|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Annual Report on Children in Armed Conflict
The annual report of the Secretary-General that provides an overview of the grave violations committed against children in conflict zones this year presented a “mixed picture”, correspondents were told at Headquarters today.
“While new crises had erupted with a heavy toll on children in such countries as Syria and Libya, violations against girls and boys have come to an end in other parts of the world,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.
The report includes a list of parties that recruited and used children, killed and maimed, committed sexual violence or attacked schools and hospitals — the so-called “list of shame”. This year it names some 52 parties, including four new parties in Sudan, Yemen and Syria. For the first time, the Secretary-General listed parties responsible for attacks on schools and hospitals, as mandated by Security Council resolution 1998 that was adopted last year.
Ms. Coomaraswamy said it was encouraging that parties had been de-listed in Nepal and Sri Lanka following their successful completion of Security Council-mandated action plans to end the recruitment and use of children. In 2011, five more parties in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Chad and South Sudan entered into similar agreements with the United Nations. Also, releases of children associated with armed forces and groups had taken place in Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, South Sudan and Sudan in the same year.
“The progress is continuous but the list of parties to conflict who harm girls and boys will always be too long,” she said.
On the list were armed groups in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Iraq, as well as the Syrian government forces, that regularly shelled, burned, looted and raided schools, as well as assaulted or threatened teachers, students and medical personnel, she stated, adding: “In conflict, schools and hospitals must be zones of peace respected by all parties.”
Of serious concern to her Office and the Organization as a whole was also the growing list of “persistent perpetrators” of grave violations against children, which she said had doubled since last year. Thirty-two such parties had been listed by the Secretary-General for at least five years and were, therefore, considered persistent perpetrators. In that regard, she called for pressure to be exerted on those parties through sanctions, other Security Council action and closer collaboration with national and international courts.
According to Ms. Coomaraswamy, new crises had caused enormous suffering for children and that had continued into 2012. In Syria for example, children were victims of killing and maiming, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence by Syrian armed forces, the intelligence operatives, and the Shabiha militia. “The world is keeping a detailed account of the violence committed against civilians in Syria and I am confident that these crimes will be punished,” she said.
Another worrisome trend spotlighted in the 2011 report was the increasing use of girls and boys as suicide bombers and “victim” bombers. “Victim” bombers were those that did not know they were carrying explosives and were detonated from a distance, she explained, calling for international unity and action against that “inhuman and perverse” practice.
Asked why the situation of children in armed conflict in Syria had caught the attention of her Office only now, Ms. Coomaraswamy denied that was the case and said the situation had been closely monitored from the beginning. Her Office had first reported on it in April 2011 to the Security Council’s Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. At that time the figures were in the range of 400 children killed and 400 in detention.
To another question, she said the Free Syrian Army had not been added to the list, although she acknowledged that they were recruiting children in the field, despite their leadership’s denials. She explained that when the report came out, her Office had not seen the kind of pattern of recruitment that required listing, and the reported violations appeared to be isolated cases and, therefore, did not meet that threshold for listing. The threshold mandated by the Security Council required that there be a pattern of recruitment, sexual violence, and of killing and maiming.
Also, a mitigating factor with regard to a case like that of the Free Syrian Army was that often the leadership entered into dialogue with her Office and tried to deal with the situation. The Free Syrian Army had entered into such a dialogue with her Office and was trying to do exactly that, she said. Thus, for those reasons, it had not been listed. On reported violent incidents affecting children in the southern border part of Thailand, she said she was still hopeful the requested permission to have access to independently verify the reports would be granted. The two big issues in southern Thailand were the recruitment and attacks on schools.
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