|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Launch of Annual Report on Children, Armed Conflict
Despite the progress made in 2012, new and ongoing conflicts posed grave dangers to children, said the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict at the launch of the Secretary-General’s annual report on the matter during a briefing at Headquarters today.
Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict referred specifically to the situations in Syria and the Central African Republic, which were the “most disturbing” of the 22 conflicts listed in the report and to the situation in Mali, which was included for the first time this year.
She urged all sides in the Syrian conflict to “respect the standards that govern war” and to ensure that children did not pay so high a price. Meanwhile, in Central African Republic, recent progress seen there had been “erased by a new wave of violence”, with recruitment of children and sexual violence widespread and schools and hospitals subject to attacks. Such loss was felt keenly in so poor a country.
Half of Mali’s population was children, she said, noting the severe effect the conflict was having upon them, with many being killed, injured, recruited as child soldiers or subject to sexual violence.
Still, she noted, the report also documented progress made, such as the release from armed groups of thousands of children, and the five new action plans that had been signed in 2012 to tackle the impact of armed conflict on children. Action plans were devised by the Security Council to enable armed groups to work towards their removal from the so-called “List of Shame”, a catalogue of groups involved in recruitment of children, attacks on schools and hospitals, maiming or killing of children or sexual violence against children. Of the 55 armed groups currently on the list, nine were Government forces, with the remaining non-State armed groups.
The five action plans, signed by Myanmar, Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, along with two signed by Somalia, represented “very positive developments”, Ms Zerrougui said, noting that they included measures, such as the issuing of military orders banning recruitment of children, as well as programmes to reintegrate former child soldiers and to protect them from future recruitment.
That meant, she stated, that all the Government forces listed were “at least in the process of working with the United Nations to end recruitment”, adding that she wanted to see similar progress with the non-State armed groups on the “List of Shame”. She underscored that the United Nations needed to be granted access to such groups to assess their efforts.
Responding to several questions regarding the conflict in Syria and its impact on children, Ms. Zerrougui said the security challenges there had been a “major limitation” to getting access to assess the situation. However, her office was gathering information from refugees. Her upcoming visit aimed to put pressure on the Syrian Government and other parties to allow more access, as well as to end violations. In regards to the possibility that war crimes had been committed, she said “of course” they had. However, until the fighting ceased, it would be hard to investigate and identify perpetrators.
In regards to an inquiry as to which parties were committing the abuses and violations catalogued in Syria, she said the report’s list included national forces, as well as those from the Free Syrian Army. Further, because her office was not present in the region and was reliant on partners like the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and resident coordinators in neighbouring countries, she could not answer as to how the burden on children was being lifted.
Regarding the status of children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she said an action plan had been signed in October 2012 and there had been progress on granting access to evaluate the situation, as well as on verification of children before re-integration. The main challenge was with non-State armed groups which continued to recruit.
The situation in Somalia since September had shown some positive development, she told a correspondent. A new United Nations Mission had been established and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General was working with child protection officers in Mogadishu, where the Mission was now based. She was expecting more engagement and work to be done on implementation of the action plan, notably the reintegration of children.
When asked as to the extent of the violations by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, she noted that gaining access to the north of Mali was the biggest challenge. She was now working with a strong United Nations Mission and strong team within that Mission. The issue of children was integrated and mainstreamed into the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme.
On a question about implementation of the action plan in Myanmar, she said she was working with the Government and reporting to the Security Council prior to a visit by the Working Group on Children in Armed Conflict in October.
She also said in response to a correspondent that, in regards to the inclusion of States not on the Security Council agenda, she reached out to any Governments that were concerned by her office’s mandate. It was the United Nations’ role to engage with Governments. It was the Security Council that decided whether or not to report on countries that were not on their agenda. She stressed that she did not want so many countries on her agenda and would consider herself a hero if she managed to reduce the number of countries listed in the report to 10.
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