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ICRC Denies Recruiting Zimbabwean Youths

The International Committee of the Red Cross has denied recruiting graduates of Zimbabwe's controversial National Youth Service for international duties. The ICRC has held sessions on International Humanitarian Law in National Youth Service camps at the request of the Ministry of Youth.

The denial was a response to a story in the government-owned daily newspaper The Herald claiming the organization had "embraced" the National Youth Service. The paper said the ICRC had trained and recruited more than 4,000 graduates of the program for international humanitarian operations.

Dana Lissy the ICRC communications delegate in Zimbabwe admitted conducting sessions in the camps, but denied recruiting the youths or having plans to send them anywhere.

Ms. Lissy says her organization has been running the International Humanitarian Law program for the Zimbabwe defense forces and the national university for a long time, but this is the first time they have been asked into the youth camps established in 2001. She said while the program prepares participants on how to conduct themselves in times of conflict, it is best to teach the basics of International Humanitarian Law in peace time.

"The age of the youth that we visited this February was between 18 and 25 and these youths, some of them, will join the army, some of them will join perhaps the police, some of them will study law will become leaders, politicians, so it is important that at all level they know a at least a little based on humanitarian law," said Ms. Lissy.

The Zimbabwe National Youth Training Program has attracted negative publicity as its critics accuse the government of training the youths, known as The Green Bombers because of the color of their uniforms, to become militias used by the ruling party to intimidate and abuse its opponents.

The government says the program, which is voluntary, aims to impart patriotism in the participants. The graduates get preferential treatment for civil service posts or entry into other education and job training programs.