We Need You People to Stand Up, Briefer Tells Members, as Survivors from Sierra Leone, Sudan Describe Horrors from Child’s Perspective
Calling attention to the plight of tens of thousands of children detained in war-torn countries and 420 million others growing up in conflict-affected places, delegates told the Security Council that much more must be done to ensure they fully enjoy their right to be protected.
During a day-long open debate on children and armed conflict, more than 80 delegates voiced concerns about the effects on children of the ongoing conflict in Yemen and the dire conditions in Myanmar. They also heard briefings from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict and the Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), both of whom outlined the current landscape and highlighted challenges ahead.
The Council also heard from two survivors, who described the horrors of war from a child’s perspective. “We need you people to stand up and do more,” Mariatu Kamara, UNICEF Canada Ambassador, told the Council after recounting her own harrowing story of abduction, mutilation and survival following a 1999 rebel attack on her village in Sierra Leone. Recalling that she was only 11 years old at the time, she said that she and other children became targets during the conflict, which lasted from 1991 until 2002. She went on to warn Council members that doing nothing to address the needs of children emerging from conflict situations will only generate more conflict. She went on to say that now, as a UNICEF special representative for children in armed conflict, she works to promote children’s rights. She underlined the importance of helping children with disabilities during and after conflict, as well as the need to deploy child-protection experts.
Majok Peter Awan, a child protection professional, recalled that he was recruited at age 7, in 1979, by a local rebel group fighting the Khartoum Government in what is now South Sudan, as well as the six months of intensive military training he was forced to endure. He said that although that trauma had an impact on his life, he managed to escape and reach a refugee camp, where he eventually recovered — something not all children are able to do. “Not enough has been done so far, which is a shame since there is no excuse for not knowing the harsh situation of these children,” he said, appealing to the Council to ensure they get the support they need to heal, both physically and psychologically. “Child protection programming, including individualized psychosocial support, education and livelihoods opportunities, are key in the recovery of children and their families affected by conflict.”
Virginia Gamba, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, presented the latest report of the Secretary-General (document S/2019/509). Citing recent gains, including the signing of action plans with non-State actors and agreements with Governments and key stakeholders to galvanize protection efforts, she said the report contains country-level updates and assesses progress on eliminating the six grave violations against children: killing and maiming children; recruiting or using them as soldiers; sexual violence against them; abduction; attacks against schools or hospitals; and denying humanitarian access to children. Unfortunately, the situation is not improving, and in some areas, it is worsening, she said, pointing out that the 24,000 violations against conflict-affected children documented in 2018 is up from 21,000 in 2017.
“We need to prioritize action on the ground and also protect the staff who do it,” she said, emphasizing: “We need to strain every sinew at the highest level to prevent violations, but we also need to be able to respond quickly to violations when they occur.” Rape and other forms of sexual violence are often underreported and greater accountability mechanisms could significantly advance progress in this area, she said. Moreover, too many children continue to be detained as a result of conflict, exposed to alarming levels of violence when they should be considered as victims, particularly those currently or allegedly associated with foreign fighters.
Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, also expressed concern about the tens of thousands of children associated with armed groups and currently languishing in camps, detention centres and orphanages in Iraq, Syria and other countries. They are shunned by their communities because of perceived or actual links with groups designated as terrorists, she said, adding: “When children leave these groups, they should receive urgently needed protection and humanitarian assistance…instead of being ostracized, rejected and locked up.” Highlighting UNICEF projects that address these and other needs, she said that a decade after the Council adopted resolution 1882 (2009), the facts demonstrate that “we have miles to go” to end grave violations against children in armed conflict. “Protecting the lives and futures of children affected by armed conflict is not just the right thing to do, it is in our collective self-interest,” she emphasized.
Council members shared the sense of urgent need for immediate action, with Equatorial Guinea’s representative saying that the survivors who briefed the Council demonstrated that violations continue. What became of the progress that humankind claims to have achieved, he asked, reminding Council members that most of them are mothers and fathers. As long as children keep dying on the front lines, humankind has most certainly not made progress, he stressed.
Representatives of conflict-affected States also shared their perspectives, with Yemen’s delegate saying the Houthi militia fighting his country’s Governments have recruited more than 30,000 children in a conflict that has ruined the lives of 4 million youngsters. While the Government has adopted several protection measures, the armed Houthi militia have established summer camps to attract children into their ranks, in violation of all international laws and norms.
Côte d’Ivoire’s representative, pointing out that his country was the first to be removed from the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict, recalled that the action plan was established in collaboration with the United Nations to effect the release and reintegration of thousands of children and to incorporate protection and children’s rights into military training modules.
Also speaking today was the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Poland, as well as representatives of Belgium China, United States, France, Germany, Peru, Dominican Republic, South Africa, Kuwait, United Kingdom, Russian Federation, Indonesia, Morocco, Norway (also on behalf of the Nordic countries), Liechtenstein, Canada (also on behalf of the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict), Portugal, Ecuador, Andorra, Japan, Egypt, Mexico, Philippines, Switzerland, El Salvador, Italy, Ukraine, Estonia (also on behalf of Latvia and Lithuania), Brazil, Fiji, Pakistan, Slovenia, Saudi Arabia, Guatemala, Thailand, Israel, Argentina, Uruguay, Spain, Ireland, Republic of Korea, India, San Marino, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Sudan, Luxembourg, Viet Nam (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Iraq, Myanmar, United Arab Emirates, Georgia, Maldives, Colombia, Liberia, Bulgaria, Jordan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Qatar, Malaysia, Sierra Leone, Montenegro, Armenia, Venezuela, Iran, Angola, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Bahrain, Bangladesh and Syria.
Others delivering statements were representatives of the European Union delegation and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Observers for the Holy See and the State of Palestine also delivered statements.
The meeting began at 10:14 a.m. and ended at 6:58 p.m.
VIRGINIA GAMBA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, noted that 2019 marks the twentieth anniversary of the Council’s adoption of resolution 1882 (2009), by which it decided to increase the focus on the killing, maiming, rape and other forms of sexual violence targeting children. Today’s debate provides an opportunity to take stock of collective efforts, she added. Highlighting aspects of the latest report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict (document S/2019/509), she recalled her recent visit to Mali, where she met with opposing parties and saw their commitment to ceasing hostilities, thereby demonstrating that protecting children can be a measure for building confidence among them. When monitoring and reporting mechanisms are established, Governments have passed laws, galvanizing action and allowing progress to develop quickly, she said. Describing action plans as the most tangible example of engagement with parties in conflict, she noted that three such plans have been signed with non-State actors and that tools for engagement have been established. “When we have worked together effectively, we will see the real tangible progress through a reduction of violations and the release of children,” she said.
Regional and subregional efforts are a key element, she said, noting that the Council provided the tools for the pursuit of prevention plans with these entities within the context of resolution 2427 (2018). She said it was in this vein that she launched the Act to Protect initiative in 2018 with the aim of supporting the tireless work being done on the ground. Unfortunately, the situation is not improving, pointing out that the report contains country-level updates and assesses progress on eliminating the six grave violations against children: killing and maiming of children; recruiting or using them as soldiers; sexual violence against them; abduction; attacks against schools or hospitals; and denying humanitarian access to children. Although there were fewer violations across four categories, a record number exceeding 12,000 children have been killed or maimed amid continuing sexual violence. The Council must redouble efforts to ensure that all parties abide by their commitments, she emphasized, urging parties to conflict to issue specific orders addressing the need to reduce child casualties. Of particular concern are the serious effects of unexploded ordnance, improvised explosive devices and landmines, she said, adding that eliminating this threat would be a “quick win” if collective efforts are implemented.
She went on to state that rape and other forms of sexual violence are often underreported, and greater accountability mechanisms could significantly advance progress in this area. Moreover, too many children continue to be detained as a result of conflict and exposed to alarming levels of violence when they should be considered as victims, particularly those currently or allegedly associated with foreign fighters. “We need to prioritize action on the ground and also protect the staff who do it,” she said, citing also the importance of protecting humanitarian workers. “We need to strain every sinew at the highest level to prevent violations, but we also need to be able to respond quickly to violations when they occur.” Sharing some recent gains, she said a high number of children were separated from parties to conflict and provided with reintegration assistance as a result of engagement with child-protection actors under the action plans initiative. This gives them a second chance at life, she said. “We need your support to engage with parties to conflict to end and prevent violations,” she added, telling members that their support is also needed to ensure there is sufficient pressure to make meaningful commitments and, most of all, to give conflict-affected children the support they need.
HENRIETTA H. FORE, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), highlighted some of these needs, pointing to the 24,000 violations against conflict-affected children documented in 2018, up from 21,000 in 2017. Half of these cases involve the killing and maiming of children, she said, adding: “Those are just the verified incidents; we must do better.” She also expressed deep distress over the continued rampant use of explosive weapons and their impact on children, who account for more than two thirds of all civilians killed and maimed by these weapons. “Ten years after the Council adopted resolution 1882 (2009), the facts tell us that we have miles to go to end grave violations against children in armed conflict,” she said. “But they do not tell the whole story; there is so much we can do to come to the aid of children at risk.”
Sharing stories about children she met while visiting conflict-affected countries, she said UNICEF reached 6.9 million children with emergency education on humanitarian crises during 2018. While the Fund also provided 3.6 million children with psychosocial support to overcome trauma in the same year, more must be done to ensure robust and sustainable funding for mental health programmes, she emphasized. Of particular concern are the tens of thousands of children associated with armed groups and currently languishing in camps, detention centres and orphanages in Iraq, Syria and other countries. They are shunned by their communities because of perceived or actual links with groups designated as terrorists, she noted. “When children leave these groups, they should receive urgently needed protection and humanitarian assistance…instead of being ostracized, rejected and locked up.”
The Council’s critical achievement in adopting resolution 2427 (2018) recognized the need to treat children associated with armed groups primarily as victims, she said, pointing out that boys and girls often join armed groups under duress, coercion, fear, manipulation or as a matter of survival. They are rarely driven by ideology, as the evidence shows. While stressing that Governments are responsible for preventing the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, she said UNICEF is supporting related projects, including supporting an age-verification workshop with the armed forces of Sudan. Authorities must also exercise maximum restraint in preventing the excessive use of military force against people engaging in peaceful protest. “Protecting the lives and futures of children affected by armed conflict is not just the right thing to do, it is in our collective self-interest,” she emphasized. “They are the adults and the leaders of tomorrow. Let us do more to protect vulnerable children. Our global future may depend on it.”
MARIATU KAMARA, UNICEF Canada Ambassador, said that during the conflict in her native Sierra Leone, children became targets, forced to fight against their will and experienced killings, rape and maiming. Today, they are unwanted and unaccepted by their communities and family members, and their capacity to develop a brighter future is at stake due to a lack of resources such as education and counselling. Recounting her own story, she said that in 1999, when she was 11 years old, rebels attacked her village. She was taken hostage, together with three cousins, and then left for dead in the darkness of night after her captors used machetes to cut both her hands. With the help of strangers and a strong will to survive, she made her way to a hospital in Freetown for treatment. She went on to live in a camp for amputees, spending several years begging for money, food and clothing while also joining a theatre group to raise awareness of the country’s plight.
Through the kindness of a family in Canada, she was able to move to that country where she received an education and recounted her life story in a book titled “The Bite of the Mango”. As a UNICEF special representative for children in armed conflict, she has been promoting the rights of children affected by armed conflict in the hope that the atrocities they face will not be allowed to continue. On a trip back to Sierra Leone, she added, she visited a centre where such children can share their stories as they go through their healing process. She also visited rural camps and schools, speaking about forgiveness, hope, faith and finding the strength to move forwards. Setting out some recommendations, she underscored the importance of assisting children with disabilities during and after conflict, as well as the need to deploy child protection experts. Peace processes should also take the needs of conflict-affected children into account and how that can contribute to strong and peaceful societies.
MAJOK PETER AWAN, child protection professional, also briefed the Council, recalling that he was born in a remote village in what is now South Sudan in 1979. At the time, the area lacked any hospitals, schools or other infrastructure connecting it to the outside world, which remained largely unaware of the suffering endured during the Sudanese civil war. “Since the time I was a child, this Council has recognized the severe impacts of armed conflict on boys and girls and taken steps to improve their protection,” he said, citing its unique monitoring and reporting mechanism and its increasing attention to the plight of children in conflict over recent decades. Despite those strides, however, children living in conflict zones continue to face many of the abuses and rights violations he and his peers faced in Sudan long ago.
Describing his family’s peaceful pastoral life prior to the conflict, he stressed that when war broke out, he did not understand what the adults were fighting for. “When I was just 7 years old, the local rebel group fighting the Government in Khartoum took me from my home and made me undergo an intensive six-month military training,” he said, recalling his subsequent assignment to assist a local rebel commander. “I had nothing to do but follow orders from above,” he said, adding: “There was no social media to show my experiences, no United Nations monitors to document my story and no child protection actors to calm my phobia and give me protection.” While that trauma and sense of abandonment has impacted his life, he nevertheless managed to escape and reach a refugee camp managed by the group now known as Save the Children International, where he eventually recovered — something not all children are able to do.
“Child protection programming, including individualized psychosocial support, education and livelihoods opportunities, are key in the recovery of children and their families affected by conflict,” he said. With family support he was able to go to school and got a job as a child protection officer and psychosocial support coordinator. While seeing the trauma of sexual violence, family separation, abuse and conflict on children brings back bad memories, he remains committed to the work. “Not enough has been done so far, which is a shame since there is no excuse for not knowing the harsh situation of these children,” he said. In 2018, almost 50 million children around the globe were in need of protection in humanitarian settings. Yet, child protection is not systematically prioritized when a humanitarian response is being mobilized and remains underfunded — even where children’s lives are at risk. “My appeal to [this Council] is to ensure that children affected by conflict do get the full support they need to heal their wounds, both physically and psychologically,” he said, noting that today some 420 million children are growing up in conflict-affected zones.
Pointing out that in South Sudan alone 19,000 children are associated with armed groups and forces, he went on to say that at least $20 million in humanitarian aid is needed annually to scale up basic mental health-care packages and reach children and adolescents. Additional support is required for comprehensive child protection, case management, reintegration, livelihood and education programmes. In that context, he called on Member States to promote the right to mental health and psychological well-being, including by committing to increasing their mental health spending allocation to at least 5 per cent of their total health budget; invest in child protection systems and services at the national, regional and international levels; ensure that United nations peace operations and political missions have the necessary resources to carry out the children in armed conflict agenda; and take action to address ongoing violations of children’s rights by endorsing the Vancouver and Paris Principles and putting more pressure on warring parties.
JACEK CZAPUTOWICZ, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Poland and Council President for August, spoke in his national capacity, saying that since 1998, the 15-nation organ has agreed on several resolutions dealing with children in armed conflict situations. However, it continues to struggle over providing the right level of protection. While the full scale of violence, neglect and exploitation remains unknown, the Secretary-General’s report identifies more than 20 countries with verified cases of grave violations against children, with an alarming number of instances involving State actors. Emphasizing the need to address the root causes of conflict and finding political solutions, he said the protection of children should be taken into account in all phases of the conflict cycle. He underscored the importance of a bottom-up approach, as well as the role of child protection advisers. He went on to note that the protection of vulnerable children is a priority for Poland’s international development efforts.
KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium), associating herself with the statements to be made by the European Union and the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict, said that despite progress over the past decade, more and more children are impacted by protracted conflicts and long-term wars. She expressed particular alarm at the use of humanitarian assistance as a weapon of war. She underscored Belgium’s support for the Special Representative and proposed that she regularly address the Council on national situations. Peacekeeping operations and special political missions should include the capacity for protecting children. She added that children who benefit from reintegration programmes are less vulnerable to being recruited by armed groups. She also stressed the importance of bringing those responsible for war crimes to justice.
ZHANG JUN (China) said his country opposes and condemns the violation of children’s rights in armed conflict. Emphasizing that peace is the best way to protect children, he said defusing conflict should be a top priority. That requires the Council to use all political means, promote cooperation with regional and subregional organizations and encourage parties to resolve disputes peacefully. He added that the key to implementing Council resolutions on the protection of children lies in cooperating with and respecting the countries concerned. Full attention should also be given to the protection of children in political negotiations and peace agreements.
GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) noted that an alarming level of violations – including murder, mutilation and the growing number of children in armed groups, some recruited to be suicide bombers – continue in 21 countries. Recalling that Côte d’Ivoire was listed in the Secretary-General’s report on children in armed conflict between 2003 and 2006, he pointed to the progress his country has made and the plan of action established in collaboration with the United Nations to release and reintegrate thousands of children. As the first country to be removed from that list, Côte d’Ivoire exemplifies cooperation between States and the United Nations as a key element of protecting children, he said, pointing out that his country has integrated the protection and rights of children into military training modules and established focal points across the land. Accountability is also critical for groups recruiting or exploiting children, he said, emphasizing that all actors must continue efforts to protect children, including those who are victims of all types of abuses in armed conflict.
CHERITH NORMAN-CHALET (United States), noting that more violations are recorded today than a decade ago, emphasized that Member States bear primary responsibility for protecting children. The United States strongly supports UNICEF’s efforts, including specialized support for survivors, and remains committed to the critical efforts of the United Nations to end the impact of conflict on children and to prevent their future involvement. “Our actions today will matter for future generations,” she said. Expressing deep concern over continued violations in Somalia, Syria and other countries, she reiterated calls for authorities to immediately address the recruitment of children and other grave violations. She went on to commend the progress made by coalition forces in Yemen in protecting children and listed a number of action plans yielding similar gains in other countries. Emphasizing that her country’s immediate goal is to protect children from violence, she said the United States continues to support child-protection services and will continue to invest in programming to protect them from violence.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said the Council must increase its child-protections actions using all available tools, including those established to monitor and report violations. Noting that child-protection advisers of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and other missions have contributed to progress in several countries, he emphasized that no party should be struck off the Secretary-General’s list of countries of concern without having made significant progress. Reintegration efforts must also be strengthened, he said, citing his country’s proposed methods for doing so. Relevant agreements, including the Vancouver Principles must be fully implemented and perpetrators held accountable, he stressed. Protection is a universal moral obligation, he said, adding: “We must do more.”
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said he remains concerned about the long-term consequences of violence against children in conflict situations amid increasing violations perpetrated primarily, disturbingly, by State actors. The survivors who briefed the Council today demonstrated that violations continue, he said, asking what became of the progress that humankind claims to have achieved. Reminding Council members that most of them are mothers and fathers, he stressed that as long as children keep dying on the front lines, humankind has most certainly not made progress.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) warned that there is a real danger of the Council sitting idly by while a whole generation grows up in the absence of peace and education. Encouraging the Special Representative to continue working towards implementing action plans with the relevant parties and to engage those countries identified in the Secretary-General’s report, he emphasized the need to support the work of child-protection advisers and for peacekeeping missions to be adequately resourced in that regard. The most effective way to prevent grave violations is to ensure accountability and combat impunity, he emphasized. While welcoming the efforts of the International Criminal Court and international investigative mechanisms, he stressed that the long-term reintegration of children requires community-based approaches.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said it is up to the Council and Member States to urgently implement effective measures to stop and reverse the propagation of crimes against children. That would involve not only preventative measures and rehabilitation, but also corrective steps, including sanctions. He highlighted the need for synergies among United Nations agencies, Member States and civil society organizations, taking into account the most relevant international instruments. The rehabilitation of children affected by armed conflict not only restores their dignity and hope, but also empowers them to be active promoters of peace, he said.
JOAN MARGARITA CEDANO (Dominican Republic) called for increasing the capacity of peacekeeping operations and special political missions to protect children in conflict, including through the deployment of advisers and joint action with affected communities. Concrete steps must be taken to identify those responsible for sexual violence and to ensure they are punished. Citing the situation in Yemen, she said the denial of humanitarian access puts the lives of millions of children at risk. She added that education is among the first rights of the child to be affected by conflict, but all too often the last one to be restored.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) voiced concern that, a decade after the adoption of resolution 1882 (2009), there are still thousands of children killed, maimed, abducted, sexually abused and denied access to humanitarian assistance. Welcoming the Special Representative’s efforts to sign action plans with parties to armed conflict and prevent their recruitment and use of children, he described it as paramount that those plans are made concrete and that their time-bound measures be implemented. Calling upon armed groups to end the recruitment and use of children, he said resolution 2467 (2019) is instrumental as it aims to prevent such grave violations as sexual abuse and sexual slavery and provides for the protection of girls from sexual violence during conflict. Meanwhile, the detention of children who are part of, or perceived to be associated with, conflict parties is worrisome. “It is important that these children be treated primarily as victims,” he stressed, noting that States have an obligation to ensure that children are reintegrated into society after their release. Access to justice is also imperative for the advancement of children’s rights and the defence of their legitimate interests, he said.
MANSOUR AYYAD ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) noted that the Council has adopted several resolutions to guarantee the protection of children against grave violations and to guarantee their access to humanitarian assistance. Citing violations in Syria, Yemen and among Palestinian refugees, he emphasized the importance of protecting children, with Governments bearing primary responsibility in this regard. Kuwait supports all efforts aligned with the United Nations Charter to pursue gains in protecting children through, among other things, the full implementation of Council resolutions. Today marks the anniversary of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, he noted, hailing the international community’s efforts to liberate his country.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) proposed several ideas for reversing the worrying trends of 2018, including widespread disregard for international law. Urgent conversations must aim to strengthen the international framework and ensure accountability for those disregarding it, she said. To address the high incidence of rape and sexual violence, the United Kingdom will host a global conference to consider, among other things, ways to hold perpetrators accountable. Reintegration approaches must be improved, with increased funding for programmes and wider availability of psychosocial support, education and training, she said. Efforts must also aim to strengthen the response to denial of humanitarian access, as seen in the devastating conditions inside Yemen and Myanmar, she said, adding that similar situations should perhaps become a trigger for listing in the Secretary-General’s report.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), emphasizing the need to focus on the six categories of violations, pointed out that some of these matters fall under the purview of other United Nations bodies. Emphasizing that Governments bear the primary role in protecting children, he expressed concern that some armed groups could try to legitimize themselves by liaising with the United Nations, an issue that deserves more attention. Perpetrators of crimes against children must be held accountable, with Governments and the international community playing their respective parts in upholding norms, he said, calling upon all Member States to do their part in protecting children.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) underscored the importance of comprehensive reintegration for all children formerly associated with armed groups. To be effective, such efforts must include mental health services and access to quality education, he said. Peacekeeping operations should bear in mind the rights of children by ensuring pre-deployment training on child protection, among other approaches, he added, emphasizing that the goal should be to find the best tailor-made solution for preventing and ending grave violations against children in every conflict situation.
OMAR KADIRI (Morocco) said children are, unfortunately, the first victims of armed conflicts today, adding that child combatants need support and full reintegration into society. International efforts should be more realistic and strategic, with an emphasis on prevention, he said. Underlining the importance of fighting impunity and raising awareness about the rights of children, he called for greater attention to children at risk of being taken away by armed groups. He also announced that Morocco will adhere to the Vancouver Principles on children in armed conflict.
ABDULLAH ALI FADHEL AL-SAADI (Yemen) said the Houthi militia fighting his country’s Government have recruited more than 30,000 children in a conflict that has ruined the lives of 4 million youngsters. More than 1.6 million Yemeni children have been denied education in the last two years alone, he said, adding that schools have been destroyed or used as prisons and military bunkers, while children in militant-controlled areas are brainwashed and indoctrinated with extremist ideology. While the Government has adopted several measures to protect children and shield them from armed conflict, the armed Houthi militia have established summer camps to attract children into their ranks, in violation of all international laws and norms, he said, expressing hope that, during her visit to Yemen, the Special Representative will take note of the progress the Government has made with regard to children.
MARI SKARE (Norway), speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, said the trend of increasing violations and abuses against children can and must be reversed. Emphasizing that protecting children and upholding their rights contributes to peaceful societies and is, therefore, closely linked to broader conflict prevention efforts and the sustaining peace agenda, she noted that the Safe Schools Declaration launched in Oslo in 2015 is a key initiative in that context and urged more States to join it. Meanwhile, an international conference on ending sexual and gender-based violence in humanitarian crises, held in Oslo in May, sent a strong message that strengthening prevention of and response to those crimes is a humanitarian priority. As children in conflict require not only protection and comprehensive support but also justice, she spotlighted the crucial work being done by the Justice Rapid Response in strengthening accountability for international crimes and human rights violations against children through the provision of highly specialized, child-focused expertise, and underlined the need to turn resolution 2427 (2018) on accountability for crimes against children into reality.
GEORG SPARBER (Liechtenstein) said there is an urgent need for accountability for the atrocity crimes committed in the Syrian conflict, particularly for children. In Yemen, nearly 12,000 verified grave violations were committed against children between 2013 and 2018 — including as a result of air strikes — pointing to much higher actual figures. “The Council has the responsibility to stop these violations, to enforce compliance with its own resolutions and respect for international humanitarian law,” he stressed. Voicing concern over the high occurrence of rape and other forms of sexual violence against children, including trafficking for sexual enslavement, he warned that a culture of silence around such crimes continues to impede accountability and justice. International criminal justice mechanisms, especially the International Criminal Court, have done ground-breaking work to address grave violations against children, as illustrated by the latter’s case against Dominic Ongwen and the milestone judgement released in July against Bosco Ntaganda. The Court held crimes against male children to the same standards as female children and was explicit in determining that they amounted to rape. “This provides a new basis to address sexual and gender-based violence in conflict for this Council and other stakeholders,” he said.
RICHARD ARBEITER (Canada), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict, an informal network of 42 interested Member States representing all five regional groups, urged parties to conflict to fully comply with their obligations under international humanitarian, human rights and refugee laws, and to put in place protection measures. He welcomed the signing of action plans and the Special Representative’s engagement with parties to armed conflict to end grave violations. However, the mere signing of an action plan should not form the basis for delisting in the Secretary-General’s annual report, he said, stressing the importance of long-term community-based rehabilitation and reintegration efforts, especially in areas formerly controlled by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). Welcoming the launch of the “ACT to Protect” campaign, he pressed the Council to continue deploying child protection advisers to peacekeeping missions, cautioning against staffing and budget cuts that would undermine the ability of the United Nations to deliver on child protection mandates.
Speaking in his national capacity, he drew attention to Canada’s development of the Vancouver Principles on Peacekeeping and the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers, a set of 17 political commitments to prevent and address child recruitment and use by armed forces and armed groups in United Nations peacekeeping operations. Canada also has worked with the United Nations, civil society and Governments to develop implementation guidance for the Principles. Launched on 1 August, the guidance is a resource for military, police and civilian organizations engaged in United Nations peacekeeping, and recognizes the different impact of child recruitment on boys and girls. Canada will also provide the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative with $1 million over five years to conduct research into preventing recruitment and use of child soldiers.
FRANCISCO DUARTE LOPES (Portugal), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict, said children remain among the primary victims of armed conflict around the world. Indeed, the Secretary-General’s latest report outlines a very worrying reality, he added. Portugal has signed up to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol, he said, encouraging other Member States to do the same. He went on to emphasize that the use of schools for military purposes cannot continue and urged States to sign up to the Safe Schools Declaration. Underlining the importance of the Kigali, Paris and Vancouver Principles, he said that, together, they should form the framework for the way forward. “We should together do everything possible to end impunity for sexual violence in armed conflict,” he emphasized, noting that the issue is directly related to Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security. Portugal recently concluded its national action plan for the implementation of that resolution, he added.
LUIS GALLEGOS CHIRIBOGA (Ecuador) noted that almost a fifth of the world’s children live in conflict zones, requiring greater efforts to protect the rights of young people in armed conflict. “Children are a priority group,” he said, noting that their rights are enshrined in the Constitution of Ecuador. Calling for universal ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol, he also underlined the need to protect students, teachers and education infrastructure in times of armed conflict, and expressed support for the United Nations “ACT to protect children affected by armed conflict” campaign.
ELISENDA VIVES BALMAÑA (Andorra), associating herself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict, echoed others in voicing concern over the rising number of children affected by armed conflict. To ensure that child victims enjoy the best possible support, all stakeholders must act together in addressing that multidimensional challenge, she emphasized. Describing education as one of the most cross-cutting tools available – including for the successful attainment of the many targets enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals – she stressed that the stigmatization of victims is one of the greatest challenges related to those targets. Meanwhile, schools must never be used for military purposes and all States should sign up to the Safe Schools Declaration and to the Child Rights Convention’s Optional Protocol, she said. Where necessary, the International Criminal Court can provide reparatory justice to victims, she added.
KORO BESSHO (Japan) expressed support for the Global Coalition for the Reintegration of Child Soldiers, noting that his country joined the Friends of Reintegration in February. When child soldiers return to their communities, they may face social stigma and economic hardship, which could in turn lead them back into armed groups. In Africa, Japan works with UNICEF to support reintegration programmes and provide broader assistance to children by strengthening national and community capacities for conflict prevention. In 2018, Japan contributed $6 million to the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children to support conflict affected children in Nigeria and Uganda, he said, urging all parties to conflict to abide by international humanitarian law and respect children’s right to education.
MOHAMED FATHI AHMED EDREES (Egypt) said the impact of armed conflict deprives children of their social, cultural and educational rights — indeed their future — a bitter reality that requires the Council to protect and preserve their physical and mental integrity, while giving them a chance for a dignified life. He called upon parties to armed conflict to respect the principle of proportionality in the use of military force. He also agreed with the Secretary-General’s recommendation to adopt a holistic approach to the treatment of children involved or suspected of involvement in terrorist acts. Such efforts require close international cooperation, with States given the necessary room to manoeuvre in resolving such issues according to their national legislation, he said.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMIREZ (Mexico), associating himself with the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict, described resolution 1882 (2009) as a milestone that equips the Special Representative with new tools to attribute responsibility for violations. Deploring the use of children as sex slaves and human shields, he welcomed the release or reintegration of 13,600 children into their communities, emphasizing that “these minors are victims who deserve due care”. The international framework is based on the Paris Principles and bolstered by the Vancouver Principles, he explained, emphasizing that its monitoring and reporting mechanism is crucial to verifying that it is being used effectively on the ground. He went on to point out that the right to education is among the most keenly eroded during conflict, stressing that the Council must exert greater efforts to ensure that education is used both to prevent conflict and to help reintegrate children afterwards.
ARIEL RODELAS PENARANDA (Philippines), associating himself with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said both his country’s Constitution and society accord children a hallowed status. Children have the right not to know first-hand the horrors of war. However, in many cases including in the southern Philippines city of Marawi, they have been recruited by armed rebels as fighters, couriers, guides or spies. Recalling that the Government retook Marawi from ISIL/Da’esh fighters in a relatively short time, he said it also intensified the city’s reconstruction, rehabilitation and reintegration. The establishment of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority and the Bangsamoro Organic Law will pave the way for lasting peace in the region, he said, also underlining the commitment of the Philippine Armed Forces to preventing grave violations of children’s rights. Ensuring that children affected by conflict are afforded special protections is a principle enshrined in a new law, enacted in January, which reaffirms that children are “zones of peace” and must be treated as victims, not enemies. The law also prohibits attacks on schools, hospitals, places of worship, day-care centres, parks and playgrounds, he said.
DOMINIQUE MICHEL FAVRE (Switzerland) underlined the need to always uphold the credibility of the monitoring and reporting mechanism established by the Council in resolution 1612 (2005). Urging the Secretary-General to provide a complete, impartial and accurate list of parties who commit grave violations against children — based on reliable evidence — he added that the allocation of those parties to either section A or B of the report should also be decided according to clear and transparent criteria. Moreover, no party that continues to commit such crimes should be delisted prematurely. For the timely implementation of action plans to make a real difference, Member States should allocate sufficient resources to the protection of children in conflict — especially in cases involving non-State armed actors. Meanwhile, the Council must be more consistent in its consideration of the children in armed conflict agenda across thematic items and country situations, and States should take concrete measures to end attacks against schools and discourage the use of schools by armed forces and non-State armed groups.
DOMINIQUE MICHEL FAVRE (El Salvador), emphasizing the utmost importance of full compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, declared: “We cannot conceive how it can be that in various parts of the world children continue to be recruited.” He went on to express deep concern over instances of sexual violence, maiming and killing. Voicing regret at the significant increase in the number of reported incidents, he said that El Salvador’s own decade-long armed conflict taught the country many lessons and helped to strengthen its normative framework. Among other things, El Salvador now has a law on the protection of children and adolescents, which states that in cases of disaster and armed conflict the State must provide special protection measures and guard against sexual abuse, use and recruitment. Children should be allowed to develop and make their own life choices, he said, underlining the need to apply the Vancouver Principles in all situations of armed conflict around the world and urging all parties to fully respect international humanitarian and international human rights law. The protection of children should be an integral part of all peacebuilding efforts, he said.
STEFANO STEFANILE (Italy), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict, recalled that the protection of children in conflict was a top priority during his country’s 2017 term as an elected Security Council member and is currently at the core of its mandate on the Human Rights Council. Italy has endorsed the Paris Principles, the Vancouver Principles and the Safe Schools Declaration. In 2018, the country allocated more than 10 per cent of its humanitarian budget to emergency interventions in the fields of education and school infrastructure. Welcoming the work of the Special Representative, as well as major efforts in mediation, peacebuilding, prevention and protection, he said much more still remains to be done. “The changing nature of conflicts and their growing complexity, their length and their urban nature, disproportionately affecting children, and the figures of those falling prey to traffickers, terrorist and armed groups exemplify the need for a cohesive and urgent action by the international community,” he stressed.
YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine) noted that behind the dry statistics are the fates of thousands of children who have suffered horrors that few in the Council can imagine. “It is obvious, therefore, that the United Nations’ work in this area is far from being completed,” he said, stressing that impunity for grave violations against children cannot be tolerated. Military recruitment and use of children in armed conflict must end, and it is equally important to develop effective rehabilitation and reintegration programmes for victims of armed conflict, he said. As a result of ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine, children in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions account for numerous casualties, notably killing and maiming, with UNICEF confirming that each escalation of hostilities in Donbas threatens access to water and sanitation for 500,000 children. Holding a picture of Stepan Chubenko, a 16-year-old killed by Russian proxies near Donetsk for displaying a blue and yellow ribbon on his backpack, he pressed the Secretariat to include the situation of Ukrainian children living in temporarily occupied territories of his country in relevant thematic reports.
GERT AUVÄÄRT (Estonia), also speaking on behalf of Latvia and Lithuania and associating himself with the European Union, welcomed the signing of National Action Plans as a first step in reducing crimes against children in armed conflict situations. However, he voiced concern about the record levels of killing and maiming of children outlined in the Secretary-General’s report and the alarming increase in the number of violations attributed to State actors and international forces as compared with 2017. Condemning all violations against children and strongly urging parties to end them, he underlined the importance of providing timely and effective support services and gender-sensitive rehabilitation programmes for child survivors of sexual violence. “Prosecuting criminals and holding them accountable is paramount in delivering justice for future crimes,” he said, welcoming recent convictions in that arena by the International Criminal Court. Voicing support for the inclusive and community-centred reintegration of children associated with armed groups or forces, he stressed that they should be treated as victims rather than security threats and called for child protection advisers to be deployed as a more common practice in peace operations.
RICARDO DE SOUZA MONTEIRO (Brazil) said respect for international humanitarian law is the precondition for protecting children from violations, including killing, maiming, sexual violence, recruitment and abduction. “The current challenges in this area do not result from a lack of norms, but rather from implementation gaps,” he stressed, calling first and foremost for efforts to guarantee that all conflict parties and States ensure respect for international law. As a founder of the International Criminal Court, Brazil supports that body’s work to promote accountability for the perpetrators of crimes and reparations to victims and expressed hope that its various recent rulings will contribute to a culture against the involvement of children in hostilities. Because the impacts of conflict on children are broad and wide-ranging, conflict prevention should be at the forefront of the current debate. “The damages that armed conflict cause to children might be mitigated, but never eliminated,” he stressed, underscoring the need to promote and sustain peace and ensure conflicts do not happen in the first place.
SATYENDRA PRASAD (Fiji) said that as non-State actors operate across national borders, are increasingly economically independent and monopolize trade and transit routes, children are coerced into such activities as forced labour and sexual slavery. Keeping armed parties away from schools is vital for creating safe spaces for children in conflict zones, he said, noting that Fiji is a signatory to the Safe Schools Declaration, a document that should be more broadly supported. Recalling that child protection advisers are deployed in six United Nations peacekeeping missions, he underscored the paramount importance for them to be well resourced. However, with only five child protection specialists in such operations, “we are not matching our words with resources,” he said. Women peacekeepers are far better in identifying sexual violence among children, and when placed in medical support units, they help overcome deep barriers that victims — especially girls — face in accessing medical and psychosocial care. The United Nations must do much better in working with specialized civil society agencies to reintegrate children. He urged the Council to call on the Secretary-General to provide fresh proposals for improving such mechanisms, expand the obligations of parties and improve the capabilities of United Nations peacekeepers to aggressively reduce grave violations of children’s rights. “A steep change is needed,” he asserted.
HASEEB GOHAR (Pakistan) said that preventing and resolving conflicts, ending foreign occupation and working to sustain peace are the best ways to protect children from the effects of armed conflict. That must be the Council’s top priority. International laws and standards must be upheld, including by non-State groups, perpetrators of violence against children must be identified and brought to justice through national judicial systems, and Governments must invest in programmes that aim to rebuild shattered lives. While Pakistan supports the mandate of the Special Representative, it should not become a tool for achieving political ends, he said, adding that his country hopes that principle will be kept in mind in future reports.
DARJA BAVDAŽ KURET (Slovenia), associating herself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict, joined other speakers in calling on all conflict parties to take action to protect children in line with international law — respect for which is not a choice, but an obligation. Also calling for the facilitation of safe, timely and unimpeded humanitarian access to children and other civilians in need, she said Slovenia has a long tradition of supporting projects and activities to protect children from unexploded remnants of conflict and to provide children affected by conflict with psychosocial and physical rehabilitation, including mine risk education programmes for Syrian refugee children in Jordan; a psychosocial well-being programme for young people from Ukraine; and assistance to victims of conflict in Gaza and their parents. It also contributes to the activities of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to address sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and supports education and awareness-raising programmes. She also recalled Slovenia’s proposal, alongside other countries, of a multilateral instrument on mutual legal assistance and extradition for domestic prosecution of the most serious crimes.
ABDALLAH Y. AL-MOUALLIMI (Saudi Arabia) said one example of the deliberate killing and maiming of children is the abuses committed by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza. Its forces arbitrarily detain and torture children, recruit and train them in barbarous camps and use them as human shields. Another example is Iran, which supports sectarian militias in Syria — including Hizbullah which indoctrinates children in military marches and makes them chant slogans and carry weapons — as well as the Houthis in Yemen. Commending the efforts by coalition forces in Yemen to reduce the number of child casualties in that country’s armed conflict, he said the statistics mentioned in the Secretary-General’s report attributed to coalition forces are overstated and were all taken from Houthi-controlled areas. Pointing out that United Nations monitors were not able to verify some of those figures, he stated: “In the absence of that information, all these figures are just guesswork.” In contrast, coalition members have closely studied child casualty figures and took steps to prosecute the perpetrators, in full cooperation with the United Nations and Yemeni authorities.
JORGE SKINNER-KLÉE ARENALES (Guatemala) said the Council has long attached importance to ensuring that children avoid the worst impacts of armed conflicts. Nevertheless, grave violations of children’s human rights continue around the world with increasing numbers of civilian victims, including those specifically targeted by armed groups or used as human shields. Calling for such despicable acts to be subjected to Council sanctions, he also called for an end to impunity for such crimes as sexual violence and sexual servitude. Noting that armed conflicts have a devastating impact on the social fabric of countries, he called for “herculean efforts” to protect children as an integral part of any strategy to prevent conflict and promote lasting peace. Meanwhile, he said, cooperation and mutual assistance between States — as outlined in the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child — is vital.
VITAVAS SRIVIHOK (Thailand), associating himself with ASEAN, said all stakeholders must work to address the evolving tactics used to recruit children, including through online and social media platforms. Along with law enforcement, strong community advocacy and education offers the best way to prevent children from falling prey to recruitment. Mainstreaming child protection into United Nations peacekeeping, peacebuilding and political missions is vital, he said, underscoring the importance of clear mandates and guidelines, as well as predeployment and in-mission training on issues pertaining to children. For its part, Thailand trains peacekeepers to assist local populations in preventing relapse into armed conflict, notably through child protection efforts. Having endorsed the Vancouver Principles, it is working towards becoming a first-ever regional centre of excellence on the issue of children and armed conflict.
NOA FURMAN (Israel) declared: “Every year, many of us end our remarks with words of hope for a better future for the next generation, and then reconvene the next year to find the state of children in the world in an even more dismal predicament.” Voicing support for efforts in 2019 to spotlight and condemn the recruitment of children by terrorist groups, as well as to promote the reintegration of child soldiers, she said Israel witnesses the daily exploitation of Palestinian youth by Hamas and other terrorist factions. Children are manipulated and used as human shields, brought to the front lines of violent protests in Gaza, encouraged to fly incendiary kites, and educated using United Nations-funded textbooks that incite violence and hatred. While the Secretary-General has called on Palestinian actors to refrain from child recruitment and incitement to violence, more can be done in that regard. Outlining the impacts on Israeli children of attacks emanating from Gaza, she expressed disappointment that the recent Secretary-General’s report yet again failed to include a clear and unambiguous condemnation of the continued targeting of Israeli cities and towns and underlined her delegation’s expectation that such language will be included in future reports.
ALEJANDRO GUILLERMO VERDIER (Argentina) expressed deep concern over grave violations of children’s rights by State actors during armed conflict, unequivocally condemning the record levels of killing and maiming of children recorded in 2018, as well as attacks on schools and hospitals. A staunch supporter of the Safe Schools Declaration, Argentina calls for immediate implementation of measures to prevent such violations and hold perpetrators to account, with resources allocated for meeting children’s needs. Citing resolution 2475 (2019) on the protection of persons with disabilities during armed conflict, he endorsed the Secretary-General’s call to design reintegration programmes based on children’s needs, including those of children with disabilities.
LUIS HOMERO BERMÚDEZ ÁLVAREZ (Uruguay), endorsing the statement by the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict, said sexual violence persists cloaked in impunity and silence. Noting that the number of violations committed by State actors has increased, he said States are thus responsible for attacks against the most vulnerable victims. “That is something that is despicable,” he said, calling on all parties to implement resolution 2286 (2016) and endorse both the Paris and Vancouver Principles. He said annexes to the Secretary-General’s reports on children and armed conflict must be independent, impartial and rigorous, involving State and non-State actors. “There is no place in this list for exemptions,” he insisted, pressing the Council to shoulder its responsibility to refer cases to the International Criminal Court when appropriate.
HERMOGENES LÓPEZ GARCÍA DE LOMANA (Spain), reaffirming that children — girls, in particular — are vulnerable during armed conflict, both as civilians and on account of being minors, said a country lacking access to education lacks stability. Describing education as vital to ensuring that victims are reintegrated into society, he recalled that Spain organized the third Safe Schools conference, following those held in Oslo and Buenos Aires. Stressing that girls are raped, abducted and fall victim to human trafficking during war, he pointed to Spain’s promotion of monitoring and reporting mechanisms to stanch attacks against students, professors and schools — tools and principles that must be integrated into domestic legal arsenals.
BRIAN FLYNN (Ireland) said his country’s international development policy features a commitment to increase spending on education with a special focus on emergencies. Education is increasingly recognized as a vehicle for helping children deal with trauma while also equipping them with the knowledge and skills required to rebuild their communities and countries. Violations of international humanitarian law are utterly unacceptable, he said, adding that the Council must ensure accountability and refer relevant cases to the International Criminal Court. The protection of children is a priority for Ireland, and it is a topic on which it will work actively as an elected Council member for 2021-2022, he said.
HAM SANG WOOK (Republic of Korea), associating himself with the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict, underlined the strategic significance of reintegrating children affected by armed conflict. As a member of the Steering Committee of the Global Coalition for Reintegration of Child Soldiers, the Republic of Korea believes that reintegrating former child fighters will help to fundamentally break the vicious cycle of violence in many conflicts. Calling for a community-based approach to such efforts, he said the best way to convince people that former child soldiers should be accepted is to ensure that communities see and enjoy the concrete benefits that reintegration programmes bring. More must also be done to address sexual violence against children, he stressed, underscoring the need for a survivor-centred approach and the provision of non-discriminatory, multisector assistance to all survivors — including clinical rape management, medical care, psychosocial support and legal services. In addition, he joined others in calling for accountability for all violations committed against children.
PAULOMI TRIPATHI (India), stressing that terrorist networks and other non-State actors continue to exploit children for their own nefarious ends, said impunity for that behaviour must end, with the Governments on whose territory such entities operate taking resolute action. There are well-established international norms to protect children in armed conflict, she said, calling for better integration of child protection provisions into peace processes and greater accountability for any violations against minors. Based on India’s experience in United Nations peacekeeping over six decades, the Government understands the importance of sufficiently resourcing peace operations and involving the requisite number of child protection advisers in the implementation of child protection programmes. She expressed disappointment that the Secretary-General’s report includes situations that are neither armed conflicts nor threats to international peace. Such attempts to selectively expand the mandate only politicize the agenda, diverting attention from real threats.
DAMIANO BELEFFI (San Marino), associating himself with the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict, condemned the enormous number of grave violations against children around the world. He expressed deep concern over the high number of children maimed by indiscriminate attacks and urged all parties to uphold their international legal obligations. The use of explosive weapons in urban warfare is destroying homes, hospitals, schools, and water and electricity supply systems, forcing boys and girls to flee their homes and avoid school. San Marino joined the Safe Schools Declaration and urges others to do likewise, he said, also underscoring his country’s support for the “ACT to Protect” campaign and the Vancouver Principles.
GERTON VAN DEN AKKER, European Union delegation, appealed for more action to address the killing and maiming of children in armed conflict situations, given the growing number of child casualties amidst the indiscriminate and excessive use of force notably in urban areas. The Secretary-General’s annual reports on children and armed conflict are crucial for providing Member States with verified and impartial information, he said, adding that the integrity and objectivity of both the monitoring and reporting mechanism and the listing process must be maintained. Reiterating the Union’s support for the International Criminal Court, he said children formerly associated with violent extremist groups must be treated primarily as victims of violations of international law whose human rights must be respected in full.
CLARE HUTCHINSON, Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), said great progress has been made in developing practical, field-oriented measures to address conflict-related violations against children, notably the adoption of the “Protection of Children in Armed Conflict — Way Forward” document in 2015. On the ground, NATO has bolstered its protection mandate by giving specific attention to women and children. The NATO Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan trains, advises and assists national defence and security forces, while more broadly, NATO mandates predeployment training on children and armed conflict for all personnel deployed to its missions and operations. NATO Commanders receive training to respond to the six grave violations committed against children, while focal points for children and armed conflict have been appointed throughout the command structure. Going forward, NATO aims to better outline its political commitments and support for external efforts to monitor grave violations against children, as well as improve its coordination with international actors to promote children’s rights and enhance accountability.
KAIRAT UMAROV(Kazakhstan) outlined several recommendations aimed at mobilizing a collective international will to safeguard children affected by conflict around the world. Those included promoting full compliance with international law and strengthening accountability for grave violations against children, including by ratifying and strictly implementing the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international agreements; prioritizing preventive measures and investing in children’s education, socioeconomic needs and well-being; increasing support for reintegration and rehabilitation programmes through adequate, predictable and sustainable funding; and engaging closely with the United Nations to facilitate the return of children and women actually or allegedly affiliated with terrorist groups, as encouraged by the Secretary-General. In that regard, he recalled Kazakhstan’s unique experience in bringing home some 600 Kazakh citizens — who were previously associated with ISIL/Da’esh in Syria — in a humanitarian rescue mission known as “Zhusan”.
LAZARUS OMBAI AMAYO (Kenya) said action plans, participation in ceasefire agreements and demarches with various countries have contributed to the improvement of the lives of innocent children impacted by conflicts and strife. Against the backdrop of a rise in extremist ideology propagated by terrorist groups, along with their targeting of children for recruitment into those ideologies, he said child protection should be part and parcel of any conflict management and prevention strategy. The exposure of children to reprehensible acts of violence and abuse must move humanity to reimagine the responsibility to protect, he stressed, adding: “It is indeed our collective moral imperative, besides being a legal obligation.” In developing countries, the major root causes of conflict include extreme poverty, poor governance, economic stagnation, high unemployment and political, social and economic inequalities — all of which can entice young people to fight or fall victim to radicalization. The United Nations must, therefore, help ensure the balanced implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including addressing root economic challenges. In addition, he said, the Council should not only maintain peace but also use its mandate to bring peace as a matter of priority.
OMER MOHAMED AHMED SIDDIG (Sudan) said that in recent years, with help from UNICEF, his country has been able to release and return child combatants from some armed groups. They were provided with psychosocial assistance and reintegrated into society, overcoming their trauma and ultimately joining their families. The rights of children will be reflected in the political settlement of armed conflicts in Sudan. Noting past visits to Sudan by the Special Representative and the Working Group on Children in Armed Conflict, he underscored the country’s efforts to train its armed forces in the protection of children, as well as awareness-raising campaigns and strictly scrutinizing the age of recruits into its armed forces.
FABIEN STEPHAN YVO RAUM (Luxemburg), endorsing the European Union’s position, noted the upcoming anniversary of resolution 1882 (2009), which added murder and mutilation of children to the list of violent actions against children. The long-term nature of conflict mean that generations of children see their access to education cut, with schools targeted and used for military ends, rather than for their primary functions. He pressed Governments to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, stressing that impunity in the face of sexual violence only encourages that crime to persist. It is essential that resources are allocated to collect data and ensure unimpeded access for monitoring personnel.
DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam), speaking on behalf of ASEAN, emphasizing that States bear primary responsibility for the protection of their civilians during armed conflict, said a comprehensive approach is needed to address the root causes of hardship borne by children, including social, economic and development issues. At the regional level, ASEAN remains engaged in protecting the rights of children in the context of armed conflict, he said, pointing to the Special Representative’s dialogue in 2018 with the Association’s commission on the promotion and protection of the rights of women and children. Speaking in his national capacity, he said as a country emerging from the ashes of war, Viet Nam stressed the importance of a comprehensive strategy to address the root causes of conflict. Education must be the key part of such a strategy, with no effort spared to ensure that learning continues during times of conflict.
MOHAMMED HUSSEIN BAHR ALULOOM (Iraq) urged international organizations, independent experts and Special Rapporteurs to work within their mandates, provide accurate information in their reports and verify the sources of their information. Iraq regrets that the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict did not take into account its observations and recommendations. Referring to paragraph 71 of the report, he said a Government investigation found that reports that Iraq’s police recruited five boys to man a checkpoint was inaccurate. Turning to paragraph 76, he said there was no need in a report covering 2018 to include information from 2016 and 2017. Emphasizing that Iraq’s judiciary is independent and that its judicial system is in line with international standards, he said the Secretary-General’s report is an additional burden for a country trying to recover from a fierce attack waged against it. He went on to note that today is the anniversary of the 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein. That invasion was a crime, he said, adding that since the fall of the dictatorship, Iraq has worked hard to build good neighbourly relations with Kuwait.
HAU DO SUAN (Myanmar), associating himself with ASEAN, underscored his country’s commitment to ending and preventing violations against children. On 24 July, the Union Parliament enacted the child rights law, with extensive provisions on children’s rights and an entire chapter devoted to children and armed conflict, criminalizing the six grave violations. Since the signing of the Joint Action Plan with the United Nations in 2012, nearly 1,000 minors have been released and reintegrated into their communities. Myanmar is also working to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, he said, stressing that actions have been taken against military personnel involved in unlawful recruitment activities. While the protection of children is a Government responsibility, the United Nations can play a vital role by providing assistance to build capacity.
AMEIRAH OBAID MOHAMED OBAID ALHEFEITI (United Arab Emirates) said her country heavily factored in the needs of children in its $5 billion contribution to Yemen since 2015, its recent $240 million joint pledge with Saudi Arabia for the World Food Programme (WFP) and funding for UNICEF and other agencies for education projects. The coalition to support Yemen, of which the United Arab Emirates is a member, takes its responsibility for protecting all civilians in armed conflict — particularly children — very seriously, and its efforts have contributed significantly to the decrease in alleged incidents in the last quarter of 2018. However, the best way to protect the children of Yemen is through peace and stability, she said, calling on States to use relevant platforms to discuss evolving challenges. She also urged the Council and States to study and adopt innovative responses to sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict.
KAHA IMNADZE (Georgia), associating himself with the European Union, underlined the importance of the Safe Schools Declaration and the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol, as well as the Geneva Convention of 1949 and its Additional Protocols of 1977. Noting that Georgia recently endorsed the Vancouver Principles, he said the Government spares no effort to protect children in its occupied regions of Abkhazia and Tskinvali/South Ossetia, whose fundamental rights continue to be violated by the occupying Power. Describing the prohibition of education in native language for ethnic Georgians in both regions as the matter of greatest concern, he said teachers are also subject to immense pressure and frequent school raids. Meanwhile, multifaceted restrictions on freedom of movement further impede education, with the closure of crossing points and forced inspections of students. His Government’s peace initiative, “A Step to a Better Future”, aims to realize the importance of ensuring the protection of children and their rights in the occupied territories by improving the humanitarian, social and economic conditions of the population residing in Abkhazia and Tskinvali.
DAVID PAUL CHARTERS, observer for the Holy See, called the juxtaposition of children and armed conflict “deeply incongruous”. Yet, it is the sad reality for so many children around the world whose young lives are tragically interrupted by violence. One only must consider the scramble for minerals and other precious resources in Africa, where children give up their education to work in mines. It is worse still when children are forced to fight in war or recruited under the guise of being able to provide for their impoverished families. Underscoring the need to examine the causes of these conditions, he described the role of education, as well as peace in the family and in school, as indispensable to confronting the causes. He called for ending indiscriminate attacks against schools, medical centres and shelters, commending efforts to achieve universal ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict.
FARZANA ZAHIR (Maldives) said more must be done to address current concerns, particularly at the international level. While her Government has taken steps to further improve and amend existing protection legislation, mounting challenges remain regarding human resources capacity, technical expertise and child-care services. At the same time, the international community must collectively ensure that children caught in the horrors of war are not swept aside due to indifference or diplomatic bureaucracy. Council resolutions must be fully implemented, and efforts must accelerate to provide resources and support to victims. Attention must also be paid to children with disabilities, with resources for efforts including health and safety.
GUILLERMO ROQUE FERNANDEZ DE SOTO VALDERRAMA (Colombia) noted that the Secretary-General’s report referred to the situation in his country, highlighting serious violations of the rights of children by illegal armed groups. The Government has sought to ensure the human rights of boys and girls alike, but its efforts have not been matched by all organized armed groups. In particular, the self-styled National Liberation Army continues to recruit, use and kill children as part of its illegal activities against the State. On 4 July, it posted on social media a series of videos showing children engaged in propaganda activities in clear contravention of the Optional Protocol. He added that the group’s use of anti-personnel mines prevents children from accessing education and health care.
DEE-MAXWELL SAAH KEMAYAH, SR. (Liberia) said it is regrettable that the abduction, killing and maiming of children has reached a record level, putting at risk the future of millions of young people living in countries affected by armed conflict. Calling on the Council to reinforce the provisions of resolution 1882 (2009), he added that there is a dire need to increase funding for the rehabilitation and reintegration of child soldiers. Priority must be put on addressing the root causes of conflict. Having transitioned from conflict to peace, and with young people comprising 63 per cent of the population, Liberia has put programmes to strengthen the protection of children at the core of its Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development.
LACHEZARA STOIANOVA STOEVA (Bulgaria), associating herself with the European Union, said prevention is key when addressing challenges relating to children and armed conflict. Training in child protection and sexual violence is crucial for civilians and military personnel prior to deployment on peacekeeping missions. Expressing deep concern that children allegedly associated with armed groups are very often treated as security threats rather than as victims, she called for alternatives to detention to be found. She also urged parties to conflict to ensure humanitarian access and for States that have not yet done so to become party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, the Safe Schools Declaration and the Vancouver Principles.
SUDQI ATALLAH ABD ALKADETR AL OMOUSH (Jordan) said violations are systematically being committed against children a decade after the Council adopted a resolution to address this very issue, and commitments have been made in other resolutions to protect them, including those with disabilities. As such, there is a need to promote legal reform to allow States to deal with cases of violence against children in armed conflict and to set up reintegration and care services for them. In peacekeeping operations, Jordan is committed to protecting the most vulnerable. As host to 1.3 million Syrian refugees, including more than 300,000 children, Jordan has taken steps to respond to their needs with basic services and protection. More generally, efforts must be made to reinforce related international agreements and protection measures and to address the issue of recruiting children into armed groups. Investments must be made in young people to break the cycle of conflict.
MOHAMMAD WALI NAEEMI (Afghanistan) said children are the primary victims of the conflict ongoing in his country, noting that in 2018 they comprised one third of the 3,062 verified civilian casualties. The Taliban and other illegal armed groups use and target children, luring, brainwashing and forcing them to act as soldiers and suicide bombers. Underscoring the Government’s full commitment to the protection of children, he strongly condemned all forms of violence against them, notably recruitment, killing and maiming, rape, abduction, attacks against schools and hospitals and the denial of access to humanitarian assistance. The Government follows a zero-tolerance policy on child recruitment in the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces, with no child recruits seen in 2018 and 1,009 underage children prevented from enlisting in the Afghan National Army. In addition to a new penal code, the Government enacted the Law on the Protection of Children’s Rights in 2019 and passed new legislation to protect children without identity.
RAUF ALP DENKTAŞ (Turkey) said the Secretary-General’s latest report provides damning insights into the horrific treatment of children at the hands of PKK and its Syrian branch, PYD/YPG. However, there is a need to demonstrate a unified front against terrorism in all its forms. Noting that Turkey will not approve any act that would be exploited by terrorists in their search for recognition and legitimacy, he condemned the “action plan” signed with PKK. “PYD/YPG/PKK is a terrorist organization with the blood of over 40,000 people on their hands; it should be treated as such,” he said. Raising other concerns, he said that of the 3.6 million Syrians that fled to Turkey, 1.7 million are under age 18, and more than 444,000 Syrian babies have been born in Turkey since the conflict began in 2011. Turkey provides them with services and protection, he said, emphasizing that the best way to keep children out of harm’s way is conflict prevention.
JASSIM SAYAR A. J. AL-MAAWDA (Qatar) said his country joins others in calling for a single, accurate, impartial and evidence-based list of those perpetrating crimes involving children in armed conflict. He underscored the right to education even in the midst of conflict and discussed the Qatar Foundation’s programmes and initiatives in that regard. Calling for an end to attacks on schools and universities, he said children linked to armed groups must be seen as victims and they should be provided with access to programmes for their long-term reintegration.
SYED MOHD HASRIN TENGKU HUSSIN (Malaysia), associating himself with ASEAN, reiterated the importance of integrity and impartiality in the listing of all perpetrators of grave children’s rights violations, from a belief that facts should be the determining factor guiding the Council’s actions. The United Nations would gain by developing practical guidance on data collection on the denial of humanitarian access, he said, while peace operations and political missions should maintain a dedicated child protection capacity to ensure that such concerns are prioritized, even in the context of downsizing. He called on Member States, United Nations entities and others concerned to integrate child protection provisions into community-based reintegration programmes.
NADYA RASHEED, observer for the State of Palestine, underscored the need to act in line with the principles and commitments outlined in resolution 1882 (2009). “Such action cannot exclude efforts to address the continuing plight of Palestinian children,” she said, stressing that during the reporting period, the United Nations verified the highest number of Palestinian children killed by Israel’s forces and settlers since the 2014 war on Gaza. Moreover, 2,756 Palestinian were injured in 2018, with the number of casualties continuing to rise in 2019. Such violations merit the Council’s inclusion of Israel, its army and its settlers on the list of parties that commit grave violations against children.
VICTORIA M. SULIMANI (Sierra Leone) recalling her country’s civil conflict in the 1990s, during which children faced sexual violence, abduction, forced marriage and forced labour, said many boys and girls were also forced to fight as child solders, constantly orphaned and exposed to trauma. Given that experience, Sierra Leone was quick to appreciate its responsibility to protect children. It signed a peace agreement in Togo, providing for the protection of children affected by the conflict. Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of all ex-combatants, including all children associated with the war, soon followed, and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up to look into sexual violence claims. Additionally, a hybrid international court — the Special Court for Sierra Leone — was established to hold war crimes perpetrators accountable. In seeking to improve child protection, reforms and budget cuts to United Nations peacekeeping threatens the ability to protect children, she said, pressing Governments to better support the Organization by providing adequate funding for reintegration programmes.
MILICA PEJANOVIĆ-ĐURIŠIĆ (Montenegro) pointed to tireless efforts by the United Nations and civil society partners, including child protection advisers in releasing and supporting the integration of more than 10,000 children. “We strongly support these efforts”, she said, noting that Montenegro is among the pathfinding countries of the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children, and has endorsed both the Paris and Vancouver Principles, as well as the Safe Schools Declaration. It is crucial that children have access to education. Perpetrators of crimes against children must be brought to account and she encouraged national and international efforts to end the culture of impunity.
MHER MARGARYAN (Armenia) said attempts to isolate people living in conflict areas from the outside world and to deny their inalienable human rights should be identified and effectively addressed. Armenia works closely with ICRC to create shelters and safe rooms in schools and kindergartens in border regions, while also taking steps to ensure the safety of schools in line with its commitments under the Safe Schools Declaration. In its own region, the indiscriminate targeting by Azerbaijan of civilian populations and infrastructure in Nagorno-Karabakh and border regions of Armenia — including schools and hospitals — has resulted in deaths and injuries among civilians and children. Stressing that such attacks are beyond any reasonable justification, he also cited the appalling practice of involving children in State-led hate propaganda and negative stereotyping, which fuels hatred and runs counter to international law.
SAMUEL MONCADA (Venezuela) urged the Council to respond immediately to plans by the United States to carry out military action against his country. The United States Government is attempting to manufacture famine in Venezuela, take possession of its natural resources and recolonize the nation, he said. Overflights by spy planes are growing in number and on 1 August, the United States President announced that he is considering a naval blockade of Venezuela. When did the Council approve such action or determine that Venezuela is a threat to peace, he asked. Describing the Government of the United States as a threat to international peace and security, he called on the Council to ensure that the Charter of the United Nations is enforced, to stop a world power from acting like a crazed State and to end President Donald J. Trump’s war.
KHODADAD SEIFI PARGOU (Iran) said there are different ways to protect children from the scourge of war, but none can be as effective as ending ongoing conflicts and preventing new ones. So long as the occupation of Palestine continues, more and more children will be killed, injured, arrested and detained by Israeli security forces, he said. Noting that Israeli security forces have never been blacklisted in the Secretary-General’s reports, he said a sense of impunity has only emboldened Israel to kill more children with greater brutality. A similar pattern of double standards is evident when the Secretary-General’s report attributes most child casualties in Yemen to coalition air strikes when in reality it is Saudi Arabia that keeps killing Yemeni children. A glance at the practices of Israeli, Saudi and Da’esh forces in Syria and Iraq indicates that a real race is under way as to who can kill more children, he said, urging redoubled efforts to prevent all violations of children’s rights.
MARIA DE JESUS DOS REIS FERREIRA (Angola) said that, despite gains, there remains a need for strengthened efforts by parties to conflict and the international community to prevent conflicts and to ensure that children associated with armed groups are reintegrated and not punished. In addition, they should end all forms of violence against children and include youth in conflict resolution and the sustaining peace and development process. The international community must also assist Governments listed in the Secretary-General’s report in adopting and implementing action plans the Council suggests.
YASHAR T. ALIYEV (Azerbaijan), recognizing the remaining challenges, said protection efforts must be free of selectivity and address all situations of armed conflict without distinction. The wrongs of the recent past must also not be neglected. During Armenia’s aggression against Azerbaijan, serious violations of international humanitarian law have been committed; they amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide. A scorched-earth policy implemented by the Armenian side involved the ethnic cleansing of seized territories of all Azerbaijanis. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan hosts one of the highest numbers of refugees and displaced persons, many of them children. Recalling the massacre at Khojaly in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan in 1992, he said hundreds of Azerbaijanis were killed, wounded or taken hostage. In addition, almost 4,000 remain missing, and Yerevan refuses to account for them. Despite a ceasefire, Armenian armed forces target civilians, schools and hospitals, constituting grave violations. To break the cycles of violence and aid prevention efforts, respect for international humanitarian law is imperative and impunity must end. Accountability is an important prerequisite on the path to peace and long-lasting reconciliation.
TAYE ATSKESELASSIE AMDE (Ethiopia), echoing concerns about chronic challenges, said terrorist groups such as Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram continue to recruit and abduct children to use in asymmetric warfare, with Somalia and Nigeria being among the most affected countries, posing protection challenges for United Nations peacekeeping missions and African-led peace support operations. As a major troop-contributing country, Ethiopia ensures that its peacekeepers are well-equipped and instructed, with a mechanism established to address and investigate any violations by deployed troops. As one of the largest refugee hosting countries, Ethiopia ensures their protection. Turning to investigations of allegations against peacekeepers, he reiterated that they must all be conducted in a full and fair manner. Highlighting several positive gains, he said a revitalized agreement on resolving conflict in South Sudan has already made a significant contribution to improving humanitarian access, particularly to women and children. Ethiopia supports efforts to enhance accountability for perpetrators of violations.
JAMAL FARES ALROWAIEI (Bahrain) said his country has signed a range of instruments aimed at protecting children, including ones targeting human trafficking. The coalition supporting Yemen has drawn up a plan to strengthen protection efforts in that country, he said, condemning the Houthis for their violent activities against children. National, regional and international action plans must be drawn up before violations take place. For its part, the international community must do its utmost to combat heinous practices against children.
MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh), regretting to point out setbacks in tackling the six areas of grave violations, highlighted some achievements, including the Secretary-General’s initiatives and the release and reintegration of thousands of children. However, the recruitment of children by armed non-State groups does not occur in a vacuum, with conditions contributing to their vulnerability ranging from poverty to tensions over religion. Success in ending children’s involvement depends on addressing the root causes of motivation, and perpetrators must be held accountable. Turning to other concerns, he said more than 500,000 Rohingya children have fled to Bangladesh since 2017 due to extreme violence in Myanmar. Facing a bleak future, they may become entangled in activities that might endanger their lives and communities, he said, reiterating a call to Myanmar to ensure conducive conditions for their safe, voluntary and dignified return. He also urged the international community, particularly the Council, to provide guidance and necessary custodianship for the peaceful resolution to the crisis.
WAEL AL KHALIL (Syria) said the Secretary-General’s reports have become increasingly political. For instance, the report does not clearly address Turkish occupation of Syrian territory. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General has once again sought to insert Syria’s Government in certain listed violations and flouted requests from Damascus to verify such information. Syrian law provides special protection for the country’s children, he said, citing measures adopted in 2012 that address the issue of their recruitment into armed groups. The Syrian Arab Armed Forces respect international law, making distinctions between military and civilian targets. Following allegations made by the Turkish regime, he said Ankara supports terrorist groups in Idlib even while it is a guarantor of the Astana Process. Meanwhile, the volume of foreign terrorist fighters has grown. Citing Turkish presence in the area, he said it is Syria’s right to protect its territory from foreign occupation.