|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict
Following Visit to Afghanistan
The protection of civilians and children in Afghanistan had become a matter of great concern, especially the killing and maiming of children, Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, told correspondents this afternoon at Headquarters upon her return from a visit to that country.
She said that, according to official statistics, 346 children had been killed in 2009, of which 131 had been by air strikes, 22 during night raids by Special Forces, and 123 by other armed elements, including the Taliban. There had been seven reported cases of child suicide bombings. The figures did not include victims of landmines.
The purpose of her visit, from which she had returned on Saturday, was to follow up on the conclusions and recommendations of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict and to ensure that, during the upcoming Peace Jirga and the Kabul Conference, children’s issues were part of the agenda, she said. She had met with President Hamid Karzai, the ministers of defence and the interior, as well as with United States General Stanley McChrystal, non-governmental organization representatives and children in internally displaced persons camps.
As for the issue of child recruitment by both security forces and Taliban elements, she said President Karzai had committed to giving unimpeded access by international child protection elements to training camps and focal points would be created within the army and the police where concerns could be reported. She hoped that, by the end of next year, there would not be any reports of children recruited into the Afghan security forces. She had not met with representatives of any of the other armed elements.
She also announced that reintegration packages would be created for children associated with armed groups, including with those groups that would participate in reconciliation efforts and unimpeded access would be granted to children detained outside of the juvenile justice system.
She had noted a major change in the culture and attitude among the international armed forces regarding the protection of children since her last visit. Tactical directives had been issued, and she had encountered a genuine commitment among the security forces’ hierarchy to ensure that those directives were implemented. As mistakes were unavoidable, she urged prompt investigation, remedial action and accountability in the case of incidents. General McChrystal had assured her that he would work with the United Nations on child protection issues, including through a protocol on how to deal with children associated with armed groups, when encountered. Rather than treat them as adults, they would be turned over to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Regarding sexual violence, including against boys, she said she had raised the issue during every meeting she had had, mainly to break the cultural and religious taboo. The Ministry of the Interior was setting up a specialized unit to deal with sexual violence, something which the international community should support through the provision of training.
Attacks against schools had been at an all-time high during 2009, with 600 attacks against schools, teachers and students reported, she said. There was increasing recognition among international staff of the fact that communities should get involved in school protection, and some success had been achieved in that regard. In some cases, elders were walking children to school, for instance.
Asked how the focal-point system would work, Ms. Coomaraswamy said focal points would be established in the army and police recruitment offices, consisting of individuals who could act as an interface to handle concerns regarding women and children on a daily basis.
Answering questions about how to approach the Taliban, she said some international non-governmental organizations had been able to talk to them regarding humanitarian issues. There was hope that ‑‑ with the full knowledge of the Afghan Government ‑‑ the possibility of a dialogue with them could be explored to discuss the release of recruited children. Both the President and the ministers of the interior and defence supported any measures, in that regard.
Responding to questions about child abuse, she said that the first time she had mentioned the issue during a press conference it had been like “the dropping of an atom bomb”. It seemed, however, that during her recent visit, there was more awareness about the issue and people were not that shocked. The issue now was prosecution, as some very powerful people were involved. Sixteen cases of alleged abuse of boys were now being investigated. There was no uniformity in the way the Taliban approached such issues. There was, for instance, no general prohibition on their part that girls could not attend school.
Asked if it was true that, in 2009, a higher percentage of children had been killed by Government and international forces than in 2008, she said that incidents did, indeed, happen. The human rights position of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) was that, if incidents did occur, investigation and remedial action should be undertaken and accountability of any wrongdoing should be established. That had happened after the recent incident in which 27 civilians had been killed. There had been a prompt investigation and apologies had been issued.
Although it seemed that, in 2009, 60 per cent of the child victims had been killed by Government forces, she said there was a number of children killed in which the perpetrator was undetermined, which made it difficult to determine whether the majority of children had been killed by Government forces, or by others.
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