14 January 2003 As the United Nations Security Council today debated measures to protect children in armed conflict, top UN officials stressed that "naming and shaming" parties that continue to recruit and use child soldiers will send a clear signal that perpetrators will be held accountable for their actions.
"By exposing those who violate standards for the protection of children to the light of public scrutiny, we are serving notice that the international community is finally willing to back expressions of concern with action," Secretary-General Kofi Annan said at the outset of the day-long open debate involving over 40 speakers. Naming the parties that continued to use child soldiers will also ensure that "the hard-won gains in crafting a protection regime for children are applied and put into practice on the ground," he added.
Today's meeting was sparked by the Secretary-General's recent groundbreaking report on children and armed conflict, which for the first time lists 23 parties to conflicts on the Council's agenda, including both governments and insurgents, that continue to recruit or use child soldiers. Besides focusing on the situations in Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Somalia, the report also highlights other hot spots not on the Council's agenda where demobilization and/or reintegration programmes for child combatants are under way.
Mr. Annan said this morning that the list represents an important step forward and has "opened a new era of monitoring and reporting on how parties treated children during conflict." He added that following systematic monitoring and reporting on compliance by listed parties, targeted measures against those who continued to flout their international obligations should be considered.
In his statement to the Council, UN Under-Secretary-General Olara A. Otunnu, who is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said the list of parties breaks new ground - signalling the end of impunity for those who exploited and brutalized children and the beginning of an "era of application."
Mr. Otunnu welcomed the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which sets the limit for compulsory recruitment at 18, and the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which classifies the conscription, enlistment or use of hostilities of children under 15 as war crimes. "The most pressing challenge now is how to translate those measures into a protective regime that can save children in danger," he said.
He therefore urged Council members to use the list to send a clear message that parties to conflict will be held accountable for their actions. Mr. Otunnu recommended that the Council seize the momentum of the day to, among other things, call on parties to immediately stop recruiting child soldiers. He suggested that the Council consider taking targeted measures against the mentioned parties, including travel restrictions on leaders and their exclusion from any governance structures and amnesty provisions.
Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said that at any given time, an estimated 300,000 children across the globe were serving as soldiers -- living proof of the world's systematic failure to protect children. She was convinced that the naming and shaming of those parties who recruited or used child soldiers would help to establish a culture of accountability, one that could counteract the prevailing cruelty and indifference which children face and prevent such abuses from occurring in the future.
Ms. Bellamy urged Council members to consider the list in all their deliberations, and to update it regularly, expanding its scope to include parties to armed conflict in situations not now on the Council's agenda. The list could be used not only to pressure those who violated children's rights, but also to support and encourage progress. For its part, UNICEF would use the list to intensify its advocacy efforts, both globally and locally, she said.
She also said recent allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of refugee and internally displaced children and women in West Africa has served as a wake-up call for the entire international community. The message was simple -- efforts to protect children and women in such circumstances had been inadequate. She called on the Council to follow up on its recent Presidential Statement on the Protection of Civilians, which encouraged States, particularly troop contributing countries, to adopt the six core principles developed by the Inter Agency Task Force to prevent sexual abuse and exploitation.