24 April 2009
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE BY special representative on children and armed conflict


A senior United Nations child protection official today provided highlights from the Secretary-General’s latest annual report on children and armed conflict ahead of next week’s open Security Council debate on the topic.


Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said the report, which was released on 22 April, covers compliance and progress in ending six grave violations against children caught up in armed conflict:  the recruitment and use of children; killing and maiming of children; rape and other grave sexual violence; abductions; attacks on schools and hospitals; and denial of humanitarian access to children.


Among the developments she highlighted in this year’s report, was the delisting of the Ugandan Government, after it successfully embarked on an action plan with the United Nations country team an the removal of children from the Armed Forces.  Some positive progress had also been reported among the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) in Sri Lanka, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the Philippines and the Forces nationales de libération (FNL) in Burundi.  Developments in Georgia and southern Thailand were also included in this year’s report, which included Al-Qaida in Iraq as a newly listed non-State party.


She said the report recommended that sexual violence be included as a trigger for inclusion on its annexes.  To that end, a special section on the issue had been set out in the document.  The Council was also being urged to set up a system of sanctions for the 19 persistent violators who continue to recruit child soldiers, and it was hoped that action would be swifter where sanctions committees existed.


The report also called for greater access and dialogue from groups and States to non-State actors, so those action plans could be negotiated, she said, noting that her office continued to face obstacles in negotiating action plans with some non-State actors because the countries concerned were denying access.  This was particularly true in Myanmar.  The report also advised that child protection advisers should be widely budgeted for, and incorporated in, peacekeeping operations and political missions.


Turning to her recent trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she said she had travelled to the Kivus and other provinces in eastern Congo to investigate developments since her last visit two years ago.  Her general impression, after meeting with ministers, members of the Army’s high command, governors, non-governmental organizations and children, was that the security situation had improved and more support programmes for children seemed to exist.


She said the security situation in Dungu province remained dire, however.  Since September 2008, nearly a thousand people had been killed, over 300 children had been abducted, and most of the schools in the region attacked and destroyed by the Lord’s Resistance Army.  Security clearly needed to be improved, but measures were also needed to ensure that the security personnel themselves did not commit grave violations.  To that end, discussions had been held with officials from the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).


During the trip, she had also underlined the need to ensure the protection of civilians during “Kimia II”, the joint military operations in South Kivu against the Forces Démocratiques de Libération de Rwanda (FDLR), urging that systems be put in place to guarantee that protection.  The high command of the Congolese Army, the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), had agreed to enter into an action plan with the United Nations in order to be removed from the Secretary-General’s list on the recruitment and use of child actors.  This plan would allow United Nations protection actors access to centres where children were being removed from the Army’s ranks.  Her office was further urging that reintegration funding be given to United Nations partners on the ground.  But, donors needed to “step up to the plate” for this to happen.


Underlining the urgent need to implement the country’s comprehensive strategy to combat sexual violence that had been drafted in recent months, she said 48 per cent of the victims of sexual violence in eastern Congo were minors, with 64 per cent of the perpetrators men in uniform.  Indeed, the political will to drive that strategy was needed, and President Joseph Kabila had been urged to select a special envoy or focal point in his office.


The central issue on the minds of civil society and the children themselves had been the question of impunity, she said.  Justice mechanisms needed to work, and the efforts of the military would be particularly critical in ensuring there was no impunity for its personnel.  Security sector reform would also be crucial in ensuring that families did not have to follow the Army, but could stay in camps.  Meanwhile, vetting processes should ensure that promotions to the high command were not given to perpetrators of sexual violence.


Asked about the situation in Georgia, she said the information had been contested on all sides and, as a result, the report listed all of its sources.  “We have tried to present the facts as we know them from the different sources as they came to us,” she said, noting, however, that the information had not been collected in the last month so more recent developments had not been included.


Pressed to state whether there was a difference between a child soldier and a child pirate, particularly since a United States federal court was trying a Somali who might be a minor for the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama, she said her office had not investigated the issue of child piracy, because it believed the topic was outside its mandate of armed conflict.  But, it had made clear that children should not be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity.


Asked how boys and girls were affected differently by armed conflict, she said they were often treated similarly as armed combatants, but girls often suffered sexual violence and were used in camps as domestic servants.  For that reason, her office had argued that the World Court should interpret the recruitment of child soldiers broadly to include girls who were engaged in support activities.


Responding to a question on the report’s treatment of Sri Lanka ‑‑ which focuses only on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and a breakaway faction, but not on the Sri Lankan Government ‑‑ she said the report accounted for information through January 2009 and did not reflect the most recent developments there.  However, the report indicated that there were humanitarian access issues on the Government’s part.  Furthermore, the current situation was very worrisome to everyone involved in humanitarian work.  “Many of us would like the people in the no-fire zone to be accorded the opportunity to leave with dignity both by the LTTE and the Government,” she stressed.


She said, when asked about recent developments in the case of Omar Khadr, the Canadian who has been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay since the age of 15, that her office had repeatedly requested that he be released and had volunteered to work with UNICEF to provide a support system for his reintegration into society.


Asked about the report’s analysis of the Taliban, she said a United Nations monitoring and reporting mechanism existed in Afghanistan, but not in Pakistan, so the report did not focus on the Taliban’s activities in the latter.


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For information media • not an official record