According to UNICEF at least 16 children have been killed and 60 seriously injured since last month’s outbreak of violence in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (C.A.R.). At least two of these children were beheaded and one child was severely mutilated.

According to the UN, 1,000 people have been killed and about 370,000 have been displaced in armed conflict in Bangui in December. More and more children are being recruited into armed groups, and they are also being directly targeted in atrocious revenge attacks. During the past month, the UN said the number of child soldiers in C.A.R. had more than doubled to 6,000 as fighting escalated.

The armed conflict in the Central African Republic started in December 2012 and led to the overthrow of President Francois Bozize in March by Séléka (also called the Séléka CPSK-CPJP-UFDR). The armed group is comprised of an alliance of several militia groups that were active in the C.A.R. The coup plunged the C.A.R. into chaos. Looting and attacks became widespread; state buildings, ministries, and schools were looted and in some cases destroyed altogether.

Former Séléka rebel leader Michel Djotodia, who is now president, has not been able to control ex-rebel militias, who were not incorporated into the army after the coup of March 2013. These former Séléka rebels, who are Muslim, are battling Christian self-defense groups known as Anti-Balaka.

Since the coup of March 2013 overthrowing President Francois Bozize, uncontrolled elements of Séléka and unknown armed groups have been carrying out attacks against the civilian population. By September 2013 fighting had extended to other parts of the country including Bouar in the west towards Cameroon and to the east of the capital in Damara. By October 2013 the UN Security Council approved logistical support to the African Union peacekeeping force (AFISM-CAR) on the ground and permitted French troops to control the airport. By November 2013, peacekeeping forces reported having witnessed summary executions and mass displacement as whole communities, terrified by the brutality of the armed groups, fled their homes.

During the last few months the fighting has been relentless, and according to UNICEF, the results are grim:

Over 1000 people dead

495,000 internally displaced people

1 million people are food insecure

1.6 million people in need of assistance (total number of inhabitants: 4.6m)

60% of health structures have been destroyed since December 2012

90% of medical facilities have no more stock

And now the children are being targeted.

Targeted attacks against children constitute an obvious violation of international humanitarian, human rights law, as well as the laws of armed conflict.

So, what to do?

Should the international community intervene?

If so, how should it be done?


A year ago, Iran’s growing stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent, the level at which it could be quickly converted to bomb-grade, was a serious danger to our safety. However, a few days ago a nuclear deal was reached between Iran and the US that has been rightly called a historic development. This deal was brought about by the success of using diplomacy instead waging war, as has been threatened against Iran for years. Diplomacy has brought about the most significant agreement on nuclear weapons in recent history.

The agreement stipulates that Iran will stop enriching uranium beyond 5 percent, “neutralize” its stockpile of uranium that has already been enriched beyond its domestic needs, give greater access to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors at its nuclear sites, have no reprocessing and no further development at the “heavy water” facility in Arak. In return, the members of the U.N. Security Council (the U.S., the U.K., France, Russia, China) plus Germany, have agreed to impose no new sanctions in addition to providing limited relief from existing sanctions. The goal is that Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful and enable Iran to fully enjoy its right to non-military nuclear energy.

After a decade of attempting to totally ban enrichment of uranium by Iran, the world powers ultimately accepted that the comprehensive solution would involve a “mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits and transparency measures” to ensure the peaceful nature of the program. The parties negotiated a reciprocal, step-by step process with Iran, which will eventually lead to the comprehensive lifting of all UN Security Council sanctions, as well as multilateral, and national sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program.

Diplomacy through the efforts of the nuclear negotiation teams, have resulted in a roadmap to resolve the Iranian nuclear dispute in a peaceful environment of mutual trust. An additional positive outcome has been the direct discussions between Iran and the US. This means that the two States are now communicating at a higher level, for the first time since the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis. The deal has opened the door for a constructive engagement of the two governments regarding other current crises such as the ones in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. The expectation is that the higher level of communication during such negotiations will open up a new path toward a Middle East and world that are more secure.

The success of diplomacy in this instance gives us a reason to be optimistic about the future for better controls and limits on ”new” nuclear weapons states. However, it is worth noting that all the permanent members of the UN security council that were in the negotiations with Iran have their own nuclear arsenals. Currently, Russia and the United States each have about 10,000 nuclear warheads, of which about half are awaiting dismantlement. France has around 300, the United Kingdom about 225 and China roughly 240. Additionally, Israel’s nuclear arsenal is another obvious example of this double standard given its status as the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons.

Diplomacy has been successful in this instance, and non-proliferation initiatives like this are an essential part of the nuclear disarmament process in the world. However, it seems unbalanced to have so much concern about nuclear bombs that do not yet exist, and so little apparent concern for the thousands of nuclear bombs that already do. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (P5) have all ratified the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but none has fulfilled its commitment under the NPT to give up its nuclear weapons.  Perhaps the next step should be to utilize diplomacy to achieve universal nuclear disarmament.

In any event, the world should be heartened by the fact that instead of violence our governments are seeing the merits of diplomacy instead of war; and in this instance it has proven successful.


The last weeks have seen outrageous breaches of international law by a dictator in Syria who has allegedly killed more than 300 people in a chemical weapons attack; and by Egyptian generals who toppled Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president. The leaders ordered military action to break up camps of protesters allied to the Muslim Brotherhood resulting in the massacre of at least 600, by the most conservative estimates. Mr. Morsi, is now in custody, charged with murder and terrorism related crimes.

What not long ago appeared to be undeniable popular uprisings as part of the “Arab Spring” in these two countries seeking democratic governance through rebellion against their oppressive regimes have turned into tragedies. In Syria, a 2-year-old civil war that, by U.N. estimates, has already killed more than 100,000.00, and in Egypt, the death of thousands of people, including those killed during protests brought on by the military overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi.

The casualties resulting from the conflicts in Egypt and Syria are not limited to those who have been killed. The casualties include the refugees created by the armed struggle, and those who have to endure living in the middle of a war zone not knowing whether they will live the next day or be killed by a bomb, by crossfire, or by a chemical weapons attack. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Saturday that in addition to the 355 people who died after the chemical weapons attack in Syria, three hospitals it supports in the area had treated about 3,600 patients with “neurotoxic symptoms” early on Wednesday morning. And just last week, one million children refugees left Syria, which to get an idea of the magnitude, would be like removing each and every one of the children in the cities of Boston, Chicago and Miami, combined.

The international community is split to the point where the UN Security Council cannot agree on what to do about these obvious international crimes and the continued loss of innocent lives.  The United States, Britain and France are among around 35 countries that called for chief UN investigator Ake Sellstrom and his team in Syria to investigate the chemical attack incident as soon as possible.  However, the UN Security Council stopped short of explicitly demanding a UN investigation after opposition from Russia and China.

As to Egypt, after violence resulting from the recent toppling of the elected president, the Security Council urged all parties to end the violence and exercise maximum restraint. However, Egypt’s U.N. Ambassador Mootaz Ahmadein Khalil explained during a U.N. Security Council debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict that the situation in Egypt was not an armed conflict and “does not threaten international peace nor security.” “It is an internal matter that would be resolved only through an Egyptian-led political process that includes all Egyptian political factions that reject violence and extremism,” he said.

Today, facing pressure and threats of armed intervention, the Syrian government has agreed to allow UN inspectors to investigate allegations of the chemical weapon attack near Damascus. Russia, a key ally of Syria, has accepted the decision to allow the inspectors in but has warned the West against pre-empting the results. The team is to begin work on Monday.

The questions remain: Are these conflicts “internal matters” where the international community should not intervene? Or, is the international community morally obligated to intervene to protect those in peril, and to prosecute those who breach international law? Is democracy the best form of government for all peoples?



The Convention on the Rights of the Child came into force on September 2, 1990, and today it is the most widely ratified international human rights law treaty in existence. The Convention on the Rights of the Child has been ratified by 193 nations.

And yet:

-20 children killed at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut (2012).

-32 children killed in artillery barrage in Syria (2012).

-92 children killed on Island of Utoya, Norway (2011).

-1,629 children killed in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in Gaza (2000-present).

-29,000 children dead from starvation in Somalia (2011).

-864,000 children dead from Malaria in Africa (2011).

We can do better for our children.

We should do better for our children.

We must do better for our children.

Stiffer gun control laws? Greater mental health awareness and support for children and their families? International pressure to achieve peace in war ridden countries? New policies on drug distribution for developing countries? Food equity and greater sharing of resources?

Let’s start thinking, discussing and doing what we can to create a better world for our children.