Children’s Rights Violations during Armed Conflicts on Rise despite National Action Plans to End Abuse, Security Council Told in Day-long Debate

SC/12470
2 August 2016
7753rd Meeting (AM)

Children’s Rights Violations during Armed Conflicts on Rise despite National Action Plans to End Abuse, Security Council Told in Day-long Debate

Speakers Urge Concrete Steps to Tackle Root Causes of Displacement, Violent Extremism

Twenty years after a ground-breaking report on the impact of armed conflict on children brought the issue into focus at the United Nations, young people in hotspots around the globe were still being tortured, maimed and killed, recruited by armed groups and exposed to numerous threats as a result of massive displacement, stressed delegates today as the Security Council held an open debate on the matter.

Many of the more than 70 speakers noted that, despite limited progress — including the conclusion of a number of national action plans to end violations against children — many of the grim realities outlined in the 1996 Graça Machel report continued unabated or had even worsened in the face of a deteriorating global security landscape.

“In places such as Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, children suffer through a living hell,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as he briefed the Council.  Referring to the findings of his latest annual report on the issue (document S/2016/360), he said thousands of Syrian children had been killed since the start of the conflict, and in 2015, Afghanistan had recorded its highest rate of child casualties since 2009.  In South Sudan, children continued to pay the heaviest price for leaders’ failure to commit to peace.

Noting that more than half of the world’s refugees were children, he stressed the urgent need to address the root causes of displacement and for an effective response to the violent extremism that often targeted children.  “Even wars have rules,” he said in that regard, adding that hospitals and schools must be protected, civilians must be spared and children should not be used to fight.

Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said many of the impacts of conflicts on young people could not captured by statistics.  Children lost parents, were disabled due to curable illnesses and suffered long-term psychological trauma.  In April, in Iraq, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) had executed a 15-year-old by tying him between two cars that were driven in opposite directions.  While States faced challenges in tackling violent extremism, security responses that did not comply with international law only inflicted further harm.

Noting that more than 115,000 children associated with parties to conflict had been released as a result of dialogue and actions plans since the Secretary-General’s first report, she nevertheless emphasized that considerable challenges remained.  The ability to work together to untangle the most difficult situations would have a decisive impact on millions of children.

Anthony Lake, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), agreed that preventing and ending the recruitment of children was not enough.  The United Nations Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism mandated by Council resolution 1612 (2005) continued to help define the full scale of the crisis by providing vital information on the unspeakable atrocities facing children.  Using that information, the international community must work with parties to conflict to prevent violations of children’s rights and help shape programmes that could brighten their futures.

In particular, he emphasized the need for focused action in three key areas:  explosive weapons and remnants of war; health care; and education.  “Our progress to date has shown that the children trapped by conflicts are not beyond our reach,” he said.

The representative of Malaysia, whose country holds the Council presidency for August, said that the international community had developed a number of tools to protect children and give them a voice.  While some heartening examples included the progress of the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign and the deployment of child protection advisers in peacekeeping missions, he stressed that the children and armed conflict agenda must continue to be strengthened and enhanced, adding that “our work is far from over”.

The representative of the United States, noting that Member States might not agree with everything pointed out in the Secretary-General’s report, stressed that they should nevertheless maintain their support for the United Nations work to protect children.  This year’s report provided a “bleak but unsurprising” picture of the worsening situation of children affected by armed conflict, she said, noting in particular the massive recruitment of children by ISIL and the use of siege tactics in Syria by the Assad regime.

Syria’s delegate said that, at long last, and with some reluctance, the Secretary-General’s report had addressed the recruiting, torture and killing of children by ISIL and Al-Nusrah over the past five years.  It did not, however, deal with the main reason for the suffering of Syrian children, he said, citing the Wahhabi ideology as consolidated by the House of Saud.  The report also failed to mention the suffering of children in refugee camps in countries neighbouring Syria, economic measures imposed on Syrian people and their children or the suffering of children in the occupied Syrian Golan.

The representative of Sri Lanka recalled that his country had witnessed the horror of child soldiers used as combatants by non-State armed groups.  Called the “Baby Brigade”, 50 per cent of its members were girls, many of them forcibly taken from their schools.  Describing efforts to reintegrate child combatants when the conflict ended in May 2009, he said such initiatives had led the United Nations to delist Sri Lanka from Annex II of the Secretary-General’s report on child combatants in 2012.

In a similar vein, many speakers welcomed the recent announcement by Colombia’s Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) group in which it had agreed to end child recruitment.  Welcoming the move — which was part of the peace deal ending Colombia’s decades-long conflict — the representative of Colombia said the FARC had released around 6,000 children.

Throughout the debate, several speakers also recalled that, after some controversy, a Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen had been excluded from the annexes to the Secretary-General’s report.  A number of speakers expressed concern that pressure had been exerted in that case to avoid international scrutiny.

In that regard, the representative of Saudi Arabia said his country had responded to the call of Yemen’s President and people following the 2015 coup, and that the coalition had been set up in strict compliance with the United Nations Charter and international law.  Stressing that the coalition forces were not holding any children in Yemen, he said the coalition’s operations were subject to periodic review to avoid any adverse effects on the civilian population and that a group had been set up to investigate all relevant allegations.

On that matter Mr. Ban said that he had strong concerns about the protection of Yemeni children and that the United Nations would closely monitor the situation on the ground as the review continued.  “Let me be clear:  the report and its annexes may cause discomfort, but that is not a goal in itself.  Our aim is to protect children in danger by ensuring concrete change.” he said.

Also participating were the representatives of France, Egypt, China, Spain, Venezuela, Ukraine, Russian Federation, Angola, New Zealand, Senegal, Japan, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Iran, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy, Thailand (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Switzerland, Israel, Guatemala, Slovenia, Denmark, Lithuania (also on behalf of Estonia and Latvia), Yemen, Liechtenstein, Croatia, Kuwait, Poland, Pakistan, Morocco, Australia, Argentina, Netherlands, Austria, Cambodia, Belgium, Indonesia, Portugal, Panama, United Arab Emirates, Botswana, Philippines, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Canada (on behalf of the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict), Greece, Sudan, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Brazil, Iraq, Chile, Turkey, Jordan, Myanmar, Viet Nam, Qatar and Azerbaijan, as well as the State of Palestine, Holy See and the European Union.

The meeting began at 10:08 a.m. and ended at 6:48 p.m.

Opening Remarks

BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that, while the global security landscape continued to change, one grim reality remained the same:  children still paid the highest price in wartime.  Young boys and girls were directly targeted, conscripted, tortured, maimed, imprisoned, starved, sexually abused and killed.  “In places such as Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, children suffer through a living hell,” he said, adding that, in many cases, the situation was getting even worse.  Thousands of Syrian children had been killed since the start of the conflict and in 2015 Afghanistan had recorded its highest rate of child casualties since 2009.  In South Sudan, children continued to pay the heaviest price for leaders’ failure to commit to peace.

Noting that more than half of the world’s refugees were children, he stressed the urgent need to address the root causes of displacement and  this “massive crisis”, and invited all Member States to bring ideas and commitments to the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants, to be held on 19 September.  He also emphasized the need for an effective response to the violent extremism that often targeted children, stressing that such a response must place respect for human rights and humanitarian law at its centre.  “Even wars have rules,” he said, adding that hospitals and schools must be protected, civilians must be spared and children should not be used to fight.

In that regard, he went on to say that peacekeeping also had rules, and that the United Nations must end the outrage of sexual exploitation and abuse by its peacekeepers, staff and non-United Nations forces.  Thanking the Council for endorsing his decision to repatriate units when there was credible evidence against them, he underscored the need to do more to secure accountability, enforce standards, provide training, assist victims and achieve justice.

Once again this year, objections to his annual report had forced him to make a difficult decision: after very careful consideration, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition had been removed from the annexes, pending conclusions of a review, he said.  He had met with the Saudi Arabian delegation to express his serious concerns about the situation on the ground and the devastating impact on children, he said, recalling that he had received information on measures taken by the coalition to prevent and end grave violations against children.  “The content of the report stands,” he said, noting that, while the report and its annexes might cause discomfort, that was not a goal in itself.  He renewed his appeal to every Member State and every conflict party:  “If you want to protect your image, protect children.”

Noting that 2016 marked the twentieth anniversary of the Office of the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, he underscored his full support for the present Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui.  “We need resources, but much more than that, we need political will,” he stressed.  The ultimate goal was to end grave violations of the human rights of children, which demanded ending conflicts and establishing peace.

LEILA ZERROUGUI, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said that, in 2015, armed groups and Government forces had killed, maimed, recruited, used and inflicted sexual violence upon tens of thousands of boys and girls, with more than 2,000 attacks on schools and hospitals documented in 19 of 20 situations in the report.  There had been more than 4,000 abductions.

Indeed, she said, conflict had impacted children in ways not captured by the statistics:  they lost parents, were disabled due to curable illnesses and suffered long-term psychological trauma.  In April in Iraq, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) had executed a 15-year-old by tying him between two cars that were driven in opposite directions.  While States faced challenges in tackling violent extremism, security responses that did not comply with international law only inflicted further harm.  Airstrikes and explosive weapons’ use in populated areas by international coalitions or individual States had contributed to the highest number of documented child casualties.

Moreover, she said, terrorism legislation had been broadly applied in many situations without appropriate checks and balances.  Children were being apprehended based on alleged links to non-State armed groups or on expansive interpretations of protecting national security.  “Juvenile justice is inexistent,” she said, and children could be held for months — even years — by military or intelligence actors.  Last month, she had met boys condemned to death in Somalia for an alleged association with Al-Shabaab.

“This cannot be an acceptable outcome for children when they are rescued from armed groups,” she insisted, also decrying detention intended to use children for intelligence gathering.  Beyond conflict zones, children were being displaced in increasing numbers and she urged more support for those conflict-affected States that hosted 90 per cent of the refugees.

While the overall picture was not positive, there had been gains, she said, noting that, since the Secretary-General’s first report, more than 115,000 children associated with parties to conflict had been released as a result of dialogue and action plans.  To date, 25 action plans had been signed and nine parties to conflict had been delisted in Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Uganda.  The “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign had consolidated global consensus that child soldiers should not be used in conflict, with Sudan signing an action plan earlier this year and the United Nations now implementing a written commitment with all States listed for recruitment and use of children. 

Peace process represented a vital opportunity to engage on child protection, she said, citing the recent agreement between Colombia and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia — Ejército del Pueblo, known as the FARC-EP, to separate and reintegrate all children associated with the armed group.  The coordinated action generated by her mandate was at the heart of such achievements, showing that when conflict parties engaged, and where there was political space to act on behalf of children, “we are able to achieve results”, with both Governments and non-State armed groups operating in the world’s most difficult environments.

The goal of the report before the Council was to bring about change for boys and girls confronted by violations the international community considered abhorrent, she said.  The work involved a difficult balancing act, but the tools developed by the Council to address such grave violations were invaluable — and powerful enough to convince parties to conflict of the urgency of protecting children.

Success hinged on the impartiality of her Office, the credibility of the tools at its disposal and international support for its work, she said.  While the United Nations would support Governments efforts to protect children, it could not make up for a lack of political will.  The Council must do more to address the root causes of children’s suffering, by prioritizing conflict prevention and support for peace processes, ensuring respect for international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law, and seeking accountability when violations were committed.

“We face a considerable challenge and we need creative ways to support initiatives and programmes to protect children,” she stressed, urging States to ensure resources for education and health services in emergencies and to provide financial and technical support for reintegration programmes for former child soldiers.  The ability to work together to untangle the most difficult situations would have a decisive impact on millions of children.

ANTHONY LAKE, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that nearly 250 million children were living in countries and areas affected by war.  Over 30 million had been displaced by conflict, and millions more had been scarred by violence, witnessing the worst of humanity.  Millions of children were at terrible risk of attack on their schools and of trafficking, abduction and sexual violence.  “We are not human if we are not outraged by all this,” he said.   “Outrage and anger must be matched by action.”

Turning to recent developments, he said that, in 2015 alone, nearly 10,000 girls and boys had been released from armed forces or groups, and 7,000 had undergone medical screening, received psychosocial support and counselling and had been reunited with their families.  “All to get them back where they belong:  with loved ones, in schools, in a safe place where they can begin to heal and build the futures they deserve,” he said.  Acknowledging Member States’ action plans to prevent and end the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, he said that Governments were enacting relevant legislation and procedures.  That included age-assessment protocols to keep children from entering the military in Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Afghanistan, as well as legislation that criminalized child recruitment in countries where no such laws had existed before.

Preventing and ending recruitment was not enough; the scale of violations against children demanded further efforts, he said.  The United Nations Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism continued to help define the full scale of the crisis by providing vital information on the unspeakable atrocities they had experienced.  Using that information, the international community must work with parties to conflict to prevent violations of children’s rights and help shape programmes that could brighten their futures.  That included focused action in three key areas: explosive weapons and remnants of war, health care and education.  “Our progress to date has shown that the children trapped by conflicts are not beyond our reach,” he said, stressing that the international community must help those young lives emerge from the shadows of war.

Statements

RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia), Council President for August, spoke in his national capacity, associating himself with the statement to be delivered by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  Noting that the international community had embraced the children and armed conflict agenda, helping to develop a set of tools to protect children and give them a voice, he said some heartening examples were the progress of the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign and the deployment of child protection advisers in peacekeeping missions.  Reaffirming his support for Council resolution 1612 (2005), which had established a monitoring and reporting mechanism on children and armed conflict, he said it remained urgently relevant today.  Deeply alarmed that non-State armed groups remained the main recruiters of children, he stressed that ensuring such groups complied with international law was crucial.  Member States must treat children associated with such groups primarily as victims and prioritize rehabilitation and reintegration programmes.  Twenty years after its establishment, the children in armed conflict agenda must continue to be strengthened and enhanced, he said, adding that “our work is far from over”.

SAMANTHA POWER (United States), noting that the Secretary-General’s annual report remained a valuable tool, said the Council’s monitoring, reporting and listing mandate was critical and must be maintained.  Member States and others should be able to provide information without fear of reprisals.  “We do not expect Member States to agree with everything in this report,” but they should nevertheless maintain their support for the United Nations work to protect children.  This year’s report provided a “bleak but unsurprising” picture of the worsening situation of children affected by armed conflict, she said, noting in particular the massive recruitment of children by ISIL and the use of siege tactics in Syria by the Assad regime.  In Aleppo, for example, 100,000 of the 300,000 people trapped were children, and doctors and nurses were overwhelmed and lacked the basic equipment and medicine needed to treat people.

Calling on the Assad regime to immediately lift its deadly siege of all such towns, and on the Russian Federation to end its airstrikes against civilian targets, she went on to underscore the need to address the mass displacement caused by conflict.  The world was not doing enough to provide for child refugees, she said in that regard, calling on States around the world to welcome more refugees and on front-line countries to do more to facilitate their employment and education.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), while acknowledging the important progress made since the Graça Machel report, regretted that children continued to suffer from various forms of violence.  Da’esh and Boko Haram had targeted children through suicide bombings, sexual violence and trafficking.  Tackling the roots causes of conflict was key to addressing the problem; ensuring access to education was essential in that regard.  In Syria, massive bombings continued to kill thousands of children, and it was the Government’s responsibility to protect them.  At the institutional level, the United Nations Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism and the Security Council working group continued to hold dialogue between Governments, he said, emphasizing that various activities must be organized to prevent the violation of children’s rights.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said that the Graça Machel report had drawn global attention to the devastating impact of armed conflict on children, and enabled the Security Council to set a framework.  The international community had succeeded in implementing some of the recommendations, he said, acknowledging the positive developments, such as the release of child soldiers from armed groups and the establishment of new institutions.  Despite progress made, children continued to suffer from violence, sexual exploitation and lack of access to health, nutrition and education.  To ensure their protection, the international community must step up efforts and find realistic ways.  Among others, he stressed that it was important to verify the sources of information contained in the reports and eliminate double standards.

LIU JIEYI (China) said terrorist organizations’ targeting and killing of children was becoming an increasing problem, while the phenomena of displacement and trafficking of children were becoming ever more serious.  In light of those developments, the international community must undertake a resolute fight against terrorist organizations and take a “zero-tolerance” approach to their violent activities.  All those responsible must be firmly and severely punished, wherever they fled, and countries should improve their information-sharing to those ends.  Emphasizing that children should be prevented from becoming the victims of terrorist and extremist ideologies, he called for Member States to work to increase education and help children develop a mentality of respect, openness and tolerance.  Noting that a proper response to child trafficking was needed in the wake of the current refugee and migration crisis, he said countries should improve their immigration, border control and coast guard systems, and step up the identification, repatriation and protection of children.  There should be a strengthening of international humanitarian relief for displaced children, while respecting the principles of sovereignty, independence and neutrality.

JUAN MANUEL GONZÁLEZ DE LINARES PALOU (Spain) said the matter of children and armed conflict was more than a point on the Council’s agenda, it was an ethical imperative and a collective responsibility for all human beings.  Wars and conflicts had evolved over the last seven decades and it was crucial for the Council’s methods to evolve, as well.  In that regard, the United Nations “blacklist” with regard to children and armed conflict was called upon to mobilize trust and record violations of international humanitarian law.  That tool would only be useful as far as it was credible, he stressed, calling for a transparent and neutral listing process.  Indeed, the inclusion or exclusion of a party for political reasons eroded the credibility of the United Nations, he said, calling on all to respect the list.  Welcoming the success of the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign — which had been able to conclude a number of national plans to end child recruitment — he said the campaign must now turn its attention to non-State actors.  Noting that children were increasingly being exposed to violent extremism, he said all terrorist attacks must be investigated and perpetrators held to account, as that was the minimum that the victims deserved.

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela), expressing concern about the continuous violation of children’s rights, said it was unacceptable that, year after year, difficulties still existed to ensure their protection.  The number of refugees worldwide had risen to about 60 million, and half of them were children, threatening their chances for a better future.  In some cases, the Security Council had adopted multiple resolutions to protect civilians, including children, while in other texts it was impossible to make progress.  “Double standards have simply undermined the efforts,” he said, calling upon Member States to fully comply with international law and to apply the principles of non-selectivity and impartiality.  Noting the effects of foreign military interventions, he said that the victims of such interventions were recruited by terrorist groups such as ISIL.

VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said that the ongoing crises and violent conflicts in the Central African Republic, Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo had claimed the lives of thousands of children.  Armed conflicts had resulted in senseless injuries and deaths, as well as an increase in the number of refugees and internally displaced persons.  “Have we as members of the international community done enough to ensure protection for these children?,” he asked.  Education was a key factor in countering extremist discourses, but the right to quality education was out of reach for millions.  The latest reports stated that 68 children had been killed and 186 others had been wounded in eastern Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict.  The number of internally displaced persons in Ukraine stood at 1.7 million, including 215,000 children.  Ukraine was doing its best to strengthen social protection of displaced children and families.  However, it was unfortunate that 39 schools, kindergartens and other children facilities in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine were used for military purposes by the Russian-backed illegal armed groups.  Russian-backed separatists had used school grounds as artillery and mortar positions.  Concerning reports regarding the establishment of camps, he said that children were trained to handle weapons and gather intelligence.  The OSCE Mission had reported that irregular armed formations in the east were allegedly preventing young men from leaving Donetsk and forcefully recruiting them.  Among others, he pointed to reports that children were recruited to armed groups and taking part in combat as full-fledged members of combined Russian-backed militant forces.  “It all amounts to recruitment of children, which is a grave violation of international humanitarian law,” he concluded.

EVGENY ZAGAYNOV (Russian Federation), calling the targeting of children “modern-day savagery”, said the situation of children in armed conflicts in parts of the Middle East and North Africa remained dim.  Just recently, dozens of civilians — including women and children — had been killed in United States-led airstrikes in Syria.  The lack of State authority in several places, resulting from foreign interventions, had opened a space for terrorism, he said, adding that it was high time for the Council to address the situation of “moderate” groups perpetrating atrocities against civilians.  Expressing support for the Secretary-General’s efforts to prevent the recruitment of children, and agreeing that sound peace was the primary way to reduce the negative impacts of displacement, he said the process of gauging situations on the ground should be based only on verified information and reliable sources.  Adequate capacity should be provided to peacekeeping missions, which should be staffed by professionals that kept themselves far from politics.  While the Ukrainian delegation hoped to lay blame on the Russian Federation for the situation in Donbas, he said the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission there had found evidence of shelling of civilians by Ukrainian military forces.  Kyiv was also responsible for the economic blockade against Donbas, he said, underscoring that there could be no military solution to the conflict and that Ukraine must concentrate on full, strict compliance with the Minsk Agreements. 

JULIO HELDER MOURA LUCAS (Angola) noted the “gruesome reality” of increasing numbers of children used by terrorists as suicide bombers, subjected to massive displacement or victims of trafficking and the slave trade.  With regard to children formerly associated with armed groups, Member States should ensure that their trial procedures were consistent with international law on juvenile justice and that “reintegration, not punishment” was pursued as a priority.  Recalling that Council resolution 2286 (2016) had underscored the responsibility of warring parties to respect schools and hospitals and to ensure that the wounded and sick received the help they required, he said his country had recently adhered to the 2015 Safe Schools Declaration.  On the continued allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations peacekeepers and non-United Nations international forces, he said all training of staff must aim at radically changing the current state of affairs.  As most parties listed in the annex to the Secretary-General’s report were non-State armed groups, he called on the United Nations to engage with those groups and to put in place new action plans for the protection of children.  Such positive engagement had been seen in the Central African Republic, where the signing of such an agreement had led to the release of over 3,000 children from the ranks of signatory arms groups.

GERARD VAN BOHEMEN (New Zealand) said there were real limits to what the Council and the United Nations could do, “but we must make full use of the tools available to us”.  The Secretary-General must be able to independently discharge his mandate regarding grave violations committed against children in armed conflict.  Member States must respect that independence and not seek to influence him in the discharge of his responsibilities, as required by the Charter.  Failure to do so would be a serious disservice to the Organization and other Member States.  The Secretary-General’s latest report painted a harrowing picture, he said, citing attacks on schools and hospitals, as well as the detention without charge of children regarded as security threats.  Adequately funded reintegration programmes for children separated from armed forces and groups were needed, he said, adding that he would welcome discussion among the Special Representative, UNICEF, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities and others to come up with recommendations or guidance on reintegrating former child soldiers with disabilities acquired in conflict.

FODÉ SECK (Senegal) said that protecting children affected by armed conflict continued to be a challenge.  They were victims of grave violations and were used by terrorist groups as slaves.  The situation could be improved if the international community took the necessary steps to guarantee the protection of children, scaled up prevention efforts and ensured accountability.  Stressing the need to demilitarize schools and hospitals and prevent shootings, he called upon parties to conflict, Council Members and the United Nations to unify efforts through a holistic strategy, and ensure the participation of regional and subregional organizations.

KORO BESSHO (Japan), while welcoming progress made over the past 20 years, regretted that children faced various challenges in armed conflicts.  It was difficult to reintegrate child soldiers into societies once they were released.  Children needed special support tailored to their unique needs.  In that regard, the international community must share good practices and allocate financial resources.  Commending the activities carried out by UNICEF, he said that Japan had provided $81 million for projects and activities in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

PETER WILSON (United Kingdom) underscored that attacks on civilians in Syria — in particular by Government forces — were putting the lives of children at risk.  Noting that education could restore hope to children in emergencies, he said his country had contributed to the new “Education Cannot Wait” initiative, launched during the World Humanitarian Summit, and called on other Member States to add their support.  Turning to the allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations peacekeepers and personnel, he said children trusted peacekeepers and that it was absolutely critical to strengthen the Organization’s respect for their human rights.  “Zero tolerance must mean zero tolerance,” he said in that respect, calling for States to swiftly and thoroughly investigate all such allegations and hold perpetrators to account.  In cases where they were unable to do so he expressed support for the Secretary-General’s ability to repatriate troops.  Noting that his delegation disagreed with the Russian Federation’s characterization of the situation in eastern Ukraine, he said respect for international law must apply to all States equally.

LUIS BERMÚDEZ (Uruguay), associating himself with the statement to be delivered on behalf of the Group of Friends of Children in Armed Conflict, categorically condemned the repeated violations of the human rights of children around the world.  Particularly reprehensible was the increasing number of bombings of schools, hospitals and other civilian areas, he said, noting that indiscriminate air attacks were the main cause of death of children in Syria.  Pointing out that the Council and the United Nations had an inescapable legal and moral duty to work to end such violations, he appealed to Member States that had not yet done so to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols, as well as other relevant international conventions.  It was crucial that States of origin, transit and destination ensure the protection of children suffering from trafficking, and that countries commit to the rehabilitation and reintegration of children recruited by armed groups.  He also expressed concern that some Member States were using pressure to avoid international scrutiny, as had been the case with the suspension of the coalition operating in Yemen from the Secretary-General’s list.

ERLAN IDRISSOV, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, said his country endorsed the “Children, Not Soldiers” initiative and urged the implementation of its action plans to end violations against children.  Every effort should be made to protect schools, hospitals and humanitarian facilities from attacks, he said, noting that Kazakhstan had co-sponsored resolution 2286 (2016) on the matter.  It had allocated $53 million for humanitarian projects in Afghanistan, and in 2011, ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.  Nationally, it had introduced legal measures to prohibit people under age 18 from being enlisted or used as mercenaries.  He urged the Council to incorporate child protection mandates into peacekeeping and political missions, and advocated training for troops, police and civilian personnel.  Child protection should also be integrated into peace processes.

JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico), expressing concern about the scale and severity of grave violations, condemned any activities that impeded the protection and promotion of children’s rights.  That included large-scale abductions, recruitment of child soldiers and forced displacement.  Recalling the United Nations zero-tolerance policy, he emphasized that global partnership was necessary to ensure that children enjoyed lives free of violence.  It was crucial to monitor the situation on the ground and to include the violations of children’s rights in the Sanctions Committee’s mandate.

ALI KHOSHROO (Iran) said that 2015 had been another horrific year for children trapped in conflict zones.  The international community had witnessed the proliferation and growth of extremist groups who systematically violated the rights of children.  The trend of violent extremists infringing upon the rights of children must be a concern for the world, he said, emphasizing that the complete disregard of civilians, including children, by Da'esh and Al-Qaida was worrying.  Violent extremists had adopted wide-spread abduction as a feature of their operations to inflict terror, he added.  Turning to the situation in Gaza, he said that between 8 July and 26 August 2014, 540 Palestinian children had been killed and 2,955 had been injured.  The international community must follow up efforts to bring an end to Israel’s impunity and secure justice for the victims.

ABDALLAH Y. AL-MOUALLIMI (Saudi Arabia) expressed concern over the increasing reports of serious violations of children’s rights and said the best way to protect children was to provide sustainable peace and prevent and contain conflict.  That included ending all forms of occupation, he said, noting that Palestinian children were the first victims of Israel’s aggressive policies of detainment, torture and extrajudicial execution.  Calling on the Council to hold Israel responsible for such crimes, and for the immediate end to the occupation in line with the Saudi peace initiative, he went on to condemn the Syrian forces’ daily attacks on civilians and the use of barrel bombs.  The Syrian authorities had been using siege as a weapon and there was a threat of massacre and ethnic cleansing in Aleppo.  Children, women and the elderly were calling for the United Nations help in that and other besieged cities, and if left unaddressed, the situation would be a stain on the conscience of the international community.

Saudi Arabia had responded to the call of Yemen’s President and people following the coup there, he said, noting that a coalition had been set up in strict compliance with the United Nations Charter and international law.  The Houthi opposition in Yemen continued to dig in its heels, committing crimes against civilians and making schools and hospitals their barracks.  Calling on the Council to condemn such actions, he added that the rebels had also committed crimes at the Saudi border which had resulted in civilian deaths — including the use of over 20 ballistic missiles.  The coalition forces were not holding any children in Yemen, he stressed, noting that they had all been handed over to Yemeni authorities to be returned to their families.

Noting that operations in Yemen were subject to periodic review to avoid any adverse effects on the civilian population and that a group had been set up to investigate all relevant allegations, he said the results of that investigation would be submitted to the United Nations as soon as possible.  For its part, the Organization must discharge its mandate neutrally and transparently and never settle for unreliable sources of information when drawing up its reports.  In that regard, he regretted the lack of accuracy that had led to the initial inclusion of the coalition on the Secretary-General’s list for no valid reason, as well as the fact that his delegation had been unable to provide any information on the matter in advance.

SYLVIE LUCAS (Luxembourg), acknowledging the progress made over the past 20 years, said that the international community had developed a collective mechanism to protect children in armed conflicts.  Further, thousands of children had been released from armed groups and returned to their families.  Expressing support for the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign, she said that it aimed at ending and preventing the recruitment and use of children by national security forces in conflict.  In that regard, she congratulated Sudan for signing an action plan with the United Nations.  Despite positive developments, the Secretary-General’s report painted a gloomy picture of progress, expressing concern about the scale and increasing severity of the grave violations including killings and abductions.

HEIKO THOMS (Germany), associating himself with the statement to be made by the European Union, said United Nations child protection mechanisms must be strengthened and impartially implemented, noting that all eight Government armed forces listed in the Secretary-General’s annexes had signed national action plans.  United Nations field missions must continue to receive appropriate resources for their child protection work.  Further, discussions on how to advance the children and armed conflict agenda were too centred on New York Headquarters.  As implementation happened elsewhere, Germany was committed to raising awareness on the ground.  Child protection and reintegration of former child soldiers into their societies was an important part of Germany’s bilateral discussions with partners.  He urged strengthening the operative language on child protection in country-specific resolutions.

INIGO LAMBERTINI (Italy), associating himself with statement to be made by the European Union and the Group of Friends on Children and Armed Conflict, said progress had been made in demobilizing child soldiers and reintegrating them into their communities.  He welcomed the establishment of the monitoring and reporting mechanism, calling the adoption of resolution 2225 (2015), which recognized abduction in armed conflict as a listing criterion, a “remarkable” step.  As a Council member in 2007-2008, Italy had supported the inclusion of child protection provisions in the mandates of peacekeeping operations and had helped to draft resolution 1820 (2008) on sexual violence and armed conflict.  It continued to be engaged on such issues through its training centres and had renewed its commitment to humanitarian law.  It was carrying out initiatives for the recovery and social integration of former child soldiers in the Middle East and Africa, and putting in place a new and ad hoc legal framework to better assist minors coming to Italy from conflict areas.

CHULAMANEE CHARTSUWAN (Thailand), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said that the Graça Machel report had called upon the international community to address the effects of armed conflicts on children.  Despite progress made, children continued to suffer from the growing threats emerging from new conflicts and violent extremism.  A comprehensive approach was needed to protect children and to address the root causes of hardship.  Constructive engagement by Member States was needed to support the integrity and credibility of the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism.  At the regional level, ASEAN member States had stepped up efforts to address issues facing children.  In November 2015, ASEAN leaders had adopted a regional action plan to elimination violence against children.

Also speaking in her national capacity, she said that efforts to promote the rule of law, quality education and to improve socioeconomic conditions would help promote and protect children’s rights.  She welcomed the efforts of the Office of the Special Representative and reiterated Thailand’s commitment to fulfilling its international obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol.

OLIVIER MARC ZEHNDER (Switzerland) expressed support for Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, an international non-governmental organization working in northern Uganda to help rehabilitate and reintegrate former female Lord’s Resistance Army soldiers into their communities, while advocating to include sexual violence crimes before the International Criminal Court.  States must investigate and prosecute perpetrators, and when unable or unwilling to do so, the Court could play a key role.  He welcomed the Prosecutor’s initiative to develop a policy on children.  Counter-terrorism measures could help protect children in armed conflict, but they must not impede humanitarian action.  He stressed the importance of engaging with all parties to armed conflict on the protection of children.  He urged immediate implementation of resolution 2286 (2016) and a robust response to charges of United Nations personnel engaged in sexual exploitation and abuse, including by prohibiting Government armed forces listed in annexes to the Office’s reports from contributing troops to peacekeeping operations.

CHARLES WHITELEY of the European Union noted with concern the prevalence of attacks on and use of schools and hospitals for military purposes, stressing that all actors must uphold international humanitarian and human rights law.  Forced displacement had made children vulnerable to abduction and sexual violence.  It was of utmost importance to protect the impartiality of the Secretary-General’s report, including listings in its annexes.  He supported the call on all parties identified in the report to work with the Special Representative to protect children in conflict.  Along with accountability for sexual exploitation and abuse, including by peacekeepers, it was crucial to carry out mandatory predeployment training in child protection.  The Union had mainstreamed the issue of children and armed conflict into its common security and defense policy, while its humanitarian aid had dedicated more than €11.5 million to child protection activities, such as psychosocial support.  A supporter of the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign, the Union would support Governments in implementing the action plans.

AMIT HEUMANN (Israel) said that Israel knew all too well what it meant to face enemies who exploited children as weapons of war.  In southern Lebanon, Hizbullah placed rocket launchers next to kindergartens and stored missiles under children’s homes.  For years, Israel had told the Council about the situation there, but its warnings had fallen on deaf ears.  In Gaza, Hamas used young boys to dig terror tunnels, used children — and their parents and siblings — as human shields and embedded its terror infrastructure in schools, hospitals and civilian neighbourhoods.  It also taught children to see every Israeli child as a potential target.  Palestinian children were being fed a steady diet of hatred for Israel in schools and mosques.  Israel was paying the price of the glorification of terror, he said, with 47 incidents carried out by Palestinian youth since October, including the fatal stabbing of a 13-year-old Israeli girl in her bed.  “For the sake of peace, for the sake of the children on both sides, the international community must send a clear message to the Palestinian leadership,” he said.

SIMON KASSAS of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See said that never in recent memory had so many children been subjected to such violent brutality.  Over the years, the Holy See and numerous Catholic institutions had collaborated with United Nations peacekeeping missions and agencies to help alleviate the suffering of children in armed conflict and to share best practices.  Resolving the plight of children caught up in armed conflict, in particular child soldiers, required sensitivity.  Pathways needed to be built for counselling and reconciliation, with a view to children’s full reintegration into society.  The obligation to end barbaric acts against children in the midst of armed conflict was incumbent on everyone, but particularly on the Council as it called on States to implement stronger measures and ensured that peacekeeping missions adhered to all laws and measures in that regard.

JOSÉ ALBERTO SANDOVAL COJULÚN (Guatemala), associating himself with the Group of Friends on Children and Armed Conflict, said it was imperative that the Special Representative have accurate impartial and timely data on serious violations, as well as resources and leadership.  He condemned mass abductions and killings of children in counter-terrorism operations, stressing that no child should be held without charge.  The best interests of children must be respected.  Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes must have the needed resources and he welcomed initiatives that strengthened international condemnation of violations against children.  Supporting the “Children, Not Soldiers” programme, he encouraged efforts to abide by the actions plans and expressed his support for declaring schools as safe zones.  Guatemala was committed to zero tolerance for abuse, he said, pressing the Council to ensure that perpetrators stood trial and were included on the Sanctions List.  He supported strengthened dialogue with the International Criminal Court, and urged States that had not done so to sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols.

MATEJ MARN (Slovenia), speaking on behalf of the Human Security Network, which advocated a people-centred approach to human security, expressed concern at the increasing numbers of children affected by armed conflict.  Attacks on schools and hospitals and their personnel were prevalent in 2015, requiring immediate attention.  He urged adhering to resolution 2143 (2014), which contained provisions to protect children’s right to education.  Recalling that States were responsible for prosecuting those responsible for violence against children, he said that, in areas where non-State actors had committed crimes, the United Nations must be aware of ground sensitivities and work with the Governments concerned to provide assistance to children and their families.  The International Criminal Court could have an important role to play in that context.  Its convictions and sentencings had marked a turning point for children victims of rape, with its acknowledgement of rape as a war weapon.  The monitoring and reporting mechanism was essential to the child protection mandate.  Its credibility must be supported, especially by engaging with States and using accurate and verifiable information.  He advocated universal ratification for the Optional Protocol on children and armed conflict

Speaking next in his national capacity, he associated with the European Union and the Group of Friends on Children and Armed Conflict, expressing concern at the increasing number of attacks against schools and hospitals.  He encouraged countries that had not yet done so to support the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.  For its part, Slovenia supported non-governmental organizations working to protect children in Lebanon, State of Palestine and Ukraine.  He was appalled that situations in many of the countries in the report had not improved, calling for scaled-up efforts to “protect the youngest among us, and with them, our future”.

PETER LEHMANN NIELSEN (Denmark), also speaking on behalf of Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, said that much of the Secretary-General’s report was heart-breaking to read.  Child protection concerns must be included in all peace negotiations.  Given that armed non-State actors carried out most violations, further reflection on new forms of engagement was needed.  Protecting the integrity and credibility of the Monitoring and Review Mechanism, as well as the Office of the Special Representative, were imperative.  Children’s access to quality education in times of war and disaster must be ensured, in particular for girls, as that could create a sense of normality and hope amid chaos.  Training in child protection for civilian and military personnel was key in order to avoid sexual exploitation and abuse against children.  “We need to let children be children,” he said, reiterating support for the Special Representative, UNICEF and others.

NIDA JAKUBONĖ (Lithuania), also speaking on behalf of Estonia and Latvia, and associating herself with the European Union, said extremists had killed, maimed, abducted, tortured and sexually violated children.  Children had been used to perpetrate acts of terrorism, war crimes or crimes against humanity.  In many conflict situations, schools were under attack or used for military purposes, she said, stressing that States were obliged to ensure the protection of schools.  Children involved in armed conflicts were victims, no matter their role.  Long-term rehabilitation and reintegration programmes must be put in place, while psychological, medical and legal assistance must be provided to children and their families.  All available tools must be used to empower children to participate in political processes, while child protection work should be prioritized in peacekeeping operations, with further deployment of child protection advisers and training on children’s rights.

KHALED HUSSEIN MOHAMED ALYEMANY (Yemen) said that the past 18 months had represented the worst period in its modern history.  Hundreds of children had lost their lives.  Schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure had been targeted.  “We can still hear the cries of martyred children,” he said.  The Houthi militia and the former President’s Republican Guard were enemies of education and science, with the former group turning the university into barracks and planting mines on campus.  Militia leaders still visited schools to recruit children for combat.  Children represented the largest number of Houthi recruits.  Sections of the Secretary-General’s report about Yemen were not detailed enough, he said, asking what methodology was used to verify cases mentioned in the document, which overlooked militia-controlled cities whose children had become combatants.  This year’s report was politicized and it was not objective, but the Government would work with the United Nations through the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign to end violations by armed groups and illegal gangs which did not respect international law.  He called on everyone to work together so that all entities which recruited children were held accountable for their actions.

Mr. NARDI (Liechtenstein) said the annual report illustrated that the suffering of children — including forced abductions and sexual abuse — during armed conflict continued, with very few truly positive developments.  Information in the document had been vetted for accuracy and it had formed a credible and evidence-based listing of perpetrators.  In many cases, the decision by children to join extremist groups was made out of a sense of exclusion and hopelessness.  In that regard, reducing children’s incentives to join such groups through a preventive approach that fostered more inclusive societies was essential, as a solely military and security approach would fail to address the underlying factors driving violent extremism.

DANIJEL MEDAN (Croatia), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict, said the independence, authority and impartiality of the Special Representative must be fully supported.  He emphasized the need for policies to successfully reintegrate former child soldiers and to address their long-term psychological and social needs.  Refugee and displaced children also needed support, he said, and there must be a special focus on the protection of girls.  The response to sexual exploitation and abuse in United Nations missions should be strengthened.  A new way forward was needed towards ending the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, and it was essential for the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism established under resolution 1612 (2005) to maintain its impartiality and objectivity.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH A ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), stressing that children had been deprived of their right to life, expressed concern at the practices of armed groups that had abused and exploited children, including through sexual violence.  The international community must ensure that States abided by international human rights and humanitarian law.  Israel had destroyed schools, recreation centres and imposed constraints such as checkpoints and a separation wall in Palestine.  The Council must address those violations and ensure that those children had hope that their rights would be defended.  For its part, Kuwait planned to host an international conference to address the suffering of Palestinian children.  In Yemen, he commended the removal of the Arab coalition from the list of countries that had committed violations, noting that Kuwait was a member of that coalition.  It had complied with international law.  A delegation should be sent to Riyadh to familiarize itself with measures taken to protect children.  In Syria, 20,000 children had died despite international efforts to protect civilians and the hosting by Kuwait of three donor pledging conferences.

ADAM KRZYWOSĄDZKI (Poland), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict, called the Lucens guidelines for protecting schools and universities from military use during armed conflict an important steps towards protecting and promoting the rights of the child, especially in conflict situations.  Recognizing the importance of the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign, he appreciated Sudan’s decision to sign the Action Plan to protect children from violations in armed conflict, and took note of progress achieved in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Myanmar.  He hoped that a concerted effort by the entire international community would put an end to the issue of children in armed conflict.

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) said the Secretary-General’s report, had, at last, and with some reluctance, addressed the recruiting, torture and killing of children by ISIL and Al-Nusrah over the past five years.  It did not, however, deal with the main reason for the suffering of Syrian children, he said, citing the Wahhabi ideology as consolidated by the House of Saud.  The whole world had been shocked by the horrendous slaughter of a Palestinian child by human beasts belonging to a genetically modified group which some regarded as moderate.  The consciousness of the world recognized how the Wahhabi regime had facilitated the massacre of innocent children in Al-Zara a few months ago.  Such regimes had a contract with the devil himself, he said.  The report also failed to refer to the suffering of children in refugee camps in countries neighbouring Syria.  The Special Representative should investigate the fate of children abducted by terrorist groups in the vicinity of Aleppo, as Syria had stated in letters to the Council.  He called on the office of the Special Representative to provide Syria with the names of six Syrian children who, according to the report, had been recruited by the Government.  He asked why the report’s authors did not refer to economic measures imposed on Syrian people and their children.  The report also totally ignored the suffering of children in the occupied Syrian Golan, he said, adding that many who had spoken of Syria in their statements to the Council were partners to the killing of Syrian people.

NABEEL MUNIR (Pakistan) said that, in the wanton destruction of conflict, countless childhoods had been lost.  Children also paid the heaviest price in forced migration as a result of conflict.  Efforts, such as the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign had contributed to the emergence of a global consensus that no circumstances justified recruitment and use of children in conflict.  Yet, more must be done.  Strengthening compliance and accountability mechanisms, applied to all parties, was essential.  Perpetrators of abuse against children must be identified and brought to justice through national judicial systems, and where applicable, international justice mechanisms.  Legal frameworks with investigative and prosecution capacities must be established.  Stressing that the root causes of conflicts must be addressed, he said Pakistan was proud to be among the six co-initiators of the 1990 World Summit for Children.  While Pakistan supported the Special Representative’s mandate, it believed its legal parameters must be respected.

ABDERRAZZAK LAASSEL (Morocco) said 20 million children had been displaced by conflict, including within their own countries, while 250,000 children around the world were involved in armed conflict.  Morocco was working to ensure that children’s rights were promoted.  It had acceded to all texts to protect and promote children’s rights and been among the first countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s Optional Protocol on children and armed conflict.  It also had joined international efforts to end children’s involvement in armed conflict.  A multifaceted approach that addressed the root causes of conflict was needed, as was an approach that focused on prevention which involved all stakeholders and considered the evolutionary nature of armed conflict.  In Yemen, the use of force and efforts to undermine national dialogue by the Houthis meant that a rapid solution to the situation must be found.  He expressed Morocco’s solidarity with Saudi Arabia, noting that his country had rejoined the Yemen coalition, which had been established, based on respect for United Nations Charter principles following the military escalation by Houthis.  Its goal was to support political transition in Yemen and the outcome of the national conference on dialogue.

GILLIAN BIRD (Australia), noting that 115,000 child soldiers had been released since the start of the Special Representative’s mandate, said armed conflict still took an unacceptably high toll on children.  The delisting of nine parties which had fully implemented action plans demonstrated that the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign could make real change.  Expressing deep concern over frequent attacks on medical facilities, she said it was crucial that resolution 2286 (2016) be fully implemented.  She also welcomed the Secretary-General’s commitment to ban from peacekeeping missions those Government forces repeatedly listed in the annexes of reports on children and armed conflict.

MIGUEL CAMILO RUIZ BLANCO (Colombia) said that, 20 years after the publication of the Graça Machel report — which helped countries develop national action plans to address children in armed conflict — the scale and increasing severity of the grave rights violations continued.  Colombia had scaled up efforts to address the needs of child victims.  Welcoming the announcement by the FARC to end its recruitment, he noted that the Government had adopted a special comprehensive programme, and around 6,000 children had been released from the group.

MARTÍN GARCIA MORITÁN (Argentina), underscoring the importance of preventive measures, called upon all parties to immediately end and take steps to prevent violations against children.  Argentina was one of the first States to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, he said, emphasizing that the international community must increase its pressure on States and non-State actors.  He supported the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign.  In their efforts, States must provide assistance to victims and ensure that children were provided access to education.

KAREL J.G. VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands), associating himself with the European Union, said the Secretary-General’s report was a stark reminder that there was no room for complacency.  Worrying trends — including a growing number of abductions, the effects of violent extremism and the impact of forced displacement of children — demonstrated a need for more action.  Fighting and preventing violent extremism should address root causes.  Noting the situation in Aleppo, he called on the Council to ensure agreement on 48-hour humanitarian corridors while redoubling efforts to reach a diplomatic solution in Syria.  Holding parties to conflict accountable required a strong and credible monitoring and reporting mechanism, he added, expressing concern about a recurring trend in recent years to alter the contents of the Secretary-General’s reports and to influence the listing of perpetrators, which could in turn undermine the Organization’s credibility.

JAN KICKERT (Austria) said the United Nations work on children and armed conflict had made substantial progress over the past 20 years.  Working for a more peaceful world had to start with children.  He outlined a number of prevention projects under way in Austria, such as awareness-raising workshops for teachers and students, “mothers’ schools” which taught immigrant and refugee mothers how to work against the potential radicalization of their children, and language support groups for children displaced by armed conflict.  He went on to welcome the United Nations commitment to better training of peacekeeping and humanitarian personnel, saying Austria had cooperated with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in developing training materials on child protection for military peacekeepers and hosting “train-the-trainer” courses for troop-contributing countries.

RY TUY (Cambodia) said that attacks against children were on the rise, and there was no safe haven for them to escape.  “The international community cannot continue to tolerate the impunity of non-State armed groups, and must respond swiftly and effectively,” he said, stressing the need to strengthen existing legal instruments.  As a State party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and a signatory to its Optional Protocols, Cambodia continued to support United Nations initiatives.  He regretted that children, in seeking safety and peace at refugee camps, had been recruited to serve as soldiers, taken sexual advantage of, abducted and victimized.  In that regard, successful reintegration of children into society was a crucial consideration, he said, stressing the need to prioritize reintegration programmes focused on education, health and social welfare of children.

PASCAL BUFFIN (Belgium), expressing concern about the continuous violence against children in armed conflict, underscored the need to address the root causes.  Drawing attention to the increasing number of child abductions, he welcomed that such violations had been listed in the Annex to the Secretary-General’s report.  He urged Member States, who had not done so, to sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols.  For its part, Belgium had organized an event last month in New York, enabling States to exchange best practices on reintegration.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), associating himself with ASEAN, said it was disturbing that child combatants were being forced into some type of strategic task, such as espionage or logistics, where they could be harmed.  The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provided a common platform to advance peace worldwide through economic and social equality.  He hoped for stronger emphasis to be given to conflict prevention.  That would involve protecting the minds of children from being contaminated by violence.  Ending violence against children could not be achieved through silo and sporadic approaches.  It was imperative to comprehensively identify real actions to address the impact of armed conflict on children.  Indonesia encouraged Member States that had not yet done so to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on children in armed conflict, as well as to support efforts to fulfil the fundamental rights of children through child protection legislation, among other measures.

ALVARO JOSÉ DE MENDONÇA E MOURA (Portugal), associating himself with the European Union, said the impact of armed conflict on children — and its long-term consequences for durable peace, security and development — were undeniable, with the actions of extremist non-State armed groups and massive forced displacement exacerbating the situation.  The Council must continue to address the issue, he said, noting with concern attacks on schools and hospitals and their use for military purposes.  The Council had a political and ethical responsibility to send a clear message that abuse against children was unacceptable, and it also had to combat a sense of impunity among belligerents responsible for atrocities.  “Where national authorities fail to take the necessary steps to ensure accountability, the Security Council can, as appropriate, play a more proactive role,” he said.   Portugal strongly supported the inclusion of child protection advisers in peacekeeping mandates, as well as mandatory predeployment training and the effective screening of peacekeepers to ensure that those who had committed grave violations against children did not serve with the United Nations.

ISBETH LISBETH QUIEL MURCIA (Panama) said that the increasing number of children affected by armed conflicts was a result of the collective failure to prevent violations of international law and human rights.  It was alarming that nearly 250 million children were living in countries and areas affected by war, and were subjected to violence.  To address sexual exploitation, abductions, forced recruitments and displacements, the international community must address the root causes, he said, emphasizing the need to find effective ways to guarantee and protect children’s rights.

AMRITH ROHAN PERERA (Sri Lanka) urged States to respond to violent extremism with a multipronged approach that addressed the root causes of poverty, marginalization and disaffection which killed, maimed or forcibly displaced or radicalized children.  Children should not be detained unless charged with recognizable offences and only in accordance with juvenile justice standards and rules of international law.  Sri Lanka had witnessed the horror of child soldiers used as combatants by non-State armed groups.  Called the “Baby Brigade”, 50 per cent of its members were girls, many of them forcibly taken from their schools.  When the conflict ended in May 2009, the 594 child combatants were considered by the Government as victims and provided with education, psychological support, as well as spiritual, sociophysiological and leadership training.  Such efforts had led the United Nations to delist Sri Lanka from Annex II of the Secretary-General’s report on child combatants in 2012.  To reduce child recruitment, political and economic pressure must be brought to bear on the offending party, while resources must be mobilized for rehabilitation and the socioeconomic, political and ideological dynamics that had seduced children into groups, such as ISIL, addressed.  He also urged the listing of perpetrators, stronger monitoring, reporting and response to child rights’ violations and implementation of United Nations action plans with armed forces and groups listed in the report annexes.

NADYA RASHEED, observer for the State of Palestine, said Palestinians had been living under Israeli occupation for nearly half a century.  Unprotected, Palestinian children continued to be killed, injured and terrorized by the occupying Power with impunity.  Since October 2015, a wave of aggression had killed more than 40 Palestinian children, many by extrajudicial execution.  During the reporting period, an increased number of Palestinian children had been arrested and detained by Israeli forces, a number of them held under administrative detention.  In occupied East Jerusalem alone, 860 Palestinian children had been arrested, 136 of whom were between 7 and 11 years old.  Detailing other violence against children in Gaza, she said all such violations must cease, pressing the Council to provide assistance and protection to Palestinian children as long as the occupation continued and to hold accountable violators of international law.

LANA NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates) said that, in Syria, children had been out of school for six years while thousands had been killed.  In the occupied Palestinian territories, generations of children had been deprived of basic fundamental freedoms.  The wide-spread recruitment and use of children as tools of war by Da’esh and other terrorist groups were equally abhorrent and must be ended.  In order to strengthen the impact of future reports in the shared interest of protecting children, it was essential to consult regularly with national Governments, reconsider the utility of the Annex list and establish clear and transparent mechanisms.  “Durable solutions for stability are not gained militarily alone,” she said, noting that the United Arab Emirates and its international partners were building long-term institutional capacity in Yemen.  Furthermore, her country had continued to address the urgent humanitarian need on the ground by providing $900 million since the operation in Yemen had started.

NKOLOI NKOLOI (Botswana), reaffirming his country’s commitment to the protection and promotion of children’s rights, said that the international community had a moral obligation to pay attention to the welfare of all children.  He supported efforts aimed at preventing violations against children in armed conflicts and welcomed the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign.  The nature and character of conflict had changed with the involvement of non-State actors, requiring urgent and decisive action by the Security Council.  Despite progress, the scale and horror of abuse that children faced was deeply concerning.  As States had the primary responsibility to protect their populations, he encouraged the international community to focus on national ownership and responsibility, engage with the parties concerned, and systematically monitor commitments.

IRENE SUSAN BARREIRO NATIVIDAD (Philippines), associating herself with ASEAN, said that providing the best protection for children meant working towards ending conflict and creating an environment that would enable them to learn and grow.  For that reason, the new Administration in the Philippines was committed to starting dialogue and forging peace pacts with various armed groups.  The Department of National Defence had set out policies to protect children during armed conflict situations, while legislation to that effect was awaiting passage by Congress.  Noting incidents cited in the Secretary-General’s report on violations of children’s rights in indigenous communities, the Philippines committed to addressing those concerns and bringing the perpetrators to justice.  The armed forces would meanwhile keep working with the United Nations on a strategic plan to deal with grave violations of children’s rights in conflict situations.

IGNACE GATA MAVITA WA LUFUTA (Democratic Republic of the Congo) addressed the portion of the Secretary-General’s report dealing with his country, reminding the Council that there were no longer child soldiers in the Congolese national army.  Those child soldiers that had been identified came from armed groups, he said, noting that the 10 children mentioned as being part of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) had been the subject of an inquiry and the perpetrators had been brought to justice.  Allegations of children injured or killed by Government forces had not been brought to the technical working group, as per proper protocol, and the Government did not admit or confess to such events.  The use of schools for military means was not tolerated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and all military units had been trained in international humanitarian law.

Among other things, the country had held awareness-raising campaigns, set up a structure to combat sexual violence and the recruitment of children, signed an action plan with the United Nations to end child recruitment, undertaken efforts to discipline soldiers guilty of violating the rights of children and established new courts to try serious crimes against children, he said.  It was also continuing to implement the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign and some 46,000 children linked with armed groups had been demobilized to date.  Noting that more work remained in that regard, he said further efforts were needed to neutralize the country’s armed groups in order to bring the recruitment of child soldiers to an end.

MARC-ANDRÉ BLANCHARD (Canada), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict, an informal network of 40 interested Member States, welcomed the evolution of a strong normative and institutional framework regarding the issue.  The Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism had been a key element of the success of the children and armed conflict agenda and it was important that it be able to document grave violations impartially and objectively.  The Group welcomed the signing of action plans by eight countries which had been listed by the Secretary-General for recruiting children.  It also commended the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign.  However, the Group was deeply concerned by the use of children by armed groups.  Better consideration should be given to preventing the radicalization and recruitment of children, separating children from armed groups and reintegrating them into their societies.  “Throughout this process, we must not lose sight that these children should be treated as victims, not perpetrators,” he said.  The Group called on all parties to protect schools and hospitals, in line with international humanitarian and human rights law, and encouraged Governments to act urgently to respect the rights of forcibly displaced children.  It also condemned in the strongest terms ongoing incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse against children, especially if committed by United Nations forces and staff, and called on the international community to redouble its efforts to combat that scourge.

Speaking in his national capacity, he said Canada was horrified by the rise of armed groups which recruited and used children.  He called on Member States to give steadfast political and financial support to the Special Representative.  One of the simplest ways to help displaced and refugee children was to offer them a welcoming hand, he said, adding that Canada was proud to have resettled nearly 30,000 Syrian refugees in the past year and felt obligated to accept more.  He welcomed the Secretary-General’s commitment to prohibit Government armed forces listed in his reports on children and armed conflict from contributing troops to peacekeeping operations.  Emphasizing that it was not enough to deplore abuse, he said it was incumbent on all Member States to do what they could to support children in armed conflict, at home and abroad.

CATHERINE BOURA (Greece) said her country attached great importance to the international monitoring and reporting mechanism for mass and grave violations against children.  In protracted conflicts and humanitarian crises, children were directly affected and had become targeted victims.  More needed to be done to ensure that children were able grow up in a safe environment, free from exploitation and any forms of abuse or violence.  Having ratified the relevant international normative framework for the protection of children, Greece had joined the Safe Schools Declaration, which called upon parties to avoid using educational buildings for military purposes.  On refugee crisis, she stressed that Greece spared no effort to provide assistance and protect the rights of children fleeing from armed conflicts.  Only in 2015, the Hellenic Coastguard had rescued more than 150,000 people at sea, including thousands of children.

OMER DAHAB FADL MOHAMED (Sudan) said the Secretary-General’s report lacked accuracy and drew a negative picture of the situation in Darfur, which was no longer in a state of internal armed conflict.  Commenting on several of its paragraphs, he said Sudan was confident there were no minors serving in its Rapid Support Forces.  Child conscripts in armed movements who had been captured in battles had been dealt with in accordance with international and national humanitarian law, provided with humanitarian and psychological assistance, and would be released.  Sudan hoped that, by signing a plan of action with the United Nations for the protection of children in armed conflict, its name would be removed from the Secretary-General’s reports.  Regarding Yemen, he stressed the noble objectives of the Arab coalition — of which Sudan was an integral part — to restore legitimacy to that country and to protect civilians, including children.  Going forward, he hoped that the Security Council’s working group on children and armed conflict would pay more attention to verifying information and to avoid politicization and selectivity.  Sudan for its part would continue to cooperate with the office of the Special Representative.

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh) said that children continued to be disproportionately affected by armed conflicts around the world.  The recent news about children demonstrated the limits of the global reach in communication.  The sight of children being killed in despicable terrorist attacks in Peshawar or Nice defied the international community’s faith in human sanity.  Furthermore, the images of hapless children on boats or swimming ashore in the Mediterranean or the Andaman Seas had shown the horrifying realities of protracted armed conflicts.  Yet, there were some grounds for solace.  The “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign was gaining momentum, and the United Nations sponsored action plans to remove children combat operations were largely going in the right direction.  “The growing number of children displaced due to conflicts posed a real test for our humanitarian principles,” he said, stressing that the international community must commit to their protection and well-being as a shared responsibility.  In addition, he emphasized that the lurking shadow of violent extremism and terrorism that haunted children’s lives everywhere must not be allowed to be the new normal.

HAYFA ALI AHMED MATAR (Bahrain) recalled that recent years had seen a dreadful increase in the number of crimes against children in armed conflict, especially in Africa and the Middle East.  Extremist armed groups, in particular, systematically violated the rights of children, including by kidnapping them for recruitment and use in suicide bombings.  Noting that the Israeli occupation was also violating the rights of children, she said today’s debate was a vital step towards assessing progress made on the issue.  She welcomed the fact that the coalition working in Yemen had been deleted from the Annex to the Secretary-Generals’ report, recalling that the coalition had invited a United Nations group to visit Riyadh.  Serious efforts were needed to bring an end to crimes against children, she said, calling in particular for technical and logistical support to ensure that perpetrators did not enjoy impunity.

CARLOS SERGIO SOBRAL DUARTE (Brazil), reiterating his strongest condemnation of the recruitment and use of children, as well as other violations and abuses, expressed concern over alarming reports that certain parties which had committed such violations might have been omitted from the Annex to the Secretary-General’s report because of undue political pressure.  As pointed out by the report, accountability for violence against children remained too rare, even in countries that had criminalized their recruitment.  “Protection of children from serious crimes goes hand in hand with tackling impunity and ensuring that perpetrators are held accountable,” he said in that regard.  Noting that the militarization of educational institutions had devastating consequences, and that their use for military purposes could contribute to the dissemination of extremist narratives, he drew attention to the worrying detention of children on national security grounds.  Conflict prevention remained the most ethical and effective approach to shield all civilians, including children, from the plight of war.  In that regard, the Peacebuilding Commission could play a constructive role in fostering social cohesion in countries emerging from conflict, thereby rendering children and youth less vulnerable to recruitment and abuse, including by terrorist groups.

MOHAMED ALI ALHAKIM (Iraq), while expressing concern about the scale and severity of the human rights violations, acknowledged the support provided to his country.  Drawing attention to the growing threat posed by violent extremism, he said that it had led to the displacement of innocent people.  As one of the States that suffered the most from that phenomenon, Iraq had witnessed that Da’esh had used children to achieve its horrendous goals.  The terrorist organization had also deprived children from accessing to quality education while teaching them using the “Da’esh syllabus”.  It had executed dozens of doctors who had refused to follow their orders, and had placed bombs in houses and hospitals to block humanitarian aid.  Concerning the Secretary-General’s report, he decried that it had accused the Iraqi security forces and questioned the reliability of sources.

CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile), associating with the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict and with the Human Security Network, said States had a primary responsibility to combat and end impunity in cases involving heinous crimes against children.  He called for reparations for victims of atrocities, including children.  The reintegration and rehabilitation of children affected by grave violations should be at the heart of mediation processes and peace efforts.  Child protection advisers should have direct access to heads of peacekeeping missions.  Reports and lists of those responsible for grave violations should be based on verified, timely and impartial information.  Expressing concern over the use of schools and hospitals for military purposes, he said the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign must be accompanied by the effective implementation of action plans by committed States.

GÜVEN BEGEÇ (Turkey) said his delegation had seen the impact of protracted conflicts on children in its own neighbourhood, noting with regret that the international community had not been able to prevent death and injuries sustained by thousands of children during attacks and airstrikes that were often carried out indiscriminately on schools, hospitals, market places and camps for internally displaced persons.  As long as such violations of international humanitarian law continued, the forced displacement of children would not cease.  Moreover, the increasing involvement of non-State armed groups in violating the basic rights of children was of concern.  Joint and robust political determination, as well as concerted action, was needed to address the issue.  Tackling terrorism and violent extremism required a comprehensive approach including the education of youth.  In the face of recent waves of displacement across the region, Turkey had pursued an “open-door” policy for Syrians fleeing the conflict, and provided children with free health care, enrolment in Turkish schools and psychosocial support.  Noting that he would not address the “baseless accusations” made against his country by the Syrian representative, he went on to quote from the Secretary-General’s report concerning the Syrian Government’s activities against civilians.

MOH’D KAIS MUFLEH ALBATAYNEH (Jordan), expressing regret over the systematic violations against children, called upon the international community to provide necessary protection to those in need.  States had the primary responsibility to protect their citizens through relevant policies and holding perpetrators accountable.  At the regional level, it was critical to exchange information and share best practices to protect victims and meet their needs.  Further, he welcomed the Secretary-General’s decision to establish child protection units in peacekeeping operations.  On the crisis in Syria, he noted that the explanation provided by the Syrian delegation was an attempt to divert attention from reality.  Since the beginning, Jordan had hosted millions of Syrian refugees, including thousands of women and children.

HAU DO SUAN (Myanmar) said his country’s efforts to stop child recruitment had intensified since it signed the joint action plan with the United Nations on 27 June 2012.  A total of 744 former child soldiers had been released and reintegrated into their families, while actions had been taken against 382 military personnel.  Among those released, 553 had benefitted from Government programmes for education, vocational training and jobs.  A nationwide “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign had been launched with hotlines to receive complaints or enquiries, while legal briefings on prevention and the Geneva Conventions had continued.  The Government was working worked to identify gaps for compliance and delisting.  In May, the Committee for the Prevention of Recruitment of Minors in Military Service was formed to enforce recruitment procedures, among other things.  It had signed a new joint action plan with the United Nations country team on monitoring and reporting.  Myanmar had prioritized peace and national reconciliation and was preparing to hold a Union Peace Conference at month’s end for all armed groups.  Representatives of the Government, political parties, ethnic nationalities and civil society would attend.

NGUYEN PHUONG NGA (Viet Nam), associating herself with the ASEAN, said protection efforts were falling short of aspirations, as children continued to be deprived their basic rights and needs in both armed conflict and post-conflict situations.  All parties to conflict must end acts such as abductions and attacks against schools and hospitals by complying with international human rights and humanitarian law.  She urged addressing the root causes of conflict by promoting sustainable development, poverty eradication and national reconciliation, stressing that priority be given to children in post-conflict situations and for United Nations agencies to devote more resources to education and both mental and physical health services.  Viet Nam was among the first countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Mr. AL HADAIFI (Qatar) said that building safe and stable societies started with the protection of children.  While acknowledging global efforts to put an end to violence against children, he regretted that armed conflicts continued to devastate their lives.  “Children pay the biggest price and cannot protect themselves,” he said, calling upon States to respect for the rules of international humanitarian law applicable to them in armed conflicts.  Stressing the importance of providing access to education, he said that Qatar had endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration.

HUSNIYYA MAMMADOVA (Azerbaijan) said the impact of violent extremism on children — in particular the use of the Internet and social media to brainwash and recruit children as combatants, suicide bombers and executioners — had reached an alarming level.  Stressing that purely military and security approaches were not sufficient, she said there was a need to focus on the triggers of violent extremism and provide greater support to education as a powerful tool to counter extremist ideologies.  The war waged against her country by Armenia had claimed the lives of tens of thousands of civilians, including children.  The perpetrators of such violations, among them the political and military leadership of Armenia, continued to enjoy impunity.  She went on to emphasize that any engagement with non-State actors should be done exclusively with the consent of the legitimate Government of the territory on which those groups operated.  Otherwise, there was a risk of sending the message that “violence pays” and granting privileges to such groups which undermined the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political unity of United Nations Member States.

AMJAD QASSEM AGHA (Syria), taking the floor again, rejected the allegations made by the representatives of Jordan and Turkey.  Syria was taking an evidence-based approach, he said, noting that Syrians in the refugee camps in those countries had suffered from maimings and killings.

For information media. Not an official record.