|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict
Children must be separated from adult combatants as soon as possible to facilitate their transition back to civilian life and prevent further abuse, the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, urged today during a Headquarters press conference on her recent missions to the Central African Republic and Somalia.
Ms. Coomaraswamy said she had travelled to the Central African Republic to assess the regional impact of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and to sign an action plan for the release of child soldiers with the Convention des patriotes pour la justice et la paix (CPJP). In Somalia, she had secured a commitment from the Prime Minister and President of Somalia to enter a process to end recruitment and use of children by the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu.
The goal for the Central African Republic was also to renew the action plan of the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), and to strengthen the capacity of the United Nations system in the region to monitor, report on and respond to grave violations against children. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) would lead responses in that regard, she said.
While the UFDR claimed not to recruit children, she said, there were rumours to the contrary, and the Union had therefore committed to a system of verification so as to make sure that child recruitment did not take place. She had also met with child victims of the LRA, and heard “harrowing tales” of abduction, starvation, and gang rape. The Uganda People's Defence Forces had, however, established standard operating procedures, in coordination with the United Nations regarding the handling of children, wherein the Organization would be notified of the presence of any LRA children, and those children would be handed over within seven days.
Despite the many difficulties she witnessed, she said her trip to the Central African Republic took place just after the “peace caravan” in the north-east. “There was hope, at least in those areas, for a lessening of conflict,” she said.
As for the one‑day visit to Somalia, she hoped an action plan would be signed with the Transitional Government allowing for processes of verification and response. Somalia was one of only two countries that had not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the authorities said was owing to a legal problem having to do with the Transitional Government, but would be made a priority as soon as possible.
Further on Somalia, she said child combatants were being held along with adults in detention centres, and were in dire need of medical care. One child she met still had a bullet in his head. While great improvements to the security of Mogadishu had been made in the past year, the situation was still volatile, with Al‑Shabaab having shifted from more open warfare to terrorist‑type tactics.
Children in these situations required immediate care, and yet it was difficult for UNICEF to work within a detention camp setting — thus the urgent need for children to be separated. She had promised the agency that she would personally be a major advocate for raising resources, she added.
Responding to a question about a lack of services for children in the Central African Republic, she said there were discussions underway regarding opening UNICEF regional offices in that country’s north‑east, as well as in the south‑west, depending on the security situation.
Asked what parallels could be drawn between the situations in the Central African Republic and Somalia and other regions of the world, namely Asia, she stressed that the recruitment of child combatants was a global problem, and the changing nature of warfare in some areas required different responses.
One correspondent drew attention to recent remarks by United States presidential candidate Newt Gingrich about removing child protection laws in the United States. Responding, she said complaints about the United Nations intervening on behalf of children’s rights usually centred on concerns that rights were being taken away from parents. She stressed, however, that children were vulnerable and could be subject to a great deal of abuse, even by parents, and it was the duty of the United Nations, based on its Charter, to protect their rights and freedoms.
Responding to further questions, she added that the Convention on the Rights of the Child was the most universally supported United Nations treaty and only two countries had not ratified it — Somalia and the United States. Otherwise, the Convention enjoyed overwhelming support from the international community. UNICEF was one of the most dynamic arms of the Organization, because, “when it comes to children, the United Nations must act”, she said.
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