Cenacolo's written Statements

The recruitment of Sahrawi child soldiers in Tindouf camps

Written statement* submitted by Il Cenacolo, a non- governmental organization in special consultative status

The Secretary-General has received the following written statement which is
circulated in accordance with Economic and Social Council resolution 1996/31.

“The recruitment of Sahrawi child soldiers in Tindouf
Camps, Southwest Algeria”

While article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that “in all actions
concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions,
courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child
shall be a primary consideration”, the Polisario Front is undertaking a deliberate process of
child soldiering, under the Algerian cover-up. Recruiting and using children under the age of
15 as soldiers is prohibited under international law, and is defined as a war crime by the
International Criminal Court.1 Since its inception in 1975, Sahrawi Tindouf camps, southwest
Algeria, have become the epicentre of child soldiers, providing one of the largest
concentrations of child recruitment for military purposes in Africa. This is not insignificant,
as it dates back to the seventies of the last century when Polisario started taking children from
7 to 14 years old from their families, and forcing them to training on the use and handling of
firearms and explosives.

Context of child recruitment
It is essential to understand the general context that gives birth to such a grave violation of
human rights in Tindouf camps. The Polisario group is purposefully creating conditions that
are conductive to war, and spares not efforts to mobilize all the inhabitants of these camps,
including children, towards achieving its plans to ensure readiness to trigger violence in the

Sahara, notwithstanding the violations of human rights that might arise from such war-
oriented mindset. Children constitute the reservoir that Polisario uses to nurture its plans, and the camps under such conditions are becoming an environment where human rights defenders
are most likely to encounter uninvestigated abuses.
The silence over employing child soldiers in Tindouf camps is yet to be further scrutinized,
as reports from the camps argue that the Polisario is especially cautious to perpetuate the
omertà. The recruitment of child soldiers happens involuntarily, with the heavy-handed
capture exerted on the families who keep unable to contest the Polisario’s choices, although
they go against their consent.
The recruitment of child soldiers coupled with the prevailing impunity regarding the human
rights violations committed by Polisario members on the Algerian territory provide a terrain
marked by a total disregard of law and a premeditated breach of international conventions in

Reasons of child recruitment
The underlying reasons for Polisario to rely on child soldiers, regardless of their inferior
physical power, are gravely violating the basic principles of human rights. For the Polisario,
these children are cheap to maintain inside the camps, the same as they are psychologically
exploitable for future expansion of the armed groups. These children, with their immature
personalities, are wholeheartedly embracing the Polisario’s dictates, without questioning
them. The ‘malleable’ personality of these children is an opportunity for the Polisario to
fittingly shape their attitudes towards their future, and maintain control over them as a
standby force that meets the objectives of the leadership in Tindouf camps.
The Polisario seeks to disengage children from their families, and make them dependent on
the Front’s presumed protection and guidance, aiming to transfer their loyalty and sense of
belonging from biological to ideological identification. Sahrawi children in the camps are not
provided a good education that capacitates them with critical thinking, but rather forced to
an allegiance to the Polisario doctrine against their ‘best interest’.

The responsibility of Algeria
These unlawful acts are unquestionably serious violations of all the provisions of the the UN
Convention on the Rights of the Child. They constitute an infringement of the ‘best interest
of children’ as explained by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and which entails
the necessity to protect the child’s views and aspirations, the child’s well-being, the family
environment, family relations and contact, and the development of the child and her or his
gradual transition into adulthood and an independent life, together with his/her protection
from ‘situations of vulnerability’.
Sahrawi children in Tindouf refugee camps are living under a double vulnerability, being
both children and presumably considered as refugees. For the recruiters from the Polisario,
having the upper hand in Tindouf camps gives them easy access to large groups of vulnerable
children. While international protective mandates, like the UNHCR, work to respect the
humanitarian character of refugee camps, and prohibit refugee participation in military
activity in the world, this does not hold true for Sahrawi Tindouf camps. If international law
assumes that Sahrawis are refugees, and Algeria, the host country, should fulfil its obligations
to protect them, the Algerian government illegally delegates its responsibilities to the
Polisario group,3 a non-state actor, and Tindouf camps remain unprotected, thus turning into
major recruitment grounds, run by a group that holds no jurisdictional authority on the
Algerian Territory.
Child recruitment by Polisario, and all the abusive practices reported by human rights
defenders from the camps, are the result of a complicity between Polisario and the Algerian
government who transgresses its international obligations, by allowing such a blatant
violation of Sahrawi child rights, bearing serious implications for their physical and
emotional well-being.

LSDDH la ligue du Sahara pour la Démocratie et les Droits de l’Homme. AIPECT Arican
Instute for Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation NGO(s) without consultative status,
also share the views expressed in this statement.

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