Following is UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ message, delivered by Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, Chef de Cabinet, to the informal meeting on the twentieth anniversary of General Assembly resolution 51/77 on children and armed conflict, in New York today:
[It is a pleasure for me to be with you today on this important occasion. From his previous United Nations role, the Secretary-General carries forward a deep commitment to the protection of conflict-affected children, and he attaches great importance to the children and armed conflict mandate. He has asked me to deliver a message on his behalf to mark the twentieth anniversary of the General Assembly’s creation of this ground-breaking mandate. I will now deliver the Secretary-General’s message.]
Since its creation in 1996, the children and armed conflict mandate has galvanized much-needed collective efforts to bring an end to egregious violations against children.
Successive special representatives have used their moral authority to advocate tirelessly on behalf of children, securing commitments to end violations by parties to conflict. They have deepened our understanding of the impact of conflict on children, building on the landmark Machel report. And I would like to pay tribute to the great work Ms. [Leila] Zerrougui has been doing, as well as to her predecessors.
The mandate has helped to make a tangible difference to the lives of boys and girls in many countries. Thanks to the efforts of Governments, the United Nations and civil society partners, more than 100,000 children have been released from the ranks of armed forces and groups, and given support to reintegrate into society.
Dialogue on the protection of children with concrete deliverables has also been established with parties to conflict, including non-State actors. However, the persistence and multiplication of conflicts continues to place children at grave risk. The number of children killed and maimed in the context of armed conflict, and deprived of their liberty, remains unacceptable.
The scale and nature of atrocities committed against children by both State and non-State actors have reached shocking new proportions. Children and their families are being displaced in unprecedented numbers. Across today’s conflicts, we have seen homes and schools directly targeted and food and water supplies deliberately cut off, depriving children of their basic rights. The best way we can truly protect children is by preventing conflict. Investing in prevention will be a hallmark of my tenure.
For the future, we need to do far more to prevent war and sustain peace. And to do that, we must create the conditions for inclusive and sustainable development. We must strengthen action to address root causes of conflict — discrimination, inequalities, marginalization and other human rights violations — and sharpen our early-warning mechanisms. To this end, Member States and the United Nations must strengthen our partnership and ensure concrete progress in implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
I would like to highlight two priority areas that are prerequisites for both peace and development. First, education; good-quality education systems can help transform societies, especially those affected by conflict. Equality, respect and tolerance learned in the classroom have an impact throughout society, while schools are powerful symbols of investment in people.
Second, youth unemployment deprives millions of young people of the opportunity to fulfil their potential, and plays a part in violent conflict and the rise of global terrorism. Productive employment and decent work are essential for stable, safe societies.
Education, training and job creation are part of the solution. Each year of education for boys and girls increases their earning potential, while reducing the risk of their involvement in conflict. Educating girls is essential for gender equality and significantly improves their employment and life chances.
But when prevention fails, we must ensure that the tools created by the international community over the past two decades are used effectively and strengthened. To promote informed and timely action, we need to continue to monitor and report on violations against children. We also need to continue to strengthen engagement with local and national authorities, regional partners and civil society to prevent and protect children from grave violations. The forthcoming Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty can also make an important contribution, and I call on States to support it.
We also need to urgently prioritize support for children who have been affected by armed conflict. With the Convention on the Rights of the Child having close to universal ratification, Governments have a clear framework of action in this regard. Seventeen years ago, Governments adopted an Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, aimed at protecting and preventing children from being used in hostilities and recruited by State forces as well as by armed groups. To date, it has been ratified by 166 States. I call for its universal ratification.
I welcome this timely opportunity to renew our focus on address the intolerable impact of armed conflict on children. I call on our Member States and partners to use this anniversary to recommit to upholding the fundamental rights of children, and to redouble our efforts to protect children from the scourge of war.
The devastating images we see on a daily basis from conflicts across the world are a stark reminder that we have not achieved our goal. Children have a right to a childhood in peace, and the realization of their full potential. Let us make that a reality.
I wish you a productive meeting.