FORMER CHILD SOLDIER TAKES INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY TO TASK FOR FAILURE TO DO MORE FOR CHILDREN LIVING AMID CONFLICT
FORMER CHILD SOLDIER TAKES INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY TO TASK FOR FAILURE TO DO MORE FOR CHILDREN LIVING AMID CONFLICT
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-second General Assembly
13th & 14th Meetings (AM & PM)
FORMER CHILD SOLDIER TAKES INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY TO TASK
FOR FAILURE TO DO MORE FOR CHILDREN LIVING AMID CONFLICT
Contribution of Children to Peacemaking, Peacebuilding
Not to Be Underestimated, Says UNICEF Executive Director
A former child soldier in Sierra Leone turned best-selling author took the international community to task today for failing to do more for children living amid conflict, as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) began its discussion on the rights of children this afternoon.
Ishmael Beah, who as a young teenager had been forced to fight in the civil war in his country in the 1990s, recalled how hopeful the mood had been when he came to the United Nations a decade ago to draw attention to the plight of young people caught up in war. That appearance coincided with the publication of a landmark United Nations report by Graça Machel that put children in conflict at the forefront of the Organization’s agenda.
He regretted, however, that the call for immediate action made by Ms. Machel had gone largely unheeded. More concrete things had to be done, not least to give children a voice in resolving conflict. “Whatever your ideas are, you haven’t done very well with them”, he told representatives in the unusually crowded conference room. In a question and answer session, he went on to stress the importance of conflict prevention, saying that in the past decade, he had become aware of a pattern of reluctance and lack of political will to respond to conflict situations at their very early stages.
The Committee also heard from Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, who drew attention to the forthcoming strategic review of the Machel study. She reported that in the past year, progress had been made on action plans to end the recruitment of children by armed forces. Reintegration processes for released children, however, now had to be strengthened. She also called for an end to impunity for those who abused and exploited children in conflict situations. And she recalled a boy she had met on a trip to the Middle East, who had asked her why the United Nations talked so much but did so little. “I hope his words will haunt all of us as we try and implement the recommendations of the Machel review,” she said.
Speaking before the Committee as well was Ann M. Veneman, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), who said that the impact of conflict on children was still as brutal as ever. Sometimes children were the intended targets, and not just caught in the crossfire. She too said that children and youth were key to defining their own future, and that their contributions to peacemaking and peacebuilding should not be underestimated.
Presentations were also made by Yanghee Lee, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and Ngonlardje Mbaidjol, Director of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Following a question and answer sessions, a general discussion on the rights of children began. Statements were made by the representatives of Portugal (on behalf of the European Union), Namibia (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community), Barbados (on behalf of the Caribbean Community), Sudan, Sri Lanka and Japan.
Earlier in the day, the Committee concluded its general discussion on the advancement of women, touching upon such areas as trafficking in women and children, female genital mutilation, and the role that microcredit could play to lift women out of poverty in developing countries. Speaking on that topic were the representatives of Tonga, Nepal, Liberia, Mongolia, United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Eritrea, Mali, Bhutan, Jamaica, Venezuela, Kazakhstan, Panama, Ukraine, Libya and Cameroon.
A statement in exercise of the right of reply during the general discussion on the advancement of women was made by the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 18 October, to continue its debate on promotion and protection of the rights of children. At 3 p.m. it will also take action on two draft resolutions concerning terrorism and crime, and hear the introduction of five other draft resolutions.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to conclude its debate on the advancement of women. For background, please see Press Release GA/SHC/3886 OF 15 October 2007.
The Committee then began its discussion on the promotion and protection of the rights of the child.
Before the committee was a report of the Secretary-General on The girl child (document A/62/297). The report justifies the need for a report specifically on the situation of girls because their situation is often concealed behind generic concepts such as “women and girls”, “boys and girls” or “children” in general, the report says. Problems faced by girls include violence, sexual violence and lack of self-determination and enjoyment of basic rights, all arising from “the persistence of stereotypical attitudes concerning the roles and responsibilities of women and men”.
The report specifies so-called “honour crimes” and female genital mutilation as incompatible with the principles and provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Committee on the Rights of the Child also expresses concern at the situation of girls resulting from unwanted and/or early pregnancies and complications due to unsafe, often clandestine abortions. It also notes that criminalization of abortion was contributing to higher incidence of maternal mortality among adolescent girls.
Under a special section on the prevention and treatment of fistula (a devastating childbirth injury that leaves women incontinent, ashamed and often isolated from their communities), the report notes that “competing priorities and insufficient national resources combine to push women’s health off the political agenda”. In conclusion, the report says that after the efforts by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to spotlight poor maternal health by focusing on fistula, it is now up to the international community to provide countries with increased resources so they can improve the lives of millions of women and girls.
The committee also had before it a letter dated 4 September 2007 from the Permanent Representative of Uzbekistan to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General (document A/62/319). The letter conveys information regarding the measures being taken by the Republic of Uzbekistan to promote and protect the rights of children.
In addition, the Committee had before it the report of the Secretary-General on the Status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (document A/62/182). It notes that, as of 30 June 2007, the Convention had been ratified or acceded to by 193 States; the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the involvement of children in armed conflict had been ratified by 116 States and signed by 122 States; and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography had been ratified by 121 States and signed by 115 States.
Before the Committee as well was a note of the Secretary-General on the promotion and protection of the rights of children (document A/62/209). This note transmits the report of the independent expert for the United Nations study on violence against children, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro. The report provides information on the dissemination of the study and highlights the success of this study in globally raising awareness of “a problem frequently hidden”. The independent expert reiterates that the primary obligation to prevent, respond to and redress violence against children rests with Member States. Listing areas of progress, the Special Rapporteur cites legal reform efforts, such as changes to the law to increase the protection of girls from genital mutilation, as well as efforts to promote better parenting practices.
The report concludes that long-term sustainability and success in the efforts to protect children from violence is threatened by reactive and fragmented efforts that focus narrowly on symptoms and consequences of violence. The absence of systematic data collection is making response to and prevention of violence against children difficult. Little evidence is provided on progress in addressing violence in the home and family, as well as violence in other controlled settings, the Special Rapporteur notes. The report recommends that the Secretary-General appoint a special representative on violence against children, who will act as an advocate to promote the prevention and elimination of all violence against children.
The Committee also had before it the Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (document A/62/228), Radhika Coomaraswamy. In the past year, Ms. Coomaraswamy visited Sudan, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Middle East, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. “I have witnessed the dire plight and desperate circumstances of the thousands of children and women who make up the vast majority of camp residents in places such as Darfur, eastern Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Ms. Coomaraswamy writes.
The report focuses on the major themes and developments relating to children and armed conflict. It highlights significant developments in the fight to end impunity through the application of international standards for child protection, as well as tangible results of political-level child protection dialogue. The report also outlines progress on mainstreaming the subject of children and armed conflict in the work of the United Nations, particularly in the peace and security sector and the Organization’s peacekeeping.
Member states should apply concrete and targeted measures against recalcitrant violators of child rights, particularly where states have refused to enter into dialogue or where such dialogue has failed to yield tangible protection for children, is the main conclusion of her report. The report’s recommendations include ending impunity for human rights violations against children and putting an end to gender-based violence.
Finally, the Committee had before it a report titled Follow-up to the special session of the General Assembly on children (document A/62/259) on the progress made in realizing the commitments that emerged from the twenty-seventh special session of the Assembly, titled “A world fit for children”. It notes that failure to achieve the goals set out by the special session, held in 2002, would “significantly undermine” efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and beyond. It calls for a “scaled-up response” by governments to the maximum extent possible, more commitments from the international community, and stronger partnerships to achieve the goals set out at the special session. “The lesson from the past five years is that, while dramatic progress is possible when the will is there, Governments and their partners still need to do far more for children,” the report states.
Right of Reply
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said that the Japanese delegate claimed that sixty-year-old crimes should not be considered in the United Nations discussions. But the crimes committed by Japan were crimes against humanity, he said, and no statute of limitations applied to those. Nazi criminals were still pursued and brought to trial the world over, he pointed out. Two hundred thousand Korean women were taken away, forced to have sex and then killed, he said. It was dangerous to ignore gross human rights violations and do away with the past.
On the issue of abductions, he said they were “the tip of the iceberg” compared with Japan’s crimes in Korea. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had dealt with the abduction issue with great generosity, he said, organizing a special committee on a nationwide scale, and allowing five survivors as well as all their children to go to Japan in 2002. Still, he said, Japan kicked up a row every year in the United Nations regarding the issue. He urged that country to take a sincere attitude to the issue of the “comfort women” if it really wanted to solve the problem.
MAHE TUPOUNIUA ( Tonga) said the advancement of women was central to the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Studies showed that empowering women increased economic productivity, and that the nurturance of female leadership prevented conflict outbreaks. It was his country’s belief that the inclusion and advancement of women lay at the heart of efforts to develop a democratic, peaceful and productive society. Following the destruction of Tonga’s central business district, women had played a pivotal role in national reconciliation by keeping families together and by their ability to work at both the grassroots level and in high-level problem solving.
The literacy rate among women in Tonga was 99 per cent. With help from New Zealand and the World Bank, his country was revising its curriculum so that it continued to be competitive. The Minister of Justice, Governor of the Central Bank, and General Manager of the Tonga Broadcasting Commission were among the women in key positions. But the promotion of women into leadership positions, while important, was not enough to guarantee gender mainstreaming. Provisions had to be made to meet their economic needs and ensure their advancement. Although Tonga had yet to sign the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, it had been working closely with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to ensure that women’s issues had a central place in Government policies.
SUDHIR BHATTARAI ( Nepal) said that Nepal appreciated that there had been a major achievement on setting norms and standards on the protection and promotion of rights of women. His country had made significant strides towards gender equality with a parliamentary declaration that guaranteed women’s representation in at least one third of the elected bodies, he said.
The United Nations should increase its technical assistance to its Member States, he said, especially to the least developed countries (LDCs), for the implementation of international human rights instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Empowering women should be both a collective commitment and effort of the United Nations, he concluded.
COMFORT SWENGBE ( Liberia) expressed gratitude for the continuous technical assistance provided to States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, as well as for support provided to countries emerging from conflict, including her own. She commended the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) for positioning and strengthening Liberia’s women’s ministries. That had enabled them to become engines of gender mainstreaming with other government ministries and to open space for engagement with women’s NGOs. It was through the latter initiative that Liberia’s new rape law, which was adopted after advocacy from various rights organizations, aligned her country’s penal code with the human rights standards set out in the Convention. Advocacy for the rape law had established the basis for national dialogue and mobilization on the issue of rape. The United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia had been using the rape law to strengthen the curriculum for police training in Liberia.
She said Liberia had always -- and would continue to -- make the advancement of women a high priority national policy. Over the years, Liberian women had been involved in decision-making, particularly in the areas of development and civil administration. The election of Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as President of Liberia was testimony to the decision-making power of women. In that connection, she noted that in 1969, Mrs. Angie Brooks, a Liberian, became the second woman ever to become President of the General Assembly. She said tribute should be paid to Mrs. Brooks, who passed away in September, as a “trailblazer” and an “exemplary woman.”
Finally, she stressed that it would require the political will of national Governments and the international community, as well as financial and material support for the various programmes enunciated by the Division for the Advancement of Women and the United Nations agencies to improve the status of women globally. She hoped all Member States would remain committed to the cause of women’s rights and equality.
SODNOM GANKHUYAG ( Mongolia) said that poverty, as well as unequal access to economic resources, continued to be the main obstacles standing in the way of gender equality. Focusing particularly on rural women’s socio-economic needs, his Government had established a National Programme on Gender Equality that would contribute to the eradication of poverty and achieve international and national development goals.
In cooperation with international development banks, the Government of Mongolia had also implemented projects such as a “microcredit development fund” where 38.4 per cent of the total independent borrowers were women. His Government was resolved to consistently pursue its policy and efforts to further improve the situation of women in rural areas, he concluded.
AYESHA ALI AL MANSOORI ( United Arab Emirates) said women were equal to men in human dignity, legal status, duties and rights. Recently, laws and regulations to organize the work of expatriate labour in her country, including women, had been issued, so as to protect their rights and dignity as well as ensure human working conditions for them. A national committee on combating human trafficking had also been established. Such steps followed others taken over the years to improve the advancement of women, including joining the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Females were 66 per cent of the total number of students in the United Arab Emirates, with 94 per cent of girls enrolled in grade schools, she said. The number of women with higher degrees had been growing. Women accounted for 22.4 per cent of the total labour force and held 66 per cent of public sector positions. In the private sector, 14,000 women managed more than four billion dollars. Her country was deeply concerned by the dire economic and humanitarian conditions of women in developing countries caused by poverty, conflict, wars and foreign occupation. She urged the international community to step up efforts to find immediate solutions to existing disputes and conflicts in different parts of the world.
JORGE ARGÜELLO ( Argentina) said that the empowerment of women was an intrinsic component of the Argentine Government and civil society organizations. As a member of the Argentine National Congress, he said he had voted on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. That Convention was one of the instruments that enjoyed constitutional standing in Argentina and held the same force of law as the Constitution.
A number of initiatives, including a law on reproductive health and a draft law regarding sexual harassment, had been implemented in his country, he said. The only way to eradicate violence against women was to fight impunity, he noted, adding that addressing stereotypes was the only way to do that. In conclusion, he expressed his support to the United Nations in its efforts to eradicate all forms of violence against women.
ELSA HAILE, Director of International Organizations for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Eritrea, said the advancement of women and gender equality were directly related to development, human rights, democracy and education. The Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly, therefore, continued to serve as the best tools for gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Equality, she continued, required concerted efforts to correct the situations that gave rise to gender imbalances. Eritrea had enacted several measures to address gender inequality. First, it had reserved 30 per cent of parliamentary seats for women. Second, her country aimed to reduce the poverty gap between men and women by emphasizing women’s needs through advanced social services. Additionally, Eritrea was taking steps to ensure women had full access to health care by training more professionals in women’s health. The country had also adopted a law to end female genital mutilation (FGM). Finally, Eritrea had implemented the National Education Gender Policy and Strategy to narrow disparities in education, which fell in line with the MDGs.
ALMOUSTAPHA EL HADJI DICKO ( Mali) said fundamental texts in Mali since 1960 had reaffirmed the equality between men and women. But many judicial, cultural and socio-economic hurdles remained. To correct such shortcomings, his country, at the behest of the international community, had been putting the Beijing Declaration and other texts into action. The women’s dimension was being taken into account systematically in all development projects; more girls were going to school, literacy among women was improving, and there was better access to microcredit.
Clear political will had been shown by his Government to make the advancement of women a cornerstone of its poverty reduction programme and its quest for economic growth, he said. A number of steps had been taken, including the allocation of 10 parcels of land for the construction of centres that would cater to the needs of women and children. In addition, 28 per cent of Government positions had been filled by women. Yet despite encouraging results, due to a lack of resources, the Government had remained limited in its ability to promote the advancement of women; it appealed to the international community to extend more help to overcome its financial constraints.
DAW PENJO ( Bhutan) said his country had a comprehensive range of social, economic, political and legal frameworks that sought to further enhance the relatively equal status of women. The Royal Government of Bhutan welcomed the increase in recent years of NGOs and civil society groups who were carrying out women-related programmes and other initiatives in the country. Bhutan was hopeful about achieving the MDGs and had already reached gender parity at primary and secondary levels of education, he said. The Royal Government also continued to provide free health care and gave special attention to women’s health, including reproductive health.
Bhutan’s development philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH), which he noted was people-centred, emphasized the role of women in nurturing a happy and responsible society. His country also cooperated with neighbouring South Asian States in addressing issues as diverse as preventing trafficking in women and children, as well as the promotion of breastfeeding. A South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) database was being developed which would be able to collate data on violence against women, feminization of poverty, and health. That database would serve as a pool to help South Asian member countries identify gaps and challenges in their work on gender issues. In conclusion, he reiterated his Government’s commitment to the MDGs, promoting the empowerment of women and creating gender equality.
ARIEL BOWEN ( Jamaica) said that her country’s efforts to ensure gender equality were guided and coordinated by the Government and a host of national agencies. Those included, among others, the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, as well as the Gender Affairs Department at the University of the West Indies and a vibrant community of civil society actors and organizations dealing with women’s advocacy. Regional efforts were backed by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, and the United Nations had played an invaluable role providing technical assistance. Against such a backdrop, she said that much had been accomplished in the implementation of various provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Protocols, as well as the Beijing Platform for Action.
She went on to say that recent national data on gender development showed that the situation of Jamaican women had improved in many areas, including life expectancy, estimated wage earnings and school enrolment; local institutions of higher learning were reporting as much as a 75 per cent increase. That trend also had the potential to ultimately increase women’s earning abilities. Key to Jamaica’s accomplishments was the country’s gender mainstreaming strategy, which was likely to continue yielding positive results, as women themselves were set to assume positions of influence directing national development and rights enhancement programmes, among others.
She said that challenges still persisted, noting that violence against women in Jamaican society was still pervasive, as was poverty. The overall unemployment rate for women was about twice that for men, and in the many female-headed households, women were not compensated for the invaluable work they did. On another important issue, she said that Jamaica had taken note of the increase in trafficking in women worldwide and had been monitoring the situation to ensure that it did not become a problem in the country. During this, the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, it was worth noting that the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, had come into force. Against that backdrop, in 2005 Jamaica had established a National Task Force against Trafficking in Persons that was mandated to develop policy and implement and monitor action to counter all aspects of that crime.
ANGELA CAVALIERE ( Venezuela) said that even though women today held high-ranking positions in government, gender equality had not yet been achieved. Women were still invisible in many parts of the world, she said, and unjust development reproduced stereotypes. Venezuela’s Government was fighting for a new development model that guaranteed gender equality and recognized the true value of women’s contribution to society.
Women’s participation in Venezuelan society had reached unprecedented levels, she said, and they played a leading role in social missions and communication programmes, which were building a new social order based on justice. Venezuela supported the work of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) and said it should be strengthened. She also recognized the efforts of UNIFEM, which had provided valuable support to Venezuela. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had also held a training workshop in Caracas, she noted. In conclusion, she said her country was convinced that without gender equality, there could be no society with social justice.
ZHANAR KULZHANOVA ( Kazakhstan) said that women had unequal access to resources and opportunities and continued to be victims of abuse, poverty and discrimination, as well as violence. Economic development required the participation of women, and countries should provide women with business training and access to microcredit, especially in rural areas. She called for analysis of the difference in wages for men and women and for bridging the income gap, as well as for integrating women into economic decision-making. She also noted the importance of child and dependant care programmes, parental leave and flexible work schedules if women were to be included in economic life, and of male participation and legislative action for the advancement of women.
She spoke of concrete measures undertaken by Kazakhstan to address women’s issues. Among them were measures for the political and economic advancement of women, the reproductive health of women, combating violence against women and children, and achieving gender equality in family relations. A draft law on domestic violence had been prepared to address trafficking in women and girls, while 26 crisis centres had been opened for women and child victims of violence. Kazakhstan hosted a High-Level Regional Consultation on Gender Equality and Rights-Based Development Planning and Budgeting for countries belonging to the Commonwealth of Independent States in May 2007. Despite accomplishments, challenges remained, and her country was committed to meeting them.
MARY MORGAN-MOSS ( Panama) recalled various measures her country had undertaken in connection with the advancement of women, starting in 1995 with the creation of a national council on women. Legislation to promote women’s participation in political life, enacted in 1997, required that women make up 30 per cent of all candidates on electoral lists, and 30 per cent of Government ministers and vice ministers. Currently, however, that latter quota had not been achieved; only three women were ministers and four were vice ministers. In the 71-seat Parliament, there were 13 women deputies and 34 alternates.
Legislation was put into place in 1999 to ensure equal opportunity for women from all sectors of society, she said. The following year, a law was enacted for the incorporation of a gender perspective in school textbooks. Landmark legislation in 2001 on joint title property guaranteed that spouses or civil union partners could acquire land, regardless of gender. More recently, the country had introduced a 2002-2006 plan for equal opportunity for women and a 2004-2014 plan to address domestic violence. In addition, the Government of President Martin Torrijos had launched an inclusive economic agenda that underscored the participation of women.
OLHA KAVUN ( Ukraine) said gender equality, sustainable development and peace were fundamental and interlinked objectives that needed to be achieved in the twenty-first century. The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was a unique forum of dialogue and exchange for common efforts to respond to challenges obstructing gender equality. Although the United Nations had recorded many successes, it still needed to do much more to ensure that gender perspectives were taken into account in all areas of its works. On a national level, promoting gender equality was a top priority in Ukraine. Women’s empowerment and gender mainstreaming was not only an important goal in itself but was also a means to achieving the MDGs. Recently, Ukraine’s legislative basis for ensuring gender equality had been developed and expanded. The national Constitution now guaranteed equal rights for women and men, as well as equal opportunities in social, political, cultural and professional spheres. Her country had also recently enacted a new law which defined “sex-based discrimination” and provided judicial protection from it.
Her country was currently hosting an International Leadership Summit and Initiative for Women and Girls to celebrate the progress they had made in the region and to explore strategies to help them achieve even greater success in the future. This was an important event, since empowering women and eliminating human trafficking needed work at both the national and international levels. Globally, the establishment of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the General Assembly resolution on trafficking in women and girls were important steps. The international community should now redouble its efforts to end that brutal phenomenon and, overall, renew its commitments to end all forms of discrimination against women.
SUAAD ANBAR ( Libya) said her country reaffirmed its commitment to the strategic goals adopted by the Beijing Declaration and the relevant international conferences. Violence against women contradicted fundamental human rights, she said, and combating such violence was a prerequisite for advancing women’s role in all societies. Libya welcomed the United Nations efforts to combat violence against women. Her country further emphasized the participation of women in all aspects of life and said they should be given access to health care, education and every other social benefit to ensure their participation in the work force.
Highlighting the situation of Palestinian and Arab women living under Israeli occupation, she called on the United Nations to take appropriate measures to enable the Palestinian nation and women to live in dignity, peace and security, and to implement all recommendations adopted by international conferences on the advancement of women. Her delegation also expressed concern at women’s poverty, which plagued too many African nations. She commended United Nations measures to improve the situation of rural women and condemned trafficking in women. “The international community must combat this,” she said.
MARTIN BELINGA-EBOUTOU ( Cameroon) said that the Third Committee had, over three days, engaged in a significant debate on women -- the cornerstone and soul of any society. Early on, the United Nations had committed itself to the rights of women, but that task was still very much a work in progress. Discrimination, inequality, sexual violence, abuse of all kinds, precariousness and poverty -– that was the daily lot of women. The intensity of the plight of women varied between regions, countries and continents. In Africa, the major obstacle to the empowerment of women was material and psychological poverty; without prompt action, women would also be victims of anthropological poverty. How could one talk about the emancipation of women in a country where women died whilst giving birth, could not harvest their crops, or had no access to credit, which was a prerequisite for social justice?
In Cameroon, the advancement of women was a national priority, aimed at creating a legislative, judicial and political environment capable of guaranteeing the rights of women, he said. His country had signed up to most international legal instruments on the protection and advancement of women. Strategies and measures to support rural women and to keep girls in school had been initiated; in the health sector, a plan targeting women in the fight against HIV/AIDS had been adopted.
In conclusion Mr. Eboutou, quoting Khalil Gibran, said that a husband who denied his wife the rights that he enjoyed was “a remnant of a tribe which, still dressing in the skins of animals, vanished long before leaving the caves”. On the other hand, the husband who did accept his wife as an equal was “a leader in a nation moving in the dawn toward the light of justice and wisdom”.
Statements on Children’s Rights
ANN M. VENEMAN, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said the focus today would be on children in armed conflict. She recalled that 10 years ago, a United Nations study on the impact of armed conflict on children alerted the world to the brutal realities faced by children living in conflict zones. It had been researched by Graça Machel, whose birthday it was today. Ms. Machel had visited countries that had felt the impact of armed conflict, met children and their parents there, and had shared their stories in order to galvanize change. Progress had since been made to lead children back to their communities and their classrooms, and to protect children from war crimes such as unlawful recruitment and sexual violence. But much more had to be done, including holding those who violated children’s rights accountable.
The impact of conflict on children remained as brutal as ever, Ms. Veneman said. And sometimes children were the intended targets, and not just caught in the crossfire. They had been victims of military strikes on school and hospitals, or of sexual attacks. They had also been killed or maimed by landmines even after the fighting had stopped. And violence had often claimed their first line of defence -– their parents. Children faced malnutrition, disease and poverty as well. It had been estimated that, in 2006, more than 18 million children had been affected by displacement, and that they accounted for one third of the casualties caused by the explosive remnants of conflict. It was imperative that children, especially those living amid fighting, be protected from harm and given access to food, health care, education, social services and clean water. The presence today of Ishmael Beah was a delight, as he had appeared before the Committee 10 years ago, speaking as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. He had come a long way since then, authoring a best-selling book. He was present today to say that children were still living the same horrors that he had experienced.
Children and youth were key to defining their own future, and their contributions to peacemaking and peacebuilding should not be underestimated. The Paris Commitments and Principles to Protect Children from Unlawful Recruitment or Use by Armed Forces or Armed Groups (February 2007) had been endorsed by 65 States; it was hoped that more would sign on. The General Assembly would be holding a high-level plenary meeting on progress made in the five years since the implementation of the Declaration and Plan of Action for A World Fit for Children. It would be an opportunity to take stock of what had been achieved for children, and what remained to be done.
RADHIKA COOMARASWAMY, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said important advances had been made in the 10 years since the Graça Machel report on the world situation of children had been released. The prioritization of the issue by the General Assembly and the systematic engagement of the Security Council had been positive developments, she said, adding that she would today be presenting a special 10-year strategic review of Mrs. Machel’s study.
In the past year, the Special Representative said, she had carried out seven country visits to situations of concern, always on invitation and in close consultation with the Governments. Since 2006, progress had been made on action plans to end the recruitment of children by armed forces. Reintegration processes for released children must now be strengthened.
Referring to the strategic review of the Machel study, she said the international community must expand its attention to the full scope of issues, and address the impact on all children in all situations affected by conflict. The changing nature of conflict was increasing the threat to children, she said, and the number of global conflicts was also increasing. To achieve the protection of children affected by war, the international community must expand its recognition of the changing characteristics of conflict.
She said war economies that commercialized and prolonged conflict must be better understood and effective action taken to stop abuse and exploitation of children in these conflicts. Today there were “grey zones” of conflict blurring the lines between armed conflict and criminal violence, often involving transnational crime and trafficking, among other things. Terrorism and counter-terrorism posed their own special problems.
To end impunity, she said, the international community needed to translate the past decade of advances in political engagement, legal instruments and standards into expanded action at the field level. Children should not be dealt with as lone individuals, but as a vital part of families and communities. She referred to a boy she said she had met on a trip to the Middle East, who had asked her why the United Nations talked so much but did so little. “I hope his words will haunt all of us as we try and implement the recommendations of the Machel review,” she told the Committee.
The Committee then watched a video about children in armed conflict.
The Chairman of the Third Committee, RAYMOND J. WOLFE ( Jamaica) then invited Mr. Beah to the podium. He recalled how, as an orphan, Mr. Beah had been recruited at the age of 13 as a child soldier in his native Sierra Leone. After two years of soldiering, with thanks to UNICEF, he had been placed in a rehabilitation home in the capital, Freetown. He completed his education in New York and wrote a best-selling book titled A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Child Soldier. Mr. Wolfe said Mr. Beah was “an outspoken advocate on the plight of child soldiers and children affected by war around the world”.
Mr. BEAH thanked the Committee for the privilege of speaking, and said he hoped that, in the future, other children would be able to speak as well. He recalled how hopeful everyone had been when he came to the United Nations 10 years ago to discuss the issue of child soldiers; the feeling was that child soldiers had to speak out and share their stories so that people could move beyond theorizing about something that had been happening on a daily basis. However, the call for immediacy urged in Mrs. Machel’s report had not been taken seriously. While the issue had come to the forefront of the United Nations agenda, more concrete things had to be done.
When would children -– with their first-hand knowledge -- be listened to, to lend their voices and expertise and ideas on what had to be done? he asked. That was a role that many had failed to give to children, because “whatever your ideas are, you haven’t done very well with them”.
Mr. Beah stressed the idea of preventing conflict. While there was much talk about helping children who had been affected by conflict, thought must be given to ways to prevent conflict from getting out of hand, despite a pattern of strong reluctance and lack of political will at the United Nations. He said he hoped that when delegations and United Nations staff left today to fix the problems at hand, they would have a better awareness of the cultures involved in conflict, and what could be done on the ground.
The Committee applauded Mr. Beah, and the Chair thanked him for his “important, candid and gripping testimony”.
The representative of Gabon asked what could be done to make the United Nations able to put emphasis on action rather than rhetoric; and what could be done today to ensure the protection of children?
The representative Norway asked how children could be further involved in the prevention of conflict, and if a guide which defined “child participation” could be developed?
The Observer for Palestine asked if the Special Representative could elaborate further on the impact of abject poverty on children, which was not identified as one of the six main categories of crimes, but which was a consequence of conflict that should be addressed?
The representative of Côte d’Ivoire thanked UNICEF and reiterated his country’s resolve to protect children.
The representative of the Russian Federation said the United Nations should not artificially separate some crimes against children from other crimes, and asked how the Special Representative intended to move the non-selective approach forward?
The representative of Lebanon commented that a year after the war, Lebanese children were still suffering from cluster bombs dropped by the Israeli army. Those bombs were the most “evil and mean” weapons because they mostly maimed children. He asked what could be done to prevent those terrible events from ever occurring again?
The representative of Chile asked if the Special Representative could pick a recommendation from her report which she considered to be the most important, and also if she could explain why States should support the implementation of her recommendations?
The representative of Syria said his delegation had hoped that the Special Representative would have had provided more details on the disasters that had afflicted Lebanese and Palestinian children. His delegation also wanted to know whether the mandate of the Special Representative for Violence against Children included children under foreign occupation, or whether the visits to Lebanon and Palestine had been made only at the request of the Secretary-General?
The representative of Israel asked if the issue of the use of children in conflict had been raised during the Special Representative’s visits Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and if anything had happened since that meeting?
The representative of Australia said that they urged all States to become party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and welcomed the role of the International Criminal Court on the question of impunity.
The Republic of Korea said that they wanted to hear more about the findings on sexual violence, such as the rape of girls in the context of armed conflict.
The representative of Nigeria asked how often did in the Special Representative, in her line of work, come across people like Mr. Ishmael Beah who could bring the depth of the conflict to the world’s attention?
The representative of Sierra Leone, after first commenting on how proud Sierra Leone was of Mr. Beah for his powerful presentation, asked if the Special Representative had remembered to address the issue of children in armed conflict who were used as human shields?
The representative of Syria asked Ms. Veneman if the details and facts regarding the situation of children would be included in a document?
Responding to a number of questions, Mr. BEAH said the definition of children affected by conflict had to be widened to include such situations as Lebanon. It was very important for low-intensity conflicts to be put on the Security Council agenda. Member States should also take seriously the fact that children in armed conflict was a global issue, and that a global effort was needed to address it, since those children would grow up to be the leaders of their countries. The needs of children in conflict had to be prioritized, with the aim of giving young people a sense of self-worth. They had to be given an alternative to violence and be allowed to discover their own intelligence.
Mr. Beah said he had not been “special” himself; it was a matter of providing support to children living amid conflict. Regarding the prevention of conflict, he reiterated the importance of addressing conflict at its very outset.
Mrs. COOMARASWAMY said the changing nature of conflict and the implications for children had been discussed in the Machel report. International humanitarian law and action had to be strengthened in light of such change. There also needed to be some understanding of the issue of terrorism and counter-terrorism, because of a blurring of the line between civilians and combatants.
Referring to her visit to the Middle East, she said a detailed background document had been submitted to the Security Council; it was available on the Internet. Follow-up discussions had been under way with the Palestinian authorities and with Israel. On giving a greater voice to children, she said that that idea was under discussion, with a view to having children present reports and interact with delegates, providing a youth perspective.
All aspects of the Paris Principles were important, she said. They brought a rights-based approach to the problem of child soldiers, and they were unique in that they focused a good deal on prevention, on the need to protect children, and on reintegration. The situation in the Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo vis-à-vis the recruiting of child soldiers and sexual violence was a cause for serious concern.
Mrs. VENEMAN said UNICEF worked with children living amid conflict, providing health services and education. Such children had to be protected from harm, since so many things could happen to them in times of war. UNICEF recognized how important the voice of the child was to its work; she personally had made an effort during her travels to meet children and to listen to them. Reintegration programmes were absolutely critical; she had not understood, before reading Mr. Beah’s book, how difficult it was for children living amid conflict to reintegrate and to have the right mentors. More discussion was also needed on working with communities that often refused to take back children who had been part of rebel forces. More attention had to be given to the terrible impact that conflict had on girls and young women; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, rapes were not just rapes, but acts of horrible violence.
YANGHEE LEE, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, gave an update on the work of the Committee. The Committee had dealt with a large backlog of reports by working in two chambers, and although it had been very productive, it expected another large backlog to build up again. Among other initiatives, the Committee was closely following the ongoing process to elaborate “guidelines” for children without parental care. She noted that there were two important reports before the General Assembly –- the report of the Independent Expert on the United Nations Study on Violence against Children; and The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children: 10 Year Strategic Review, by Graça Machel. Both of the original recommendations to undertake the studies had emanated from the Committee on the Rights of the Child. She concluded by reiterating that the Committee relied on continued support in order to ensure that its reviews could be conducted in a timely manner.
NGONLARDJE MBAIDJOL, Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, discussed the Secretary-General’s two reports before the Committee. The report on the Status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (document A/62/182) provided information on the ratification status of the Convention and its two Optional Protocols, and noted an encouraging increase in the number of States parties to the Protocols. The Committee on the Rights of the Child, in addition to considering State party reports, continued to focus on thematic issues, drafting General Comments to provide guidance on implementing the Convention. It also participated in regional, subregional and national workshops on follow-up to its recommendations. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) would continue to fully support its work.
He said the report on The girl child (document A/62/297) focused on implementation of General Assembly resolution 60/141 (2005), and key points raised at the fifty-first session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which considered “the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child” as its priority theme in 2007. The report also drew attention to two reports of the Secretary-General submitted to the fifty-first session. One focused on the session’s priority theme, and stated that, in 2006, States had recognized that gender inequalities and violence against women and girls had increased their vulnerability to HIV. The other report, on progress in mainstreaming a gender perspective in the development, implementation and evaluation of national policies and programmes, indicated that little attention had been paid to younger girls in the area of health.
He went on to say that section III of the report on The girl child reviewed work by treaty monitoring bodies and therefore examined issues such as child marriages and female genital mutilation, as well as special procedures of the Human Rights Council. The report also specifically highlighted the work of the three Special Rapporteurs and presented United Nations efforts to treat fistula.
CATARINA DE ALBUQUERQUE (Portugal), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said many important achievements and landmarks in the area of children’s rights existed, and those should guide the international community in identifying and overcoming unmet challenges. Eighteen years ago, the General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It had been ratified more quickly and by more Governments than any other human rights instrument. It had also increasingly been considered in national and international judicial decisions, while having an impact on numerous international legal instruments. In the last 15 years, the Convention’s monitoring body, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, had received almost 400 State reports on the application of the Convention and its Optional Protocols. This year also marked other anniversaries: the fifth anniversary of the Convention’s two Optional Protocols on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography; the tenth anniversary of Graça Machel’s groundbreaking report on the “Impact of armed conflict on children”; and the first year of implementation of recommendations of the United Nations Study on Violence. A mid-decade review of the United Nations special session on children would also take place this year, she observed.
Despite these achievements, children still faced injustice, violence and exploitation. She said many children –- particularly girls, children in rural areas, indigenous children, children of ethnic minorities or migrant children -- were still victims of discrimination, poverty and exclusion. Inspiring examples of children and youth having greater participation in decisions that affected their lives existed, but such participation was rarely built into local practices and national systems. The Convention’s normative and ethical framework, the special session on children’s issues, and the results of the mid-decade review would be a strong foundation for the future. Children’s rights had been placed on the map in the last 18 years, and the coming years would be key to effectively mainstreaming those rights into the national and international agendas and translating them into relevant public policies. It was no longer a question of what was possible, but of priorities.
KAIRE MUNIONGANDA MBUENDE ( Namibia), speaking for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said the overall situation of children in sub-Saharan Africa was a source of major concern. Children had increasingly become victims of violence, including domestic violence, sexual exploitation, trafficking and disappearance. That situation was further compounded by a lack of awareness of children’s rights, gender and health issues. The Community abhorred violence against women and children and, in the past 10 years, had established and amended various laws that prohibited violence against children. It had also implemented various social and cultural initiatives that helped protect the rights of children.
He said Member States in his region had integrated the commitments of “A World Fit for Children” into their existing national development plans and poverty reduction strategies. Investment in children was consistent with the MDGs. Indeed, SADC had already made substantial progress in providing universal primary education to children. Providing equal opportunities for girls and boys remained a challenge, however, and girls continued to be more vulnerable to poverty, hunger, insecurity, sexual exploitation and abuse, and HIV/AIDS. Plans of Action at the national level needed to be better funded for changes to correct that trend.
He said several international and regional conventions and policy guidelines existed to protect the rights of orphans and vulnerable children, but, he would ask Member States, what were the values of good policies and commitments if they were not backed up by allocation and flow of resources to ensure that the rights contained in the various instruments were indeed enjoyed. He said he would urge partners to better support efforts to fight problems like HIV/AIDS which severely affected vulnerable children. Ensuring the sufficient resources were available, including cheaper generic drugs, was a good start towards that end. He expressed support for the creation of a position of Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children. He said SADC would soon table a biennial resolution on the “girl-child”, which he hoped would be adopted by consensus.
CHRISTOPHER HACKETT (Barbados), speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that his delegation condemned all forms of violence against children and called on the international community to broadly address the challenges faced by the world’s young people in order to effectively address the matter. For its part, the CARICOM region had undertaken several initiatives to strengthen child protection mechanisms. At the national level, the Community supported the aims of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the outcome of the General Assembly’s 2001 special session on children. At the same time, the region was aware that poverty, conflict, pandemics such as HIV/AIDS, environmental degradation and natural disasters, which hampered development in many countries, also gravely affected the most vulnerable population: children.
Until the international community resolved structural issues, especially those hindering many States from achieving the MDGs, developing countries would continue to lag behind the rest of the world. Inevitably, he added, children living in developing countries would be among those who suffered most. He therefore called for speedier implementation of the decisions made by the “G-8” industrialized countries in 2005 at Gleneagles in Scotland, and at the Assembly’s World Summit, to boost development assistance. Such increased official development assistance (ODA) must also be coupled with serious efforts to open world markets to the goods of developing countries. That would also require improved global governance and improved coherence among United Nations agencies. Overall, the voice of the United Nations in the global development policy dialogue should be enhanced.
He said CARICOM had repeatedly drawn attention to the urgent need to tackle the AIDS pandemic; the reality was that despite the general worldwide improvement in child mortality rates, HIV/AIDS had been reversing the progress achieved in many areas. Indeed, for small island developing States, the spectre of HIV/AIDS ravaging the youth population was truly daunting.
While calling on the international community to devote more funds and attention to the issue, he said Governments in the region were devoting whatever resources they could to turning back the scourge. He added that public education programmes had been started across the region with the aid of UNICEF.
ABDELHAMID ABIDIN MOHAMED ( Sudan) said the reports put before the Committee would give focus to the general discussion and lead to worthwhile conclusions. The child summit in 1990 had been a landmark in promoting the rights of children, giving impetus to the children’s agenda and various concerns and issues. Several of the MDGs touched upon children’s issues. Regarding a proposal for a Special Representative on violence against children, who would have a four-year mandate, it was important that it be accorded more in-depth study, so as to avoid duplication. An informed decision was needed, not a hasty one.
He said Sudan had adopted a framework document, entitled ‘A Sudan worthy of children”, that embodied “A World Fit for Children”. It reflected the country’s commitment to the MDGs and to regional and international charters on the status of children. Children’s policy in Sudan was supervised by a national council on children’s welfare, which reported to the Presidency. A breakthrough consolidated law on children was introduced in 2004, and a Children’s Parliament convened annually. In Darfur, it was hoped that the peace process would soon be completed. Sudan had grave concerns about Arab children living under occupation in Palestine and the Syrian Golan; it called upon the international community to resolve that problem.
MAHINDA SAMARASINGHE, Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights of Sri Lanka, said sound social policies and legal measures had already been introduced nationally to promote and protect the rights of children. Consistent investment in universal access to education, from primary school to university, had resulted in high rates of enrolment and literacy, and his country was now on track to meet MDGs for primary education, school gender parity and reproductive health services. Child and maternal mortality had been reduced to levels that were comparable with those in some developed countries, and an effective public health system combined with a system of free education was resulting in considerable progress in social development.
However, he said, despite significant success in improving the lives of children, his Government’s achievements had been undermined by the forced recruitment of children by a terrorist group which had been banned by several Member States. All possible measures to stop those actions had been taken, but terrorist groups continued to recruit children and had yet to release some still in their custody, despite promises to the contrary.
He said Sri Lanka’s strict legal framework to protect children from forced recruitment was ineffective against terrorist groups that functioned outside that framework and in blatant disregard of national and international norms. He said he called on the international community to initiate a process to stop the recruitment of children for use in armed conflict, and to help national initiatives to rehabilitate and reintegrate children released by terrorist groups. Doing so would guarantee the protection of all children from all forms of violence and exploitation, wherever they might occur.
NOBUKO KUROSAKI, the representative of ( Japan), said that as a paediatric surgeon who has practised for more than 20 years, he told the Committee that the children he had treated had struggled, not only for their health, but because of prejudice caused by some people’s misunderstandings of illness. Children were the most vulnerable of all those affected by prolonged armed conflict and poverty, and adults were responsible for creating a world fit for their future.
As a State party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, he said Japan had made both domestic and international efforts to promote and protect children’s rights. To combat child abuse, one of the most serious human rights problems today, Japan had revised its child abuse prevention law and child welfare laws. Those revisions were meant to strengthen the role of child guidance centres and to introduce a new system to confirm safe conditions for children. Along with other Member States, Japan had also given assistance totalling about 2.2 million U.S. dollars, through the Trust Fund for Human Security, to the project entitled “Basic Education/Literacy, Income Security and Employment for Vulnerable People including Children and Women in Bhutan”.
He commended UNICEF’s follow-up to the Secretary-General’s study on violence against children, presented last year, by providing technical support to countries implementing the study’s recommendations. He also welcomed UNICEF’s latest study on the issue of violence by Mr. Paulo Pinheiro and urged the agency to continue its valuable work to effectively implement the recommendations contained in that report. Although progress had been made on the issue of children and armed conflict, such as the application of international standards for the protection of children, he said there was still much to be done. He stressed that the issue should be a priority for the international community and should be mainstreamed into all policies and programmes of the United Nations. Japan would participate in the high-level plenary meeting on 11 and 12 December of this year to mark the passing of half a decade since the convening of the special session of the Assembly on children. That meeting would afford a review of the implementation of the Declaration and Plan of Action and provide and opportunity to renew the determination to achieve the goal of creating a “World Fit for Children”.
* *** *