Third committee hears call for ratification of optional protocol on children in armed conflict

Fifty-sixth General Assembly GA/SHC/3647

Third Committee 29 October 2001

23rd Meeting (AM)

Importance of Protocol’s Entry into Force by 2002 Stressed

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) this morning that children faced many appalling obstacles worldwide, and none more pressing than armed conflict. He challenged Member States that had not yet ratified the Optional Protocol on armed conflict to the Convention on the Rights of the Child to do so immediately.

Opening the Committee s final meeting on items related to child protection, Mr. Olara Otunnu summed up the five-day debate, stressing the importance of the Optional Protocol being fully in force by the time the General Assembly special session on children was convened next year. The instrument, which requires 10 countries to ratify it to bring it into force, would provide additional impetus to the international community’s efforts to address and eradicate the situation of children in armed conflict, he said.

In an interactive discussion with Mr. Otunnu, Committee members raised a variety of concerns related to the situation of children in armed conflict. Several voiced concerns about the root causes of children’s recruitment into armed conflicts, specifically the effect indoctrination and alienation have on youngsters.

Reviewing highlights of the debate, Andrew Roberfroid, the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said it was pleasing to hear that many States had been planning to ratify the Optional Protocols. He also noted that several countries had said there needed to be an international instrument to protect children from violence, which was something being discussed at UNICEF. UNICEF was also working against the impunity many violators of children’s rights enjoyed, and it was hoped that this would be part of the discussions at the General Assembly Special Session on Children next year.

During the five-day discussion, speakers covered many of the complex topics that were involved in the promotion and protection of children’s rights. Those included the importance of education, the effect that HIV/AIDS has on children, the urgent need to eradicate child labour, and the dire circumstances that

Third Committee – 1a – Press Release GA/SHC/3647

23rd Meeting (AM) 29 October 2001

children who were trafficked for economic or sexual exploitation found themselves in. Other delegates spoke about the level of accountability that should be assessed to children who participated in armed conflict.

Representatives of Eritrea, Kuwait, India, Andorra, Slovakia, Bolivia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Liechtenstein, Myanmar, Jamaica, Israel and Uganda spoke during today’s deliberation.

Participating in the interactive dialogue with Mr. Otunnu were representatives of Liechtenstein, Libya, India, Belgium (on behalf of the European Union), Syria, Sudan, Benin and the observer for Palestine.

When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p. m. , it will hear from the final speakers on the promotion and protection of children’s rights. Following that, the Committee will begin consideration of the programme of activities of the international decade for the world’s indigenous people.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to conclude its consideration of items related to the protection and promotion of the rights of children. For details, see Press Release GA/SHC/3642 of 22 October.

OLARA Otunnu, Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said a research agenda on the impact of war on children was put together during the current year, and it provided important statistics, data, and best practices. The proposals that stemmed from the research agenda and the report that was prepared based on information from the research agenda were available in the room.

He said the working groups were important resources in ensuring the protection of all children. There had often been effective collaborations with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). It was important to find a way to strengthen the role of child protection advisors, and many discussions had been held with representatives of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Years ago, there had been a discussion about children in Rwanda, and this year, children in Sierra Leone and Cambodia would be discussed. Children were often witnesses to atrocities, and others might have been under the age of 18 when they committed certain crimes. The Optional Protocol on children in armed conflict was a very important issue for the Office of the Special Representative. It was hoped that it would enter into force soon, certainly before next year’s special session. It was important for any countries that had not ratified it to do so before the end of the year.

Mr. Otunnu said it was important to ensure that the good work that had been done be translated into effective practices on the ground. There needed to be monitoring and reporting mechanisms in place so that the actions of the parties in conflict situations could be seen. There were three factors that had to be examined — the indoctrination of young people into armed conflict; the alienation of youth, and how that could be exploited for negative purposes; and the recruitment of young people in conflict. The international community had to find ways to go beyond looking at the reasons for young people in conflicts. It was important to find how they were indoctrinated into armed conflict. The international community could do a lot more to get closer to the local communities — the parents, the teachers, the priests, the community leaders — to answer questions about why and how children got involved in armed conflicts.

Dialogue with Committee

Following Mr. Otunnu s opening statement, the floor was then opened for questions and comments from Committee members.

The representative of Liechtenstein echoed the Special Representative s sentiments concerning the gap between norms and standards and implementation. The situation on the ground was often far different from what was conceived on paper. He wondered if Mr. Otunnu felt that international instruments and discussions by United Nations bodies could be successfully or comprehensively translated into Security Council resolutions. He also wondered about the special situation of children in the truth-seeking process.

Concerning the reports before the Committee, the representative of Libya said her delegation would have liked the report on the Special Representative s work to consider the armed struggle in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, as well as the situation of children in Iraq. She thought the report seemed to focus on children in some countries and not others. She also suggested that more emphasis should be placed on the unique situation of girls in armed conflict. Other areas that she felt should be given importance included all kinds of violence against children — physical, sexual and psychological. She also wondered if his Office had taken into account the issues of indoctrination and alienation when it considered root causes of children in armed conflict.

Responding to those comments, Mr. Otunnu said that when children came before truth-seeking processes as witnesses or participants, they were provided every consideration and protection. However, when they came in response to accusations of committing atrocities, problems often occurred. The issue of accountability and victim-hood needed to be balanced.

He said that following the practice that had been followed in Sierra Leone, truth-seeking processes for most persons below the age of 18 generally ended with rehabilitation or reinsertion efforts. But for particularly egregious crimes, there might be the need to involve judicial bodies, not to pronounce punishment, but to suggest various rehabilitative measures. It was important to balance the child is always a child mentality with the notion that responsibility grew with age, he added.

The gap between international instruments and standards on the ground was a particular challenge, he said. The relationship between his Office and the Security Council had been very fruitful. There appeared to be more awareness throughout the Organization that when mandates were set or initiatives were undertaken, the situation of children in conflict should be given special consideration. However, that was not only the responsibility of the Council, it was the responsibility of the entire international community, relevant United Nations agencies and Governments within the countries in question.

He said it was unfortunate that the representative of Libya felt that the report gave the impression that more attention had been paid to the situation of some children over others. He hoped, however, that the case studies would help all nations with high numbers of child participants in conflicts. His Office was concerned with all children in armed conflict. He also said that it was important to address the ideologies that facilitated the mobilization of young people as well as those that alienated them.

He went on to say that he had watched with tremendous pain the victimization and killing of children in the Palestinian Occupied territories. Those killings were unacceptable and must not continue. While his current report had not specifically mentioned children living under sanctions regimes, past reports had noted that the Security Council must do more to ensure that children did not end up paying the highest price, particularly in terms of education, nutrition and health. He added that while he understood why sanctions must be imposed, he felt that a formula had not yet been developed that could properly target such regimes.

The representative of India recalled the comments made by Libya, and wondered what the relationship was between indoctrination and alienation. The representative of Belgium, speaking on behalf of the European Union asked about demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration efforts.

Responding to the second round of questions, Mr. Otunnu said the relationship between indoctrination and alienation varied from one situation to another. One could imagine a situation where indoctrination could be used to create alienation among youth — an us against them scenario — that could be used as a base to draw them into conflict situations.

He said it was important that the child soldier dimension of demobilization efforts should always be kept in view, particularly in areas where the number of child soldiers was high. Reversing or enhancing the fate of child soldiers was a wonderful opportunity for the international community to put its resources where its words were. The resources to implement action on the ground remained meager, he said.

Local communities and parents must also be mobilized to work with international actors to ensure that children were reinserted into society. Importantly, he added, everyone must work to ensure viable alternatives for children caught in armed conflict. The bluff of the armed groups must be called, but if parents could not provide meals, or there was no access to education, in most cases, children would be recycled back to conflicts.

He said his Office and the international community had been particularly concerned with the situation of girls in armed conflict, particularly the spread of HIV/AIDS among that vulnerable population. Sadly, there was social reticence to speak about that issue, which made girls double victims. Clearly the role of programmes designed to benefit girls was very important. Another important issue was to provide schooling — not education, necessarily — but some learning programmes.

The representative of Syria said that reports before the Committee had once again failed to mention the situation of children living under foreign occupation. Ignoring the struggle of those children would not make the problem go away, she added.

The representative of Sudan asked if Mr. Otunnu s Office worked actively with national NGOs. Her delegation would like more information on efforts to set up a body to monitor the activities of combat participants. She hoped that other reports would focus on the impact of other diseases that affected children, particularly malaria.

To the representative of Syria, Mr. Otunnu said he could only repeat his earlier comment that his Office s efforts to protect children in conflict were universal — his office dealt with children in armed conflict, regardless of the situation.

Regarding the role of national and local NGOs, he said that at every stop in the course of his itinerary throughout the year he would ask to meet with representatives of local civil society groups. He would also ask those representatives what was their level of cooperation with other processes concerning the protection of children s rights.

On creating more effective mechanisms for monitoring and reporting on the conduct of participants in conflict, he said comments from the Committee would be welcomed. In the meantime, he hoped that all agreed that such a mechanism was critical to making a difference in the lives of children on the ground. Such a mechanism would be a key way to bring pressure on conflict participants and let them know that the international community was aware of their activities.

He said the current report aimed to rectify what he felt had been an imbalance in international coverage of the impact of HIV/AIDS on girls. At the same time, he hoped that focus had not been at the expense of highlighting the challenges posed by other diseases. The international community must not create situations that would make children vulnerable to diseases that were generally preventable.

The representative of Benin said that when war broke out, it was already too late for children. To that end, did Mr. Otunnu ever take part in any conflict prevention initiatives?

The observer of Palestine reiterated the comments of others that reports before the Committee had ignored the situation of children living under foreign occupation. That had practically become a pattern throughout the organization, she said. That was distressing because the protection of children living under foreign occupation had been the focus of several Assembly resolutions.

Statements

AHMED TAHIR BADURI (Eritrea) said his Government had taken several concrete measures to improve chances for the survival and development of Eritrea s children. To facilitate the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Eritrea had signed and ratified by 1994, a booklet had been translated into all the country s languages. That project had been followed by a broad awareness-raising campaign. Also, also health, education and social welfare policies had also been elaborated, and the Ministry of Labour and Human Welfare had been entrusted with the primary responsibility of promoting, enforcing and implementing children s rights and reporting to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

He went on to say that programmes and projects aimed at enhancing coordination between Government bodies, United Nations agencies and civil society actors had also been set up and had been crucial to identifying the goals for survival development and participation of children. At the same time, it was important to realize that moving from declared commitments on paper to concrete implementation remained a challenge. There were still too many children suffering needlessly from a variety of scourges, including armed conflict and sexual exploitation.

He said that children in Eritrea were victims of deportation, indiscriminate bombings and invasions that had left communities devastated. Recent border conflicts with Ethiopia had only complicated matters by negatively impacting Eritrea s economic progress and compounding the problems of poverty and low human capacity. Such developments for Eritrea and other countries around the world highlighted the need to keep the special situation of vulnerable groups high on the international agenda. Action impacting the special needs of children traumatized by war, including clearing landmines unexploded ordnance, needed sustained consideration, particularly after guns had fallen silent.

NAWAF ALENEZI (Kuwait) said children were the future of nations, and all countries worked to ensure a better future for children. That involved attention being given to families in the society. Children’s rights were an indivisible part of human rights. The interest of Kuwait in children and childhood was based on the principles of the Constitution, which stated that the family was the basis of society. The Government had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Arab world devoted a day to children on each 1 October. Kuwait was ahead of other Arab States in the promotion and protection of children’s rights, according to a report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Education was free and compulsory; and a scientific center had been established, as had a center for the culture of the child.

He said in a number of areas of the world, children were victims of armed conflict, sexual exploitation and HIV/AIDS. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should be lauded for their work in protecting children involved in armed conflicts. The children of Kuwait had in the past been victims of crimes against children. And the State of Iraq still had over 600 prisoners from Kuwait. There was also the situation of children in the Occupied Territories, where Israelis were infringing on human rights, including the human rights of children. The international community had to invoke the Convention on the Rights of the Child to guarantee a better future for all of humanity.

A. K. BHATTACHARJEE (India) said five million children still died before they were five, and 77 per cent of those deaths were due to preventable causes. More than 20 per cent of children of primary school age in developing countries did not attend. Ten million or more lost either one or both parents due to HIV/AIDS. And about 177 million children were stunted by malnutrition. Those chilling numbers came from UNICEF, well over a decade after the report, “First Call for Children”. There was no one reason for this continuing tragedy, but if there was one factor that was responsible more than any other, it was the dwindling resources at the disposal of developing countries to tackle a problem of such enormous proportions. The process of globalization limited or weakened the ability of governments in developing countries to take independent or affirmative action, particularly in the social field.

Mr. Bhattacharjee said an early start in life that sustained the full growth and development of the child, and enabled the adult to fully attain his or her potential, was vital. Children, therefore, were the first concern and priority. Literacy, particularly from an early childhood, was the key. Despite a scarcity of resources, a law was recently enacted in India which would make primary education compulsory and free. India had also begun work towards establishing a National Commission on Children, which would help attain the goal of the full and complete development of children. India remained strongly committed to the full eradication of all forms of child labour, wherever it could exist. The National Human Rights Commission, and the legal system had been active on that issue.

He said the path-breaking work of Mr. Otunnu should be lauded. His recommendations on reaching out to children, reintegrating children affected by armed conflict, and taking into account local values and traditions in activities related to alleviating the plight of children in or after armed conflict, were important. However, those who sought to promote their own agendas either through armed conflict or terrorism knew no rules. They used children without scruples. Commitments that could hardly be monitored, let alone enforced, perhaps lulled the international community into a false sense of security. There were no easy answers.

ROSER SUNE PASCUET (Andorra) said the special session on HIV/AIDS had provided a unique opportunity to study one of the issues that severely affected the world s children. All should work to find comprehensive and effective solutions to that scourge. It would also be important in the coming weeks and months to continue to pay special attention to the impact of war and conflict situations on children. She encouraged all countries to sign and ratify the two optional protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Without education, she continued, it would be impossible to eradicate many of the challenges facing today s children, particularly sexual exploitation. She said her Government would present its report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child during its next substantive session. She hoped that the agreements reached at the rescheduled special session on children would provide a concrete foundation for coordinated international action in all areas related to the protection and promotion of the rights of children.

JURAJ PRIPUTEN (Slovakia) said Slovakia attached great importance to the protection and promotion of the rights of the child. To that end, it had taken necessary legislative, administrative and other measures for the further enhancement of children’s rights, including the ratification of major relevant international instruments. After the dissolution of the Czech and the Slovak Federal Republic, Slovakia had succeeded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1993.

His Government had decided to sign the Optional Protocols to the Convention in August 2001, he said. His delegation called upon States to support and accept an amendment to the Convention to increase the number of experts on the Committee on the Rights of the Child to 18 from 10. Such an increase was necessary to provide the Committee with sufficient capacity to handle the overload of work resulting from the almost universal ratification of the Convention.

Mr. Priputen said the status of the child was set forth in the Constitution of the Slovak Republic, which contained a provision for the special protection of children and youth. According to the Constitution, effective legislation ensured protection of all children. Regular work on improving the legislation was being done in order to ensure the best interest of the child.

He said an important step aimed at the reinforcement of the commitments enshrined in the Convention had been the establishment of the Slovak Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2000, which served as an advisory body to the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family. That Committee dealt with specific problems in the area of compliance with children rights and proposed measures to solve those problems. The Committee consisted of representatives of various ministries, as well as officials of local authorities and representatives of NGOs.

VIVIANA LIMPIAS (Bolivia) highlighted her country s efforts aimed at elaborating and implementing consistent policies that benefited children. Bolivia had had great success in building a country that provided basic services and legal protection for boys, girls and adolescents. Through significant efforts over the past ten years, legislative reforms had been implemented, with the Convention as the guide.

Bolivia, she said, was a very young country. Therefore there were no excuses that could justify the violation of children s rights. Far-reaching change were underway, particularly to eradicate poverty and malnutrition. There were also programmes under way to increase school attendance among girls. Bolivia also firmly believed in the participation of NGOs and relevant United Nations bodies for the benefit of children. She expressed support for the ongoing negotiations concerning the Assembly special session on children. She hoped that the success of that event would not hinge on one more list of promises but would be a true expression of renewed political commitment to the cause of the world s children for the next decade.

MUN JONG CHOL (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)) said there had been significant progress since the 1990 World Summit on Children. However, there was still a long way to go for implementation of national obligations and international commitments regarding children. Exploitation of children, trafficking, child pornography, HIV/AIDS and the recruitment of children into armed conflict continued to be major problems which required urgent solutions. Problems facing children worldwide today were most likely attributable to poverty, social inequity, inefficient socio-economic conditions and the irresponsibility of governments. Children were the undertakers of the future. As the physical and psychological characteristics of children required special care and protection by adults, it was clear that the future of humankind depended on how children’s rights were protected and guaranteed.

He said the Government of the DPRK, having consistently adhered to a policy of priority for children, had achieved a number of things in the field of the promotion and protection of children rights. The first matter the Government considered at its first meeting after the liberation of Korea was the production of pencils for children. Since then, the Government had, for more than half a century, exerted every effort for the sake of children. In the DPRK, national legislative measures had been taken to fully protect and promote the rights of the child, including the enactment of the Law on Upbringing and Education of Children; the Law on Family; the Law on Public Health Care; and the Law on Education. In addition, free medical care and 11-years free compulsory education had been introduced. Further, nurseries, kindergartens and maternity hospitals had been established throughout the country.

There were, he said, recent attempts by Japan to educate its own children with distorted history. The textbooks to be used at secondary schools, which had been approved by the Japanese authorities last April, contained flagrant distortions that depicted Japan’s colonization of Korea as a just cause for defence. Japan had falsified the history of aggression and exploitation and had even glorified its aggression towards Asian countries as a just war to liberate Asia from the domination of whites. In addition, Japan had deleted reference to the large-scale crimes committed against humanity, including the plundering of immeasurable natural resources from Korea; the kidnapping and forced drafting of six million Koreans into the army or labour slavery, and the enslavement of over 200,000 Korean women as sex slaves, who were known as comfort women.

WIWIEK SETYAWATI (Indonesia) said it was a tragic reflection of today s world that the issues of children in armed conflict had to be discussed. Indonesia lauded the accomplishments that had been made over recent years in science and technology and marveled at the innovations in information and communication technology. Yet it was during these very years of advancement and accomplishment that children in regions throughout the world had become targets and victims of the violence and armed conflict, and perhaps more tragically, that they had at times been forced to play the role of perpetrators of violence.

Ms. Setyawati said since children represented approximately one half of the country’s population, her Government was working vigourously to protect them from abuse, exploitation and violence. To that end, her Government was working together with the Parliament to adopt comprehensive legislation on child protection. That would facilitate implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as the International Labour Organization’s Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labour. Last month, Indonesia had signed the Optional Protocols to the Convention, and most of their provisions were already integrated into its five-year National Development Programme 2000-2004.

She said Indonesia was deeply concerned by the issues that touched on the physical safety and well being of the child. In the country, the constant and increasing threat to national stability and coping with the precarious situation of the financial crisis had, sadly, opened the door for violations of the rights of children. It was understood that as work was being done to restore economic confidence, the Government could not overlook the very real needs of children. Indonesia was addressing the situation by strengthening ties and cooperation with civil society and non-governmental organizations in providing for the safety and protection of children. It continued within its limited resources to make progress toward the goals of the World Summit for Children by improving the quality of education, health care, nutrition and social services and access to them.

CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein) said that although the events of

11 September had caused the postponement of the Assembly special session on children, the importance his delegation attached to elaborating a strong, action-oriented outcome document had not diminished. Liechtenstein remained committed to high-level participation in that event and believed that children should not merely be the objects of multilateral and national efforts, but rather should be involved in all activities affecting their well-being.

While the international community awaited the rescheduling of the special session, a wide range of issues needed to be tackled. Chief among those was the situation of children in armed conflict. Yet, the manifold and complex consequences of armed conflict were not the only ways in which children today were victimized by violence. For that reason, Liechtenstein believed that strong language on the issue of all forms of violence against children should be included in the session s outcome document. Violence led to violence, he said, and victims often became perpetrators at later stages. It was therefore appropriate for the international community to closely examine that issue in all its aspects.

He said that globalization had made everyone more aware of the notion that education was invaluable in keeping up with a rapidly changing society. It was now clear that education limited to childhood years, while necessary, was not nearly enough. Education should now be ongoing, from childhood, into adolescence and beyond, but, in that regard, the picture for the vast majority of children was bleak. Without access to basic education, much less secondary or higher education, it would be nearly impossible to combat poverty and underdevelopment. While it was important to stress the right to education for every child, it was perhaps more relevant for everyone to realize that investing in education was the best way to invest in the overall development of society.

DAW KHIN THANDAR (Myanmar) said that since the World Summit for Children, the rights of the child had been at the top of the global agenda. That was also true in Myanmar’s national agenda, as her Government had given top priority to children as a matter of policy. Since Myanmar had acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, her Government had steadfastly implemented a series of National Level Plans for the well-being of children. The Child Law had been enacted in 1993, and a National Committee on the Rights of the Child had been formed later that year to implement the measures embodied in the Convention. In 1996, the Government had submitted its first national report on the implementation of the Convention, and now, the second report was being prepared.

She said education had been highly regarded in Myanmar throughout its history. In her country today, necessary steps were also being taken to ensure that children had the right to basic education and to reduce the drop-out rate. Presently, primary school enrollment was 92 per cent, and the aim of the 1999-2003 Education Plan was to ensure that at least 80 per cent of all children finished primary school. The National Education For All Project was being implemented, and there were several other ongoing projects being implemented with the help from UNICEF, UNDP, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

After gaining independence in 1948, Myanmar had been faced with various armed insurgencies, she saidEfforts of successive governments to develop infrastructure, such as roads, schools and bridges, had been subjected to attacks by one or the other armed insurgent groups. After decades of such meaningless destruction, the present Government had reached unprecedented cease-fire agreements with many of the groups. The leaders of the national races were now turning their energies to the constructive development of their respective regions, and the Government was providing as much assistance as it could by building roads and opening hospitals, clinics and schools, among other efforts. Those efforts had paid off, as development had replaced destruction. Once inaccessible regions had become accessible, and the sound of mortars and guns had been replaced by the ringing sound of school bells. Poppy fields were being replaced by fields of buckwheat and sugar cane. Myanmar’s relentless efforts would not stop until every acre of poppy had been eradicated, and every gun in the hands of a child had been replaced with a pen.

PATRICIA DURRANT (Jamaica) said her country was committed to ensuring that the special session on children resulted in clear and meaningful commitments and a plan of action which placed the welfare of every child at the forefront of the international agenda. Her Government would continue to work with the other members of the Bureau in guiding the work of the Preparatory Committee. There was an obligation to use as a starting point the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols, as well as other international instruments. The international community should ensure that there were appropriate monitoring legal instruments, and that those who violated the rights of children were brought to justice.

Ms. Durrant said transnational-organized criminal groups had become more sophisticated, and used the technologies available today to more easily disseminate child pornography. The Convention against Transnational Organized Crime could be an important weapon in battling that scourge. Children were also affected by the trade in small arms. Mr. Otunnu s efforts to secure commitments from parties in armed conflicts to keep children out of the fighting were welcomed.

She said the work of UNICEF was particularly important in child protection. UNICEF’s role in child advocacy, and in providing humanitarian assistance, education and health care for children was well known. Its role among internally displaced and refugee children, and in post-conflict peace-building and rehabilitation deserved special support. The special session should not serve as a wake-up call, but a starting point in creating a new and better world for all children.

Dialogue with the Committee

After concluding its general debate, members of the Committee made comments on the several statements that had been made during earlier rounds of questions.

The representative of Israel said that some delegations had used the opportunity of the dialogue to make negative comments about his country. It was important for all to remember that Israeli children also suffered from the effects of terrorist activities. Education, not indoctrination and reinforcing negative stereotypes, was the key to ensuring that all children could break out of the cycle of armed conflict.

He said that the while the tragic events of 11 September had recently sensitized many to the evils of terrorism, Israel had been aware of that scourge for more than fifty years. That country s sad experience with hostage-taking, indiscriminate killings, and attacks on schools and sports centers by Palestinians went back a long way. He hoped that Mr. Otunnu would include in his next report the situation of children and terrorism, particularly the impact on their future. History had shown that Israel would never give in to terrorism and peace would only come to the region when terrorist activity ended.

The representative of Uganda said that in his comments Mr. Otunnu had made reference to the name of a market in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — the Kampala market — where women and girls were sexually exploited. She said it would be unfortunate if the name of that market was spelled the same as the spelling of the capital city of Uganda. The use of the name had no linkage to Uganda or any of its cities.

OLARA Otunnu, Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said he had taken very careful note of the statements by the observer of Palestine and the representative of Israel. The Office of the Special Representative was paying close attention to the situation there.

He said he did not know the origins of the name of a market in the Congo where women and girls were being exploited for sexual purposes by soldiers in the area.

ANDRE ROBERFROID, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, said it was pleasing to hear that many States had been making plans to ratify the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Many delegations had referred to matters that were directly linked to poverty — street children and child labour. On children living in the streets, UNICEF had been working to reintegrate them into society and get them back in schools. On child labour, UNICEF supported and worked with the International Labour Organization on Convention 182, which aimed to eradicate the worst forms of child labour. Education was of the utmost importance, and UNICEF was committed to enrolling those children in school.

Mr. Roberfroid said several countries had said there needed to be an international instrument to protect children from violence, which was something being discussed at UNICEF. Progress had been made on the subject of children in armed conflict. UNICEF was working against the impunity many violators of children’s rights enjoyed, and it was hoped that this would be part of the discussions at the General Assembly special session on children next year. Above all, the international community had to show the children of the world how important they were to everybody’s future.

Permanent forum on indigenous issues an important step towards partnership with indigenous groups, third committee told

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Fifty-sixth General Assembly GA/SHC/3648

Third Committee 29 October 2001

24th Meeting (PM)

Committee Concludes Discussions of Children s Rights Issues

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the first United Nations body consisting of both indigenous and governmental experts would be a unique opportunity for indigenous people to voice their opinions in the drafting of international policies and programmes affecting them, several speakers told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) this afternoon.

As the Committee began consideration of the implementation of activities for the International Decade of the World s Indigenous People, the representative of China praised the establishment of the Forum as a high point in efforts to achieve the objectives of the decade.

He added that the Forum represented an important step towards the partnership the United Nations was building with indigenous groups. He did warn, however, that the Forum would do well by paying attention to the division of labour and coordination with other United Nations offices and agencies to avoid overlapping work and wasting resources.

Introducing the document before the Committee, Bacre Waly Ndiaye pointed out that during the past year, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) had decided that the first annual session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues would be held in New York, 6-17 May 2002.

He went on to say that the Council had also decided that the eight Government experts participating in that session would be allocated as follows: two seats for the Latin American and Caribbean Region; two seats for the Asian Region; two seats for the Western European and other region; one seat for the African Region and one seat for the Eastern European Region.

Noting that the Forum s historic first session was a short six months away, the representative of Finland, speaking on behalf of the Nordic Countries, said that one of its major tasks would be to harmonize a range of issues, including human rights, development, environmental, cultural and social. Consolidating a variety of issues under one body was a way to ensure that indigenous matters were addressed in a comprehensive manner through various United Nations fora and in the specialized agencies.

Others participating in the debate included the representatives of New Zealand, Brazil, the Russian Federation and Australia. The Observer of Switzerland also spoke.

The representative of the International Labour Organization (ILO) also addressed the Committee.

Earlier in the meeting, the Committee concluded its consideration of items related to the promotion and protection of the rights of children by hearing the statements from the representatives of Morocco and Cambodia. Exercising the right of reply on that item were the representatives of Iraq and Kuwait.

The Committee will meet again tomorrow at 10 a. m. , to continue its consideration of items related to the implementation of the programme of activities of the International Decade of the World s Indigenous People.

Background

Having thus far considered items related to social development, criminal justice and the advancement of women, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural), nearing the mid-way point in its substantive 2001 session, met this afternoon to conclude its consideration of child protection issues and to open its discussion of the implementation of activities for the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People (1994-2004).

The Committee had before it the Secretary-General s related report (document A/56/206), which contains a summary of the relevant activities undertaken by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights since the autumn of 2000 until the end of June 2001. According to the report, during the last year, the sixth session of the Working Group of the Commission on Human Rights discussed a draft declaration on the rights of indigenous people. A workshop on indigenous media, in cooperation with the Commission and the Department of Public Information, in New York last December, underlined the importance of such media as an indispensable tool to promote indigenous identity, culture and human rights, among other things.

The report goes on to highlight the fifty-seventh session of the Commission at which a special rapporteur on the special situation of human rights and indigenous people was appointed for a three-year period. Further activities during the year include the continued efforts and initiatives of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations and the Indigenous Fellowship Programme.

The report notes that the Advisory Group assisting the Coordinator of the Trust Fund for the Indigenous Decade recommended 30 projects amounting to some $252,000, which were approved by the Commission. The cost plan for 2002 envisages that $400,000 will be needed for project grants to indigenous organizations and communities as well as workshops and seminars on relevant issues.

On developments in relation to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the report notes that the Forum, which was established last year by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), serves as an advisory body with a mandate to discuss indigenous issues relating to economic and social development, culture, environment and education among others.

Statement on Children

AICHA AFIFI (Morocco) said an assessment of the situation of children worldwide showed that they were threatened by armed conflict, illiteracy, disease, poverty and malnutrition. Approximately 10 million children were malnourished, and 600 million lived in families that earned less than $1 a day. The situation of children in the world was not good. Of the 22. 3 million refugees or displaced persons in the world, about half were children, who faced daily exploitation. Morocco deplored the practice of sexually exploiting children, which had spiraled with the new emerging technologies. The rise of the sex tourism industry was also a problem.

She said in the last few years, children’s rights had received a lot of attention at the national, regional and international levels. It was unfortunate that the General Assembly special session on children had to be delayed, but when it was rescheduled, it was hoped that it would produce a document that ensured the promotion and protection of the rights of children.

In Morocco, she said, the Government had consolidated and strengthened national mechanisms and institutions for the protection of children. It had also established a Children’s Parliament, which was a permanent forum that encouraged dialogue between children of all ages from all over the country. Her Government also had established a national charter of education and training, which required schooling until at least age 15. Morocco had ratified Convention 182 of the International Labour Organization on the worst forms of child labour, and had submitted its second report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Her country had further reaffirmed its commitment to the General Assembly special session on children and to implementing in its domestic laws the outcomes of that discussion.

SUN SUON (Cambodia) said since 1990, the World Summit for Children had placed child development at the center of development efforts. Ten years later, although some progress had been made, children still faced numerous serious problems, including children who were recruited to participate in armed conflicts. All children should have a good start in life, and had to have an opportunity to complete a good education. Poverty was the most fundamental obstacle to the well-being of children. Now that there had almost been universal acceptance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, there was an imperative need within the international community to ensure that conditions for the rights of children were improved.

Mindful of the past conflicts and human sufferings his country had experienced, he said it was now taking significant steps to fulfil its commitments towards the World Summit goals, with the generous assistance of the international community. His Government, with the strong support of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), was successfully carrying out its on-going work programme for the period 2001-2005. It was specifically devoted to the women and children of Cambodia as part of the Second Socio-Economic Development Plan. His Government also had proposed a “New Social Policy Agenda” to deal with the problems of child poverty, illiteracy and disease, which would pave the way for the creation of a socially-connected, educationally and culturally advanced society.

With international assistance, a series of government-assisted health care and educational programmes for children had been established, he said. Cambodia had become a polio-free country last year, as it had successfully carried out its National Polio Eradication Programme. In that context, Cambodia also participated in the Association of South-East Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) discussions on child protection, focusing on the issues of child abuse, street children and abandoned children. High priority had been attached to combating child trafficking and it was understood that one country alone would not be able to shoulder that burden.

Closing Statement on the Rights of Children

BACRE WALY NDIAYE, Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said his Office placed great importance on the holding of the Assembly special session on children. He hoped that the Convention on the Rights of the Child would continue to be considered the foundation for building a world fit for children. He also reiterated the call of Olara Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, from this morning s meeting appealing to all governments to ratify the two protocols to the Convention as early as possible — hopefully before the rescheduled special session.

Rights of Reply

Exercising his right of reply to statements made on child protection issues during the Committee s morning meeting, the representative of Iraq said Kuwait had made reference to Kuwaiti prisoners in Iraq . Once again, Iraq s representative said, he would draw attention to the fact that Iraq had returned any Kuwaiti prisoners at the conclusion of conflict in 1991. The matter now was missing persons. Iraq was addressing that humanitarian issue in accordance with international humanitarian law, in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

He said that Iraq was also cooperating within the framework of the Arab League on the issue. His country was ready to receive delegations from the League or the ICRC to reach a conclusion. He added that there were also missing Iraqis as well. Children were still suffering the effects of the siege. He hoped that Kuwait would not use that humanitarian issue for political reasons.

In right of reply, the representative of Kuwait said it was puzzling that Iraq had waited six years to bring up the issue of missing Iraqis. At any rate, if Iraq would like to find a solution, it must work within the framework of the Security Council resolutions and the recommendations of the Tri-Partite Committee. Kuwait felt that Iraq s actions thus far had been merely attempts to avoid abiding by the Council resolutions. He added however that resolutions on the issue did not mention missing Iraqis, only missing Kuwaitis.

Kuwait was prepared to discuss efforts to reach a conclusion, but Iraq had ignored invitations to participate in the Tri-Partite meetings. The objective of bringing up missing persons now was to obfuscate the issue. He reiterated his call to attend the Tri-Partite Committee meetings in order to solve this issue.

Responding to the statement of Kuwait, the representative of Iraq said that his country had expressed good intentions and had attended Tri-Partite meetings until 1998, when a Member State of that Committee had launched missiles against Iraq. The Committee was therefore no longer a neutral body. He did not understand why Kuwait did not want to seek a solution under the auspices of the ICRC.

Responding, the representative of Kuwait said that although Iraq had attended several Tri-Partite meetings, it had tried to link the issue of missing persons and prisoners to other political issues. He reiterated that the resolutions of the Security Council on the issue should be enforced.

Dialogue with the Committee

The representative of Australia asked about the permanent forum on indigenous issues. The delegation noted that Mr. Ndiaye spoke about the need for adequate resources. What sort of support could other bodies and agencies provide?

Mr. Ndiaye said there was a proposal on the biennium budget for 2002-2003 for $214,000, for travel of the permanent forum based on a calculation for meeting in New York. The major expense would be the travel costs of getting the secretariat staff from Geneva to New York. There was also a hope of raising $205,000 through voluntary contributions.

Statements on Indigenous People

MARJATTA RASI (Finland), on behalf of the Nordic Countries, said the historical first session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, to be held in New York, was only six months away. Work was well under way, but there were still some outstanding matters to be considered, including the questions of ensuring proper administration and adequate resources and funding. The countries believed it was crucially important that the Permanent Forum be funded by the regular United Nations budget. One of the Forum’s major tasks was to harmonize a range of issues, including human rights, development, environmental, cultural and social issues, in order to bring benefits to indigenous peoples. Bringing a variety of issues under one body would ensure coherence on indigenous issues dealt with by various United Nations bodies and specialized agencies. At the end, it would be for the Forum itself to decide on the scope and content of its own mandate.

She said that although human rights violations and discrimination suffered by indigenous peoples could be similar to those experienced by minorities, indigenous peoples could not be entirely equated with minorities. Indigenous peoples were the original inhabitants of the region in which they lived, and were in some regions the majority population. The rights of indigenous peoples were based in their special relationship with the land and natural resources of the area in which they lived. It was a primary concern for the Nordic countries to develop the living conditions of indigenous peoples in such a way as to allow the survival of their communities and cultures, and in this regard, it was important to strengthen their human and institutional capacity.

SARAH PATERSON (New Zealand) said an historic milestone had been achieved last year with the establishment of a Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The Forum would discuss indigenous matters within the purview of the Economic and Social Council, namely economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. It would also be key to coordinating United Nations activities for indigenous people. She added that the Forum would provide an important outlet for indigenous peoples to make their own unique contributions to the work of the Organization.

She went on to say that in order to be effective, it would be essential for the Forum to receive full support from both States and the relevant specialized agencies, including provision of the necessary technical and financial support. She urged States to demonstrate commitment to the Forum by ensuring that it received adequate funding from the regular budget. That issue was currently being discussed by the Fifth Committee. With the end of the Decade fast approaching, she urged States as well as indigenous people to redouble their efforts to elaborate a draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

On domestic activities during the Decade, she said the New Zealand Government remained firmly committed to reducing inequalities between the Maori and non-Maori. Strength among the Maori people made New Zealand a stronger nation over all. This year, the Government had, among other initiatives, enacted a capacity-building programme aimed at empowering and enabling Maori to have greater control over their own development. Also the Maori Business Facilitation Service had been recently established to help guide local Maori business interests.

TIAN LIXIAO (China) said his Government supported the international community in carrying out the activities of the International Decade for the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The Permanent Forum was the first United Nations body consisting of both indigenous and governmental experts, enabling indigenous experts to exchange views with their governmental counterparts and to voice their opinions regarding the formulation of international policies relating to indigenous people. That represented an important step towards the partnership the United Nations was building with indigenous people. It was also a specific achievement of the decade.

China, he said, offered understanding and support to the reasonable demands and positions of indigenous people. On the occasion of the inauguration of the Permanent Forum, China wished to offer some observations. First, in carrying out its work, the Permanent Forum had to bear in mind the special features of the issue of indigenous peoples. It was not a question that existed in all countries or regions. It differed from the issue of minority people, which all countries faced due to national, racial, linguistic and religious differences. Failure to make such a distinction would result in the weakening of the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples.

Also, the Permanent Forum had to strictly follow the mandate given by the Economic and Social Council resolution 2000/22 in its activities, he said. As an expert and advisory body, it was well positioned to focus attention on issues related to indigenous people, such as culture, environment, education, health and human rights. It also would put forward policy recommendations to ECOSOC and other United Nations agencies. Lastly, the Permanent Forum would do well by paying attention to the division of labour and coordination with other competent agencies of the United Nations system, so as to avoid overlapping or wasting resources. To that end, it was necessary for the Forum to gain knowledge of the work done by these agencies first, and on the basis of such knowledge, determine its own priority areas and work methods.

ENIO CORDEIRO (Brazil) said his delegation had repeatedly reaffirmed Brazil s commitment to the promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples, which in his country amounted to about 350,000 people. Over 210 ethnic groups, and 170 different languages comprised the extremely rich mosaic of indigenous cultures in Brazil. Contrary to what was predicted in the 1950s, Brazil’s indigenous population had not decreased over the years. In fact, there had been a steady increase in the indigenous population, whose demographic recovery was due to not only higher birth rates, but also longer life expectancy. Such a trend would not have been possible had the mainstream society remained attached to the ethnocentric view that had prevailed in the past. Brazil attached great importance to the implementation of the Programme of Activities for the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People.

He said that despite the important paragraphs adopted during the Durban conference, to which Brazil fully subscribed, the international community still lagged behind when it came to the adoption of international instruments on indigenous rights. Thorny issues had prevented the international community from making strides in the negotiation of a much-awaited Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. It was about time to ensure that the working group of the Commission on Human Rights that was drafting the Declaration adopt a fresh approach to the negotiations. The completion of the drafting work would depend upon a great deal of flexibility on the part of all participants.

JOELLE JENNY, the Observer of Switzerland, said the celebration of the International Decade of Indigenous People had highlighted the vulnerability of nearly 300 million of the world s people. She hoped that efforts to implement the Vienna Declaration (1993) would be compatible with other human rights instruments. States as well as indigenous people and non-governmental organizations should cooperate to that end. It was most important, however not to reverse any objectives that had already been agreed in Vienna.

She said the Permanent Forum would be called upon to play an important role in the work of the United Nations. Therefore, on the issue of choosing a Headquarters for the Forum, two issues should be taken into account. First, Members should be able to attend its meetings with as much ease as possible, and second, the Forum should benefit from broad synergy with other United Nations agencies. For that reason, she felt that the Forum should be based in Geneva, where a synergistic support network, particularly in the area of human rights, already existed.

DMITRY KNYAZHINSKIY (Russian Federation) said the year 2001 would be recalled as a milestone for the world’s indigenous peoples. The Economic and Social Council had agreed to nominate eight governmental experts to the Permanent Forum, which had been established by the ECOSOC last year. Russia had one of the largest indigenous populations in the world. The adoption by the Commission on Human Rights of a resolution appointing a Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples was a recognition of progress.

It was clear, he said, that the international community was showing interest in indigenous peoples, and now that interest had to be translated into action in national law. Russia had adopted laws guaranteeing their rights. Their ancient habitats, cultures and practices had been protected. His Government also had adopted a number of federal programmes which, among other things, aimed at stabilizing the economic and social development of indigenous people. Another plan was helping to create favourable economic conditions for minority indigenous peoples in the northern part of the country, using the natural resources of the region. There was a partnership between his Government and the country s indigenous peoples.

RHITU SIDDHARTH (International Labour Organization (ILO)) said that since its establishment in 1919, the ILO initially investigated forced labour conditions among rural workers, among which there were substantial numbers of indigenous and tribal peoples. The ILO had promulgated the only two international instruments dealing exclusively with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples — Convention 107 and Convention 169. International Labour Convention 169 was a comprehensive instrument covering a range of issues, including land rights, access to natural resources, health, education, vocational training and conditions of employment. An important aim of the Convention was to set up conditions for self-management so that indigenous and tribal peoples could gain greater recognition of their distinct cultures, traditions and customs, as well as gain more control over their

own economic, social and cultural development. The Convention urged dialogue between national governments and indigenous and tribal peoples.

Ms. Siddharth said there were several technical assistance projects between the ILO and indigenous and tribal peoples. One was the Project to Promote ILO Policy on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. At the working level, the project aimed to increase dialogue, cooperation and understanding between indigenous peoples and governments, and to enhance the capacity of indigenous and tribal peoples to participate and take responsibility in the processes that affected them. Another programme was the INDISCO Programme, which aimed to strengthen the capacities of indigenous and tribal peoples. It helped them to design and implement development plans and initiatives through their own organizations, ensuring that their traditional values and cultures were safeguarded. Those programmes were implemented across the world — in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and North and South America. Cultural values, social organization, spiritual values, political struggles and economic activity all had to be taken into account when addressing the aspirations of indigenous and tribal peoples.