On the establishment of a civil complaints mechanism for the Autonomous Administration of the North and East Syria (AANES) in coordination with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to stop and prevent the recruitment and use of children in the armed conflict
Based on the action plan signed between the SDF and the UN on 29 June 2019, and approved by the AANES, aimed at stopping and preventing the recruitment of boys and girls under the age of 18 within the ranks of the SDF, and in reference to the relevant military orders, dealing with the issue of preventing the military recruitment of children under the age of 18, issued by the SDF Command in September 2018 and July 2019, respectively, the AANES, in coordination with the SDF, announces the establishment of a civil complaints mechanism that allows citizens, families, parents and humanitarian actors to submit their complaints and reports regarding any recruitment of minors, boys and girls, into the ranks of the SDF.
The AANES and the SDF affirm their commitment and ratification of applicable international legal norms and standards regarding the rights and protection of children affected by the armed conflict in Syria, as shown in the action plan.
These political directives and military instructions apply to all components of the SDF, and they will be adopted and implemented in cooperation with, and with the support of the AANES, including the civil authorities responsible for social affairs and other related matters.
While the action plan signed with the UN focuses on preventing and stopping the military recruitment and use of girls and boys under the age of 18, the civil complaints mechanism also provides a framework for cooperation “to develop practical measures that may relate to other child protection concerns affecting boys and girls in north and east Syria stemming from armed conflict, with the aim of finding solutions.” Therefore, the complaints mechanism will cover incidents of recruitment and use of children in the first degree, and other child protection issues, which will contribute in the future to establishing a legal basis for the formation of the Child Protection Committee at the level of north and east Syria.
Reaffirming the existing policy of the Internal Security Forces, under the authority of the AANES, to not recruit or use any children under the age of 18, this complaints mechanism may also be utilized to report any alleged cases of child recruitment within the ranks of the Internal Security Forces.
The safety, interest and confidentiality of complainants is of the essence and always lies at the heart of implementing a complaints mechanism. It is not permissible at any time to disclose any type of identifiers without prior informed consent. Whenever possible, identification of the complainant should be removed. The complainant can withdraw their complaint at any time. Follow-up should assume that the report is credible and no negative action may be taken during or after the procedure.
The main objective of the complaints mechanism is to investigate efficiently, transparently and in a timely manner the reports of violations of children’s rights, and based on the findings of the investigation, take corrective measures, for example, the handover of a child from the military authorities to the civil authorities, and take preventive measures to reduce their recurrence.
The military command of the SDF guarantees the necessary cooperation of the forces under its command, including preventing any negative action against complainants, and based on the results of the investigation, it ensures accountability for perpetrators of child rights violations, including commanders, in line with international standards, and under no circumstances the violation of the rights of the child can continue.
The AANES and the SDF shall investigate and act based on any reports of violations of children’s rights on their own, regardless of individual complaints. In addition, the burden of proof is not on the complainants’ shoulders, but on the military and civilian authorities to follow up on any reports, including when information is limited.
A civil complaints mechanism can receive individual complaints about child rights violations by families, witnesses, caregivers, or any other people working on behalf of affected persons, with their informed consent in advance, as well as humanitarian actors and UN agencies.
The AANES, under the directives of the Co-Presidency of the Executive Council, creates a special office, supervised by a well-trained person, Director of the Complaints Office, who has the necessary experience in handling complaints and managing files. The office will have branch offices within the Work and Social Affairs Bodies in all civil and autonomous administrations in kobanê, Tal Abyiad, Tabqa, Raqqa, Manbij, Deir Ezzor, Al-Shahba, Hasaka and Qamishlo.
The task of the branch offices is to receive complaints about child recruitment within the ranks of the SDF and any other matters related to the violation of children’s rights. These complaints about child recruitment are sent to the Director of the Complaints Office at the Co-Presidency of the Executive Council of the AANES and from there and through the Defence Office, they are sent, with the necessary confidentiality safeguards, to the SDF command (high-level point of contact) to decide, investigate, and take action.
Civil complaints offices and the method of contact with them, e.g. by telephone hotline and/or official email, will be announced, within one month following this statement, to the public officially and formally. There will be at least two employees working in each office, who are well trained in how to receive complaints and deal with civilians.
According to this statement, the SDF shall undertake a prompt and effective response to finding solutions to the complaints submitted to it through the civil complaints mechanism, and shall bear in mind the best interest of the child.
The Co-Presidency of the Executive Council The Syrian Democratic Forces
(AANES) General Command
29 August 2020