Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has recruited Afghan immigrant children living in Iran to fight alongside the Assad regime forces in Syria, Human Rights Watch said.
In a report published on Sunday, the watchdog group said that Afghan children as young as 14 have fought in the Fatemiyoun division, an exclusively Afghan armed group supported by Iran that fights alongside the Assad regime forces in the Syrian conflict.
“Iran should immediately end the recruitment of child soldiers and bring back any Afghan children it has sent to fight in Syria,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Rather than preying on vulnerable immigrant and refugee children, the Iranian authorities should protect all children and hold those responsible for recruiting Afghan children to account.”
Since 2013, Iran has supported and trained thousands of Afghans, at least some of them undocumented immigrants, as part of the Fatemiyoun division, a group that an Iranian newspaper close to the government describes as volunteer Afghan forces, to fight in Syria.
HRW previously documented cases of Afghan refugees in Iran who “volunteered” to fight in Syria in the hopes of gaining legal status for their families.
HRW stressed that under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, conscripting children under the age of 15 to participate actively in hostilities is a war crime. It said that though Iran is not a party to the Rome Statute, it is bound by customary international law which also provides that recruitment of children under age 15 is a war crime.
“The UN should investigate child recruitment by the IRGC, and the secretary-general should consider adding the organization to his annual list of perpetrators of violations against children based on evidence of child recruitment,” HRW added.
“Iran should be improving protections for Afghan refugee children, not leaving them vulnerable to unscrupulous recruiting agents,” Whitson said. (Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department + Agencies)