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“War Affected Children –

Local and Global Concerns”1


Lecture2 (followed by Q&A session) given on February 23,
2007, 3:15 – 4:45, at the conference3 “Human Rights and
Social Justice: Setting the Agenda for the UN Human
Rights Council”, February 23-25, 2007, which formed part of
the “Human Rights Action Week” at the University of Winnipeg
(Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada).

Speakers (in order of first appearance): (1) Dr. Tony Hoffman (abbr. “TH”,
below), Lecturer, Psychology, University of California Santa Cruz; (2) Adrian
Bradbury (“AB”), Co-Founder of GuluWalk, Founder and Director of “Athletes for
Africa”; (3) Dr. Lynn McBrien (“LMB”), Assistant Professor, Psychological and
Social Foundations College of Education, University of South Florida; (4) Senator
General Roméo Dallaire (“RD”). (Names of the students asking questions (Q&A
session) not included in this summary, but can be discerned on the recording.)

SUMMARY
(of audio recording4)

In his introduction, TH describes multiple aspects of the horrific


conditions faced by war-affected youth, with the grim (post-Cold
War) statistics including the deaths of over two million children.
Examples of how children (girls in particular) are victimized more
than others both during and after war are given, including the
massive current deployment of child soldiers (one of the main
topics) in present armed conflicts: “There is no more sophisticated
low-technology weapon system in the world today than the child
soldier…” (RD.) We also learn that in the infamous Rwanda
conflict, the bulk of the killings were done by youths, by machete.

Equally disturbing are the facts laid forth pertaining to the


impotency of first world nations in alleviating this plight of
millions. Not only are the efforts extremely limited in time, at the

1
Details on the speakers, location etc. obtained from http://www.uwinnipeg.ca/index/hrsj-index
2
Referred to as “workshop” in the conference blog at http://blog.uwinnipeg.ca/hrsj/
3
At http://www.archive.org/details/human_rights_and_social_justice copyright-free recordings
(and streaming audio) of the full set of conference sessions are available for download.
4
Visit http://www.archive.org/details/war_affected_children to download the copyright-free
recording or to listen in streaming audio format to this lecture.

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level of the individual, but also in scope – and sometimes
ridiculously so. Thus, a child soldier – often a highly experienced
individual – easily realizes that there is little to be gained from
putting down his or her arms in order to be trained by an NGO to
be a cobbler in a nation where few people wear shoes.

The development of therapeutical tools has been embarrassingly


slow. For instance, it took a long time before children and adults
were put in distinct demobilization programs and no work has yet
been done on what RD calls the “Child Soldier Leader”: “…the child
soldier leader can undermine everything else we are doing if not
identified.”

The tools employed can become inefficient or even do damage


when the respect for pluralism on the part of the countries
providing aid is not reflected also in those processes themselves.
Local healing practices and “spiritual dimensions” (AB) need to be
respected, for instance.

Child soldiers often become subject to social stigmatization in their


home countries and frequently face ethnic discrimination after
obtaining refuge elsewhere. Ignorance contributes to
discrimination and media fail to remedy such ignorance by giving
priority to shallow entertainment.

Few solutions are presented, but RD feels that rehabilitative (as


opposed to punitive) juvenile courts could be of value and that
schools would be the ideal vehicle in situ for channelling aid to
children; schools provide not only knowledge but also social
structures as well as a means of monitoring the pupils.

Pessimism is explicitly voiced by some of the speakers. Yet, there is


an increased interest in these issues and RD says: “I am not
pessimistic, because… …there is an NGO movement. If the NGO
could coalesce and mature… …[it] will become the supra capability
that will influence public opinion and governments.”

Additional topics are touched upon in passing, such as the


exacerbation of conflict by poverty and the novel character of many
present-day conflicts. Such conflicts, due to friction within
countries, can potentially occur in many places, and not necessarily
far from ourselves. “We’re into a whole different scenario and what
is so gruesome is that the people within the countries are doing it
to themselves. … scale of human destruction that we have rarely
seen in history.” (RD.)

Manlio Giordano
June 26, 2009

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