Secretary-General’s Representative Reports 2 Million Killed In Past Decade; Extreme Suffering and Hardship for Millions More
Two million children had been killed in the past decade in armed conflicts, 12 million made homeless, and many others suffered from psychological trauma, Olara A. Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children in Armed Conflict, told the Security Council this morning.
Addressing the Council, which was holding its first-ever meeting on children in armed conflict, Mr. Otunnu said concrete initiatives should be undertaken to prevent or mitigate their sufferings. The international community must insist on having access to populations in distress. Facilities normally reserved for children, such as schools and children’s playgrounds, must be considered free zones. Children must not be used in warfare. The international community must work to heal the scars of war on children, he said.
In the day-long debate, a number of speakers said demobilization of child soldiers must be ensured and action taken to promote their physical and psychological recovery and social integration. Others also said crimes against children should be brought under the jurisdiction of the future permanent International Criminal Court whose establishment is the subject of a diplomatic conference currently under way in Rome. Several delegates said the age for eligibility for military service should be universally raised from 15 to 18 years. The representative of the United Kingdom (on behalf of the European Union and associated States) said any meaningful effort to improve the plight of children affected by armed conflict required high-level governmental and international attention. It also required the mobilization of public opinion, practical action on the ground by governments, and support for the Secretary- General’s Special Representative. Also making statements in the debate were the representatives of Slovenia, Sweden, France, Russian Federation, Japan, Brazil, China, Gambia, Costa Rica, United States, Kenya, Bahrain, Gabon, Italy, Norway, Germany, Canada, Indonesia, Morocco, Slovakia, Mozambique, Namibia, Burundi, Argentina, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Latvia, Romania, El Salvador, Liberia, Azerbaijan and Portugal.
The meeting, which was called to order at 11:09 a. m. , was suspended at 1:21 p. m. It resumed at 3:26 p. m. and adjourned at 5:58 p. m.
Council Work Programme
The Security Council met this morning to begin a day-long debate on the impact of armed conflict on children.
At its forty-eighth session in 1993, the General Assembly adopted resolution 48/157, entitled “Protection of children affected by armed conflicts”, by which it requested the Secretary-General to appoint an expert to undertake a comprehensive study on the subject, with the support of the Centre for Human Rights and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). In accordance with the resolution, the expert, Gra a Machel, former Minister of Education and First Lady of Mozambique, submitted progress reports to the forty-ninth and fiftieth sessions of the General Assembly.
In her final report (document A/51/306), the expert states that in 1995, 30 major armed conflicts raged in different locations around the world, all of them within States. In the past decade, an estimated 2 million children have been killed in armed conflict. Three times as many have been seriously injured or permanently disabled, many of them maimed by landmines. Countless others have been forced to witness or even to take part in horrifying acts of violence.
A series of 24 case studies on the use of children as soldiers prepared for the report, covering conflicts over the past 30 years, indicate that government or rebel armies around the world have recruited tens of thousands of children. Most are adolescents, though many child soldiers are 10 years of age or younger. Although the majority are boys, armed groups also recruit girls, many of whom perform the same functions as boys.
Among specific recommendations on child soldiers, the expert proposed that all peace agreements should include measures to demobilize and reintegrate them into society. The expert said there was an urgent need for the international community to support programmes for the demobilization and reintegration of child soldiers into the community.
The expert stated that the flagrant abuse and exploitation of children during armed conflict could and must be eliminated. The impact of armed conflict on children was the responsibility of all: governments, international organizations and every element of civil society.
In response to the Machel report, the General Assembly adopted resolution 51/77 in December 1996 by which it recommended the appointment of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict. The resolution said that the Special Representative should, among other things, assess progress achieved, steps taken and difficulties encountered in strengthening the protection of children in situations of armed conflict.
The Special Representative was to raise awareness and promote the collection of information about the plight of children affected by armed conflict, and encourage the development of networking. He was to work closely with the Committee on the Rights of the Child, relevant United Nations bodies, specialized agencies and other competent bodies, as well as non-governmental organizations.
The Special Representative was also to foster international cooperation to ensure respect for children’s rights and to contribute to the coordination of efforts by governments and relevant United Nations bodies, the specialized agencies and the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
In September 1997, the Secretary-General appointed Olara A. Otunnu as his Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict. In announcing the appointment, the Secretary-General underscored the urgent need for a public advocate and moral voice on behalf of children whose rights, protection and welfare have been and are being violated in armed conflicts.
Last December, the General Assembly called upon States and other parties to armed conflict to respect international humanitarian law and, in particular, the provisions of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and its additional protocols of 1977. They were also urged to respect the Convention on the Rights of the Child which accord children affected by armed conflict special protection and treatment. The Assembly also stressed the need for governments and those parties to take measures, including the establishment, for example, of “days of tranquillity” and “corridors of peace”, to ensure humanitarian access, the delivery of humanitarian relief and the provision of services, such as education and health, including immunization of children affected by armed conflict.
The Assembly also called upon the State parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (191 so far), to ensure that the education of the child is carried out in accordance with provisions of the Convention and that the education be directed, inter alia, to the development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and to the preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society.
OLARA A. OTUNNU, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children in Armed Conflict, said that in about 50 countries children were suffering from the impact of armed conflict. Two million had been killed in the past decade, 12 million had been made homeless, and many others were suffering from psychological trauma. Half the total number of the world’s refugees were children. An estimated quarter of a million serving under arms in conflicts were children. The magnitude of what was being witnessed attested to a new phenomenon in war. Almost all the conflicts now taking place were internal, and characterized by the systematic targeting of civilian populations. The belligerents were ignoring international law. The conflicts tended to be protracted, often in recurring cycles. Children had been compelled to become active participants. The indiscriminate use of anti- personnel mines underscored the vulnerability of children. Villages had become battlefields, and civilians the target. The vast majority were women and children. He said international humanitarian instruments and traditional taboos were being cast aside.
To reverse “the trend of that abomination”, Mr. Otunnu said, concerted action had to be taken at both international and national levels. The value of international instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols, had been cast aside and were not being applied. The international community must ensure their application and observance. The Security Council could lead the way by sending a clear message that abuse against children was unacceptable. The most damaging loss society could suffer was the collapse of its own value systems. In so many conflicts today, he said, “everything goes”. Many societies had seen their value systems collapse. Institutions — parents, extended families, religious institutions — should be strengthened.
He said concrete initiatives should be undertaken to prevent or mitigate the sufferings of children in armed conflict. The international community must insist on having access to populations in distress. Relief agencies should be given such access. Facilities normally reserved for children, such as schools and children’s playgrounds, must be considered “free zones”. Children must not be used in war. The flow of arms, especially small arms, must be stopped. He said efforts should be made to stop the use of anti-personnel arms in theatres of conflict. No group or government could ignore concentrated international effort on behalf of children. Action should be taken at the end of conflicts to help heal their scars on children. The international community must work to heal those wounds. The healing was critical because without that it was difficult to stop the cycle of violence. Any plans for post-conflict peace-building should make the needs of children a central focus. Efforts should include demobilization, and return of displaced and refugee children. Educational training such as vocational training should be undertaken.
Mr. Otunnu said there was need to take concerted action to prevent the causes of the conflicts — political, economic and social action that could generate a sense of inclusion and a sense of one country. In addition to those specific areas, he appealed to the Council to consider the needs of children in its imposition of sanctions. He hoped that beginning with its message today the Council would agree on a common project to make the world safe for children.
Sir JOHN WESTON (United Kingdom), speaking on behalf of the European Union and Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Cyprus, Iceland and Liechtenstein, said the issue of children in armed conflict was one that deserved an important place on the international political agenda. Countries must ensure the demobilization of child soldiers and recognize the importance of action to promote the physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of the child victims of conflict. The international community must ensure that adequate resources were devoted to child rehabilitation programmes as an integral part of planning for post-conflict situations.
He said the European Union supported the work that was in progress to strengthen international human rights standards and mechanisms for enforcing international law in respect of children in situations of armed conflict. The Union was fully committed to the aim of concluding successfully the negotiations on the draft optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. It was also working actively at the Conference for the early establishment of a permanent International Criminal Court, which was necessary as a means of holding to account the perpetrators of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
Any meaningful effort to improve the plight of children affected by armed conflict required high-level governmental and international attention, he said. It also required the mobilization of public opinion, practical action on the ground by governments, and support for the Secretary-General’s Special Representative. It was important that governments and armed groups fulfil the commitments given to them by the Special Representative. The international community must be vigilant in monitoring the implementation of those commitments.
DANILO T RK (Slovenia) said that among the problems relating to the maintenance of international peace and security, none had the same urgency and long-term importance as that of children in armed conflicts. According to the report of Gra a Machel, in the past decade, an estimated 2 million children had been killed in armed conflicts. Three times as many had been permanently disabled, many of them maimed by landmines. Countless others had been forced to witness or even take part in horrifying acts of violence.
While the statistics on the suffering of children in armed conflict were shocking enough, the conclusion drawn from them was even more chilling. The report had concluded that the world was being “sucked into a desolate moral vacuum . . . , a space devoid of most basic human values . . . in which children are slaughtered, raped and maimed . . . are exploited as soldiers . . . starved and exposed to extreme brutality”.
He said that situation had worsened at the time of almost universal applicability of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which contained some of the most detailed norms that were supposed to protect children.
He said the results of the first missions of Mr. Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General, had shown it was possible to make a difference in specific situations, including the most difficult ones. The Security Council was charged with acting on behalf of the entire membership of the United Nations, he said. In its actions, it should not be neutral or indifferent when the fundamental values of human survival were at stake. It must express a clear position and ensure that its practical action was in conformity with the requirements of international law and basic, universally shared moral imperatives.
Necessary change would not be possible without a minimum retribution, which alone could break the cycle of impunity, he said. States must act individually and collectively to achieve that goal. Slovenia was deeply committed to that task and was actively participating in the Conference on the establishment of an International Criminal Court.
HANS DAHLGREN (Sweden) said the Security Council, the United Nations as a whole and the international community should act to keep children out of acts of armed conflict. The minimum age of recruitment and participation in military activities should be 18, and an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child could achieve that. The Council should give particular consideration to the need for demobilization, rehabilitation and physical and social reintegration of child soldiers and child combatants in post-conflict peace-building operations.
He said restricting the supply of small arms in areas of conflict was a necessary step in halting armed conflicts and their harmful impact on children. The Council should pay attention to the importance of special training for peacekeepers and civilian police who, while on mission, could come into contact with child combatants or with children who had been abused. That was also an important task for the Special Representative, in collaboration with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
The Special Representative should also continue to keep track of crimes against children in the context of armed conflict, and should be able to alert the International Criminal Court, once it was established, as well as the international community at large. While adult combatants could return to the life they had had before a war, for children who had lost their parents, who had not been to school or who had learned only how to handle weapons, there was nothing to return to. There was a risk that those children would continue with the only lives they knew, and become criminals. The recruitment and use of children for armed conflicts was not only a violation against international law and the rights of the child, but it could have serious consequences for peace and security in the future.
ALAIN DEJAMMET (France) said many figures and statistics had been mentioned, and they clearly illustrated the seriousness of the problem before the Council today. France wished to underscore the truly overwhelming nature of the facts that attested to the high numbers of children that were compelled and forcibly recruited by combatants, both in regular armies and in armed groups. The international community must do its utmost to eradicate those practices. The subject was extremely grave and multifaceted and warranted every endeavour to reverse the disquieting trend of involving children in armed conflict.
France had always supported the idea of giving a mandate to a Special Representative of the Secretary-General on children in armed conflict, he said. His Government reaffirmed its support for Mr. Otunnu’s work, and stressed that the Special Representative should receive the cooperation and collaboration of all entities of the United Nations system.
France also endorsed measures for the protection of humanitarian assistance and the need to take into consideration the humanitarian impact of sanctions. It was also important to draw attention to the need for the universal ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In addition, there was a need for effective implementation of that Convention. Efforts undertaken to conclude an optional protocol of that Convention to address the situation of children in armed conflict should be completed as soon as possible. That would be a positive first result of the presidential statement that the Council would be adopting at the end of the current meeting.
ALEXANDRE V. ZMEEVSKI (Russian Federation) said the Council should devote attention to the problems of children. Their situation should be commented upon by the Secretary-General in his reports on conflict areas. Efforts should be made to withdraw children from conflict situations. They should also be given access to education. Those and other tasks should be given special attention by the Secretary-General and Force Commanders of peacekeeping missions.
He said humanitarian exemptions should be taken into account in imposition of sanctions by the Council. There could be no solution to the problems of children in armed conflict without measures at the disposal of the United Nations being applied.
He said the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which 191 governments adhered, dealt with the problems of children in armed conflict. It ensured their protection and rehabilitation. The Russian Federation was one of the first countries to ratify the Convention and was applying its provisions nationally. Russia advocated the adoption of an optional protocol to the Convention dealing with children in armed conflict. He believed the ideas put forward by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General would help in the resolution of the problems.
HISASHI OWADA (Japan) said the number of children involved in armed conflict had increased dramatically with the shift from inter-State to intra- State fighting. Children had also been affected by the proliferation of small arms and the changing nature of armed conflicts. It was incumbent upon the international community to make serious efforts to cope with the problem. Attention should be paid to its long-term negative implications for the future generations, as well as its immediate impact on the process of post-conflict peace-building. By addressing the issue, the Council should demonstrate its determination to place the issue at the centre of its strategy in conflictprevention and post-conflict peace-building. In recognition of the importance of the mission carried out by Mr. Otunnu and his office, Japan intended to contribute $100,000 to support the start of the office of Children in Armed Conflict.
Japan urged all parties to armed conflict to strictly observe the relevant provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Geneva Conventions that prohibit children under fifteen years of age from being used as soldiers. His Government believed that no child under the age of eighteen should be recruited and used in armed conflict. Japan was participating in the working group for the addition of an optional protocol to that effect to the Convention.
Another important aspect of the problems involved in the issue was the unintended adverse consequences of sanctions on the civilian population, he said. General Assembly resolution 51/242 states that foodstuffs, medicines and medical supplies should be exempted from sanctions regimes. Efforts to promote the elaboration of sanctions should focus specifically on the targeted regime without producing negative effects on the civilian population, including children.
CELSO AMORIM (Brazil) said the predicament of young people whose future was being ravaged by war needed not only enhanced international awareness, but a strategy for the protection of children and adolescents from the physical and psychological traumas provoked by violence. The establishment of a working group under the Commission on Human Rights to negotiate a protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding the involvement of children in