30 January 2008


30 January 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


While sexual violence and child exploitation persisted, progress had been registered in the last year to stem the recruitment and use of child soldiers around the world, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, told reporters at a Headquarters press conference today.

Presenting the Secretary-General’s report on Children and Armed Conflict, which was made public yesterday, she said that an open debate on the report would be held in the Security Council on 12 February.  Her Office would advocate that the debate culminate in a text, either a resolution or a presidential statement, among other things, advancing dialogue on a mechanism to address persistent violators.

She explained that the report had been prepared at the Council’s request, and information had been collected from various country teams, which had also verified data received from non-governmental organizations.  Contributors to the report -- including the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), among others -- confirmed the information before it was shared with the countries involved.

Among the emerging cross-cutting themes was the link between internally displaced persons camps and child recruitment, and research had shown that recruitment fell when good camp security existed, she noted.  Other hot-button issues included:  cross-border movements, notably between the Sudan and Chad, and the Congo and Rwanda; child detention, particularly in Burundi, Iraq and Afghanistan; special procedures for juvenile justice; school attacks, particularly in Afghanistan, Iraq and Thailand; the reintegration of child soldiers into communities; and the overall changing nature of warfare, given the increased use of children as suicide bombers, and a growing link between criminal gangs and shifting borders.

She said her Office remained concerned about several areas, including in Afghanistan and Iraq, where suicide bombings and the use of child combatants persisted.  Child recruitment and sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was occurring at “unconscionable levels”, while child recruitment for political violence continued to unfold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Nonetheless, important precedents were being set in the fight against impunity, she continued.  The International Criminal Court had handed down its first indictment in the a child soldier recruitment case of Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, while another such charge had been made against former Liberian leader Charles Taylor.  The Special Court for Sierra Leone’s sentencing of Armed Forces Revolutionary Counsel leaders Alex Tamba Brima, Brima Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Kanu was also cause for optimism.

Moreover, she added, her Office had de-listed Côte d’Ivoire from the report’s “list of shame”, as parties there had entered into and completed time-bound action plans to address children’s needs.  Such plans were also under way in Uganda, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and the Sudan, while Sierra Leone and Liberia had been entirely dropped from the report, as they were no longer involved in the grave violations monitored by her Office.

To a question on actions taken against persistent violators, Ms. Coomaraswamy said that Security Council resolution 1612 (2005) outlined target measures, such as asset freezing and travel bans.  However, there was a “procedure issue” in that, where no sanctions committees existed, there was no mechanism to move forward.  Her Office was encouraging the Security Council to start a dialogue on establishing such a mechanism.

To a query about who was committing sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she said that such violence had occurred in the Kivus, and that the two parties bearing primary responsibility were the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) rebels and armed group leader Laurent Nkunda.  Her Office had also received reports that Government troops had been involved.

As to whether United Nations peacekeepers had been involved in sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she responded that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations had been very aggressive in dealing with that issue.  She estimated that there had been about 180 cases over the course of four or five years.  She believed that the Security Council would approve unanimously a presidential statement or a resolution against such acts.

On Security Council sanctions against individuals who recruited child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she said that the sanctions committee concerned with that country had already acted with regard to some groups.  There was also a dialogue with the country.  But where there were no sanctions committees, a way forward must be developed.

As for the number of child soldiers globally, she said the figure was between 250,000 and 300,000.  Regarding the situation in Myanmar, she said that the Government had set up a committee for the prevention of the use of child soldiers, and was negotiating an action plan with UNICEF for those children.  However, the Army was a large institution and had discretion to “act on its own” at the regional and other levels.  Her Office relied on reports from non-governmental organizations about grave violations such as sexual violence, but could not verify such allegations, due to a lack of access to the conflict zones.

Regarding the overall effect of placing parties on a “list of shame”, she said that United Nations offices, including her own, were trying to start a dialogue with the groups to develop action plans for releasing child soldiers.  As some States did not wish to foster discussion with non-State actors, a technical procedure for that must be found.  In Afghanistan, child protection officers had just been approved to join peacekeeping operations, and her Office would need to negotiate permission for them to speak with the Taliban.

Asked for more information on recruitment from internally displaced persons camps, she said that University of Pittsburgh research on the causes of child recruitment in Liberia had shown that, where camps were securely guarded, recruitment was about half of what existed in non-secure camps.  Recruitment was often perpetrated by outsiders, and if humanitarian workers were made aware of the situation, they could work with security officers to prevent it.

Concerning the ideological aspects of attacking schools, and whether incidents in Gaza had been perpetrated by Hamas, Israelis or others, she said that details on specific attacks in Gaza were outlined in the report.  There had been attacks by Israelis, sometimes by people hiding in the schools.  The broader ideological issue was worrying, particularly vis-à-vis women’s rights.  Schools focusing on secular, rather than religious education -- such as in Afghanistan, Iraq and Thailand -- could become targets of ideologically motivated violence.

To a question about immunity and whether the United Nations processes sufficiently took into account child recruitment issues, she said there was no immunity for war crimes relating to the recruitment and use of child soldiers, or sexual violence.  Her Office reported to the Security Council.  As for abuse among United Nations personnel, she said that, while the incident involving Sri Lankan peacekeepers accused of sexual exploitation of children in Haiti had not occurred during the study’s reporting period, she would continue to monitor United Nations behaviour.   Sri Lanka had fully cooperated with the repatriation process, and cases were being brought against those who had committed crimes.

Asked about holding accountable under-aged perpetrators of violence, she cited her Office’s involvement in a case of an American accused of war crimes when he was 15.  The United Nations position in the Sierra Leone court, among others, was to try those most responsible for crimes.  However, her Office had put forward the idea of alternative justice mechanisms to deal with child offenders, such as truth and reconciliation commissions and juvenile justice courts.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.