parliament is expected to consider a citizen petition to ban male circumcision of under-18s unless it is for medical reasons. In the Nordic country, any proposal that gathers 50,000 signatures on Parliament’s official petition website is legally entitled to a debate and vote. Campaigning group Intact Denmark started the petition after no major party pushed the issue forward, even though setting a minimum age has been on the political agenda in Denmark for a while. Ministers have cited the “political risk” of being “the first country in the world to go in that direction.” But for the ban’s advocates, their position hinges on children’s inability to give informed consent to having their genitals cut. Intact Denmark says that boys “ought to be allowed to grow up with their body intact,” and, once they are 18, decide for themselves whether to be circumcised. A similar law in Iceland, which passed an initial parliamentary vote, seeks to tweak current legislation banning female genital mutilation by changing the word “girls” to “children”. In 2016, the Danish Medical Association recommended that circumcision of boys should only be performed if there is a documented medical need, as the procedure carries the risk of complications.
A 14-year-old boy in Uganda has sued the Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI) after staff allegedly circumcised him without parental consent. The child claims staff at the health facility forcibly circumcised him last year while he was primary school. He says the procedure has caused him permanent injuries and pain, including bleeding swelling, and infection of his genitals. The boy’s lawsuit claims that the procedure was carried out without his parents’ consent allegedly because the staff asserted they were following a government order to circumcise male children. Court documents say that, following the procedure, IDI staff asked the boy not to tell his parents and gave him bottles of juice and biscuits to persuade him to keep silent. The lawsuit also alleges that IDI staff then refused to treat the boy’s injuries. The boy is seeking compensation.
LEAK OF THE WEEK
MasterCard scored a spectacular PR own goal this week after pledging to donate tens of thousands of meals to children in Latin America and the Caribbean, but only if two particular players scored in the upcoming World Cup in Russia.
The company promised 10,000 meals for every goal by Lionel Messi or Neymar Jr, though after a volley of criticism was quick to defend itself by noting that it had already provided 400,000 meals and is committed to providing over a million meals by 2020.
This should represent a net gain in cash for the World Food Project, as it seems unlikely that even these two players could score the equivalent 100 goals in one World Cup.
After trying to save face the company finally backed down and the campaign was given the boot, replaced with a commitment to contribute the price of a million meals by the end of the year.