The Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, in connection with the examination of the third report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in South Sudan (S/2020/1205), agreed to convey the following messages through a public statement by the Chair of the Working Group.
To all parties to armed conflict in South Sudan in particular South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF), including the Taban Deng-allied South Sudan People’s Defence Forces, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-in-Opposition — pro-Machar (SPLM/A-IO):
- Strongly condemning all violations and abuses that continue to be committed against children in South Sudan; expressing grave concern at the disproportionate negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children; urging all parties to the conflict to immediately end and prevent all abuses and violations of applicable international law involving the recruitment and use of children, abduction, killing and maiming, rape and other forms of sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals and denial of humanitarian access and to comply with their obligations under international law, while noting the decrease in the overall number of violations since the last report;
- Calling upon all parties to further implement the previous conclusions of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict in South Sudan (https://www.undocs.org/S/AC.51/2018/3);
- Stressing that the best interests of the child should be a primary consideration, and that the specific needs and vulnerabilities of girls and boys should be duly considered, when planning and carrying out actions concerning children in situations of armed conflict;
- Welcoming the inclusion of child protection provisions in the Revitalized Peace Agreement, and stressing that the implementation of the peace agreement offers important opportunities to put the rights and needs of children at the centre of efforts aimed at achieving sustainable peace, justice and reconciliation in South Sudan; underlining the importance of taking child protection concerns into account in any future peace negotiations and, in this regard, calling for the dissemination and application of the United Nations practical guidance for mediators to protect children; urging all parties engaged in the implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan to ensure that the protection, rights, well-being and empowerment of children affected by armed conflict are fully incorporated in all efforts on peacebuilding and sustaining peace, including efforts related to disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes and security sector reform and encourage and facilitate consideration of the views of children in these processes, noting in this regard the Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups;
- Welcoming the signing and endorsement of a Comprehensive Action Plan to end and prevent the six grave violations against children in South Sudan by the parties to the Revitalized Peace Agreement on 7 February 2020, and calling upon them to fully implement it; in this regard, underscoring the importance of the United Nations’ continued support to and monitoring of its implementation;
- Reaffirming the importance of accountability for all violations and abuses against children in armed conflict; stressing that all perpetrators of such acts must be swiftly brought to justice and held accountable, without undue delay, including through timely and systematic investigation, and, as appropriate, prosecution and conviction; stressing the need to address the prevalence of the impunity for violations against children; urging the Government of South Sudan to put an end to impunity, by ensuring that all perpetrators of violations and abuses are swiftly brought to justice and held accountable, including by signing without further delay the Memorandum of Understanding with the African Union to establish the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, and through rigorous, timely, independent and impartial investigations and prosecutions; noting that in the Comprehensive Action Plan to end and prevent all grave violations against children, concluded on 7 February 2020, parties committed to investigate the six grave violations, criminalize the violations where appropriate and strengthen specialized units within the judiciary to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate violations; further stressing the need to ensure that all victims and survivors have access to justice as well as access to non-discriminatory and comprehensive specialized services, including psychosocial, health, including sexual and reproductive health services, legal and livelihood support and services to survivors; and further encouraging engagement between the Government and the United Nations to strengthen their overall legal framework to safeguard children’s rights;
- Condemning the recruitment and use of children by Government security forces and armed groups to fulfil various roles, including as combatants, cooks, porters, spies and body guards; noting that recruitment and use remained the most prevalent of the six grave violations affecting children and that cases of recruitment and use are often connected to the other five grave violations; underscoring that the intensification of conflict, the emergence of new armed groups, insecurity, poverty and the lack of opportunities were reported to be potential drivers of child recruitment and use; strongly urging all parties to armed conflict in South Sudan to immediately cease recruitment and use, immediately and without preconditions release and hand over all children associated with them to child protection actors, in accordance with established protocols, ensuring that these children be treated primarily as victims, to enable their full reintegration into their communities and prevent further recruitment and use of children in line with their obligations as set out in the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict;
- Encouraging the Government to focus on long-term and sustainable reintegration and rehabilitation opportunities for children affected by armed conflict that are gender- and age-sensitive, including equal access to health care, psychosocial support and education programmes, as well as raising awareness and working with communities to avoid stigmatization of these children, facilitate their return and minimize the risk of re-recruitment, while taking into account the specific needs of girls and boys, in order to contribute to the well-being of children and to sustainable peace and security;
- Expressing concern at the ongoing killing and maiming of children by Government security forces and armed groups, including as a result of crossfire between SSDPF and armed groups, intercommunal and subnational violence, military operations carried out by the SSPDF and armed groups’ raids of villages, and explosive remnants of war; urging all parties to take all necessary action to better protect children and prevent such violations; further calling upon the Government to invest in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) processes, security sector reform (SSR) and demining efforts, especially with a view to ensuring that children are protected from explosive remnants of war;
- Expressing grave concern about the perpetration of rape and other forms of sexual violence, including gang rape, against children, in particular girls, perpetrated by Government security forces and armed groups; strongly urging all parties to take immediate and specific measures to put an end to and prevent the perpetration of rape and other forms of sexual violence against children by members of their respective forces or groups; stressing the importance of accountability for those who commit sexual and gender-based violence against children and of providing survivors of such acts with adequate protection, appropriate assistance, and reliable recourse to justice; further encouraging parties to the Revitalized Peace Agreement to accelerate implementation of their respective action plans on addressing conflict-related sexual violence; noting that a lack of proper command and control of armed forces and armed groups, as well as recent defections which resulted in violence and civilian casualties, increased children’s vulnerability to sexual violence in the reporting period; and further noting with concern that the full scale of sexual violence affecting children in South Sudan is underreported due to fear of stigmatization, cultural norms, lack of awareness, fear of reprisals, and lack of adequate support services and avenues for accountability, and stressing the importance of providing non-discriminatory and comprehensive specialized services, including psychosocial, health, including sexual and reproductive health services, legal and livelihood support and services to survivors of sexual violence;
- Condemning the continuation of attacks on schools and hospitals by armed groups and Government security forces, including looting, vandalism and destruction of facilities and threats to protected personnel, affecting the access to education of an estimated 6,741 children during the reporting period; expressing concern at the military use of schools and hospitals by armed forces and armed groups, noting in particular that military use of schools affected the access to education for of an estimated 8,000 children during the reporting period; calling upon all parties to armed conflict to comply with applicable international law and to respect the civilian character of schools and hospitals, including their personnel, as such, and to end and prevent attacks or threats of attacks against those institutions and their personnel, as well as the military use of schools and hospitals;
- Recalling the endorsement of and the need to implement the Safe Schools Declaration by the Government of South Sudan and encouraging the Government to ensure that attacks on schools are investigated and, that those responsible for violating international humanitarian law are held accountable;
- Condemning the abduction of children, the majority of which were attributed to the SPLA-IO, including for the purposes of recruitment and use, rape and other forms of sexual violence, including forced marriage; and urging all parties to immediately release without preconditions all abducted children in their captivity to relevant civilian child protection actors;
- Expressing grave concern at incidents of denial of humanitarian access, including killing and attacks on humanitarian personnel and restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian aid to children in areas under opposition control, calling upon all parties to the conflict to allow and facilitate, in accordance with international law, including international humanitarian law, safe, timely and unhindered humanitarian access, consistent with United Nations guiding principles of humanitarian assistance as well as the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence, to respect the exclusively humanitarian nature and impartiality of humanitarian aid and to respect the work of all United Nations agencies and their humanitarian partners without adverse distinction;
- Expressing deep concern about the escalating intercommunal and subnational violence throughout South Sudan and its devastating impact on children, noting that children were recruited to boost the numbers of armed groups in anticipation of the reintegration process as well as about the emergence of new armed groups and the disintegration or splintering of existing ones;
- Recalling that the Security Council, by its resolutions including 2206 (2015) and 2521 (2020), decided to apply financial and travel measures to individuals and entities as designated for such measures by the Committee established pursuant to paragraph 16 of resolution 2206 (2015) for actions that may include but are not limited to:
- Planning, directing or committing acts that violate applicable international human rights law or international humanitarian law, or acts that constitute human rights abuses, in South Sudan;
- The use or recruitment of children by armed groups or armed forces in the context of the armed conflict in South Sudan;
- Planning, directing or committing acts involving sexual and gender-based violence in South Sudan;
- The targeting of civilians, including women and children, through the planning, directing or commission of acts of violence (including killing, maiming, torture, or rape), abduction, enforced disappearance, forced displacement, or attacks on schools, hospitals, religious sites, or locations where civilians are seeking refuge, or through other conduct that would constitute a serious abuse of human rights, a violation of international human rights law or a violation of international humanitarian law;
- The obstruction of the activities of international peacekeeping, diplomatic, or humanitarian missions in South Sudan, including the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring and Verification Mechanism, or of the delivery or distribution of, or access to, humanitarian assistance;
- Attacks against United Nations missions, international security presences, or other peacekeeping operations, or humanitarian personnel.
- Expressing its readiness to communicate to the Security Council pertinent information with a view to assisting the Council in the imposition of targeted measures on perpetrators.
To community and religious leaders:
- Emphasizing the important role of community and religious leaders in strengthening the protection of children affected by armed conflict;
- Urging them to publicly condemn and continue to advocate ending and preventing violations and abuses against children, in particular those involving the recruitment and use of children, rape and other forms of sexual violence against children, killing and maiming, abductions, attacks and threats of attacks against schools and hospitals, and denial of humanitarian access, and to engage with the Government, the United Nations and other relevant stakeholders to support reintegration and rehabilitation of children affected by armed conflict in their communities, including by raising awareness to avoid stigmatization of these children.