NEWSMAKER: child rights strike universal chord, making protection possible – UN envoy

Radhika Coomaraswamy

1 May 2009 – Children are the main victims of conflict, a fact known all too well by the United Nations envoy tasked with protecting young people caught up in war, who says progress has been made in getting the international community to focus on this vital issue which everyone can relate to.

“The rights of children have always been easier than any other rights. Because when you talk about children there is a universal chord that you strike and people seem to respond,” Radhika Coomaraswamy said in an interview with the UN News Centre as part of its Newsmaker profile series.

As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Coomaraswamy serves as a moral voice and independent advocate for the protection and well-being of boys and girls affected by armed conflict.

This is an enormous undertaking given that, according to Mr. Ban's latest report, children are being brutalized in 18 situations of concern around the globe. It has been estimated that over 2 million children have been killed in armed conflicts another 6 million have been rendered permanently disabled and more than 250,000 children continue to be exploited as child soldiers.

Ms. Coomaraswamy, a Sri Lankan national who has been serving in her post since April 2006, believes the sanctions, action plans and “list of shame” put into place by the Security Council in recent years has made a difference.

“When I go out into the field, there are armed groups who want to get off the list of shame that [Council resolution] 1612 sets up for those who recruit and use child soldiers,” she noted.

“There are those who are very principled and won't use children. Then there are those who are just ruthless and will use anybody. They are very difficult to change,” she added.

During the Council's debate this week on children and armed conflict, Ms. Coomaraswamy thanked the 15-member body for its efforts which have resulted in six parties being taken off the list of shame, emphasizing that “this demonstrates the power of the Council's focused attention and continuing engagement, and serves as a testament that it should continue to maintain pressure on violators to enter into a protection dialogue with the United Nations.”

At the same time, she called on the Council to extend its focus beyond child soldiers to better deal with violations against children.

“Not to do so threatens to silence the suffering of thousands of children who are subjected to unspeakable crimes,” she stated.


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