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Child Soldiers in Venezuela
Last week another scandal rocked the revolutionary government of Venezuela. Photographs taken during an event on the 23rd of January, a national day of celebration marking the overthrow of the dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez in 1958, showed a group of children lined up with M-16s and bandanas saluting President Chavez’s revolution. The event was sponsored by a paramilitary group called, “La Piedrita”; and United Socialist Party (PSUV for its acronym in Spanish) congressman Robert Serra was in attendance, as well as several Venezuelan military officials. This group, closely affiliated with the Government of Venezuela, is one of the most violent and has been responsible for acts such as the vandalism of opposition TV station Globovision. Their headquarters is the slum area 23 of January, named after the same historical event. This barrio is where President Chavez votes, where he holed up during the failed coup of 1992 and where he still has important political support. International humanitarian law is very clear on the use of child soldiers. Article 4(3) part C of the 1977 additions to the Geneva protocol clearly states, “children who have not attain the age of fifteen years shall neither be recruited in the armed forces or groups nor allowed to take part in hostilities.” Article 38.3 of the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states, “States parties shall refrain from recruiting any person who has not attained the age of 18 years into their armed forces.” The furor forced President Chavez to respond, saying that the event was a “serious irresponsibility” and that it “hurt the revolution.” He did not, however, call for an investigation into how the paramilitary group attained the weapons, how the children were enlisted, or the participation of Government of Venezuela representatives in the event. This is no surprise, since modifying Venezuela’s military doctrine in 2005 to favor “asymmetric warfare” the Government of Venezuela has come to count more heavily on paramilitary organizations – including the Bolivarian reserves, which report directly to the President’s Office – in the defense of the revolution. As in other areas, Venezuela’s revolution has brought the Government of Venezuela into violation of International treaties and customary international law. These violations have even prompted a lawsuit against President Chavez at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. For too long President Chavez has been allowed to flaunt international laws. The Venezuelan government must return to adherence to their treaty obligations, or be held accountable at every instance available for their violations. This post written by Joel D. Hirst, a Human Freedom Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute. Find him on Twitter: @joelhirst