STATEMENT on the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
by Olara A. Otunnu
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
18 November 1999
Check against delivery
Ten years ago this weekend, the United Nations General Assembly voted to adopt a landmark international instrument: the Convention on the Rights of the
Child (CRC). The Convention has since been ratified by 191 states, making it the most widely ratified international instrument in history. The principles and provisions of the CRC set out unambiguously the obligations of the international community to ensure the security, rights and welfare of children everywhere and in all circumstances.
The CRC speaks very directly to the situation of millions of children who are exposed to the impact of armed conflicts: “Every child has the inherent right to life, and States shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child”. It stipulates that “children exposed to armed conflict shall receive special protection,” and that “no child shall take part in any hostilities.”
Perhaps no single category of children is so completely vulnerable as children caught in the midst of armed conflict.
In as many as 50 countries around the world where war is still raging or where recovery has begun, the CRC’s aspirations are being flouted with impunity, blighting the future of millions of children.
As I have outlined in my recent report to the General Assembly, a report which coincides with this anniversary, the suffering of children in situations of armed conflict bears many faces. As well as the appalling numbers of children being killed and maimed, many more are suffering displacement and dislocation – – there are some 20 million children who have been displaced by wars within and outside their countries. Many are left orphans, thousands are raped, sexually abused or left profoundly traumatized. Some 300,000 young persons below the age of 18 are being compelled to bear arms as child soldiers.
We must respond to all manifestations of this suffering by children. Indeed, the international community must be seen to be responding, wherever grave situations of suffering may unfold.
My role is to serve as advocate – – promoting the protection, rights and welfare of children at every phase of conflict: preventively before war erupts, in the midst of conflict and where rehabilitation is already underway.
To this end, since my appointment two years ago, my Office has embarked on a wide variety of initiatives and actions designed to enlarge the space for the protection of children exposed to armed conflict.
In my visits to several countries – – from Sri Lanka, Burundi, Sudan, Colombia, and Sierra Leone, to discussion with the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) of the DRC — I have engaged parties to conflict directly, eliciting commitments to some of the following measures: not to target civilian populations or sites such as schools and hospitals; to observe humanitarian cease-fires for the purpose of vaccination or supply of relief; not to recruit or use child soldiers; not to use land-mines; and to allow access to populations in distress within their zones of control. Our challenge now is to ensure more effective monitoring and adherence to these commitments. In this connection, it is critical that key national and international actors – – governments, the Security Council, regional organizations, UN agencies, civil society organizations – – reinforce these commitments through their own channels of communication and influence.
We have worked to place children squarely at the centre of peace negotiations. Children suffer disproportionately in times of war, so they have a particularly high stake in peace. During my recent visits to Burundi, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Colombia, governments and insurgency groups have agreed to place this issue on the agendas of the peace processes currently underway in their countries.
I have advocated and proposed measures to ensure that children are made a central concern in post-conflict situations (such as Kosovo, Rwanda,
Sierra Leone and East Timor) and that this is reflected in priority-setting, policy-making and resource allocation.
I have proposed the incorporation of child protection into UN peace operations, consisting of three elements: explicit inclusion in mandates, appointment of child protection advisers, and training of peacekeepers. I am pleased to report that the first peace operation in which all the three new elements have been brought together is UNAMSIL in Sierra Leone. I am working with other colleagues to ensure that similar arrangements are put into place for the peace operations in Kosovo, DRC and East Timor. We must work to make this an established policy for UN as well as regional peace operations.
Although most of today’s armed conflicts are internal, the victimization of children is often exacerbated by cross-border activities, such as the flow of
small arms and light weapons, the transfer and use of landmines, the recruitment and abduction of children, the movement of displaced populations, and the separation of families. Threats facing children within countries in conflict often cannot be brought under control without addressing these cross-border dimensions.
I have therefore proposed the development of “neighbourhood initiatives” to bring together actors in a sub-regional setting where countries are linked
by cross-border activities affecting children. The purpose is to engage governments, insurgency groups, civil society organizations and humanitarian agencies in dialogue which would ultimately lead to specific agreements and concrete measures to protect children from cross-border threats. I have convened an informal inter-agency task force to develop those initiatives under the leadership of UNICEF and UNHCR. So far, three neighbourhoods have been selected as pilot cases: Eastern Africa (IGAD neighbourhood); West Africa (neighbourhood of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia); and Kosovo and its neighbourhood.
Working to end recruitment and use of children in armed conflict has constituted a major aspect of my advocacy work and engagement with parties to conflict. I strongly support raising the age limit for recruitment and participation in armed conflict from 15 to 18. This preoccupation has constituted an important aspect of my advocacy work in discussions with governments and engagement with all parties to conflict. Second, and in tandem with the efforts to raise the age limit, I believe there is an urgent need to mobilize right away a major movement of international pressure to lean on armed groups that are currently abusing children as combatants. Third, I believe that it is important to address the political, social and economic factors that create an environment which facilitates the exploitation of children in this way. This must include effective programmes for the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-child soldiers, or else many of them risk the prospects of being recycled into violence.
I should like on this occasion to address an urgent appeal to all states to cooperate actively in current efforts to bring to a successful conclusion, by January 2000, the work on a draft optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Why is the completion of this project so important? Because it will set us free to concentrate our energies and action on the urgent task of curbing child soldiering on the ground.
I have been advocating the establishment of local radio stations or programmes – -“Voice of Children” project – – devoted mainly to the needs and
interests of children in such situations. This would serve to give voice to children’s concerns, offer education and entertainment, promote tolerance and reconciliation, and raise awareness about the rights and protection of children. Such projects, while locally driven, require strong support from international partners.
I have made it a particular priority to work to ensure that the protection of children affected by armed conflict becomes a major concern on the
agenda of the Security Council. Following the first open debate on this issue and the statement by the President of the Security Council in June 1998, I have continued to encourage a deeper engagement on this matter by the Security Council. A most significant occasion for children came on 25 August 1999, when the Security Council held the second open debate on this issue and, following a day-long debate, unanimously adopted resolution 1261 (1999).
Resolution 1261 is an important milestone, a landmark, for the cause of children affected by armed conflict:
for the first time ever, the Security Council has devoted a resolution to a thematic concern, unrelated to a specific situation or An immediate incident. in so doing, it has clearly demonstrated its commitment to the protection of children affected by armed conflict.
Second, the resolution sets out a number of specific and important measures for protecting and ensuring the welfare of children in the midst of armed conflict and in its aftermath. If applied in specific situations, these measures could have a considerable impact on the ground.
Third, the Resolution clearly establishes the protection and welfare of children affected by armed conflict as an important issue that legitimately belongs on the agenda of the Council. Furthermore, the Council has clearly indicated its intent to rema
Security Council resolution 1261 provides a most important tool for advocacy on behalf of children affected by conflict. I call on all who are concerned for the protection of children to fully use this new advocacy tool. Second, I call on you to actively encourage the Security Council itself to apply the measures contained in the resolution in its future consideration of specific crisis situations and in the mandating of peace operations.
In the course of the past year, I have made it a priority to establish strong cooperation with the European Union (EU) and its institutions. The objective has been to encourage the EU to make the protection of children affected by armed conflict a significant aspect of its own agenda. My efforts have concentrated on developing initiatives in collaboration with three main bodies: the European Commission; the European Parliament; and the ACP-EU framework of cooperation which brings together 71 states from the African, Caribbean and Pacific regions and the 15 EU member states.
European Commission. I have held regular consultations with EU commissioners in Brussels, particularly with the Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs and the Commissioner for Development, as well as with an Inter-Service Group of senior officials drawn from Directorates General concerned with external relations, social affairs, development, humanitarian affairs, human rights, and the management of aid to non-member countries. In these discussions, I have urged the European Commission to incorporate the protection and welfare of children affected by armed conflict into their advocacy agenda and into their programme activities. I also requested that a special budget line be created for the benefit of children affected by war.
In this connection, I was very encouraged to learn recently from the European Commission that the protection and promotion of the rights of the child, including those of child soldiers, had been included as one of five thematic priorities for 1999 within the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights.
European Parliament. I have held discussions with the chairpersons of the Committee for Development and of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Security and Defence Policy, as well as with a cross-section of members of the European Parliament, seeking to obtain their political and advocacy support for the protection of children affected by armed conflict. The two chairpersons agreed in principle to hold joint hearings on this issue. In November 1998, at the initiative of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, I also addressed the Committee for Development on the issue of child soldiers; subsequently, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the recruitment and use of children as soldiers, and expressed support for raising the age limit for recruitment to 18.
ACP-EU Cooperation Agreement. In my address to the ACP-EU Joint Assembly in Strasbourg in March 1999, I proposed the inclusion of the protection and rights of children, especially children affected by armed conflict, in the successor agreement, now under negotiation, to the current Lomé IV agreement. I subsequently held a series of consultations with the key actors, within the framework of ACP-EU Cooperation Agreement, including the President of ACP-EU Joint Assembly, the Secretary-General of the ACP, and ambassadors from ACP countries.
In this connection, I was very pleased to learn recently from the Secretary-General of the ACP that several elements I had proposed have been endorsed by the ACP-EU Ministerial Negotiating Conference and are included in the current working documents:
protecting the rights of children and youth, especially the girl child;
helping community-based institutions to ensure the protection and development of F21;
prehabilitation and reintegration of children in post-conflict situations;
demobilization and reintegration of ex-Child combatants.
I believe that communities of faith – – all faiths – – have a crucial role to play in the protection of children through their advocacy and work on the ground. I have therefore invited their spiritual leaders and institutions to use their moral influence, leadership and their presence within communities to promote the protection of children and women.
In this connection, I have developed an active dialogue and framework of cooperation with the World Council of Churches (WCC), a fellowship of over 300 churches active in more than 120 countries. In August 1999, I addressed the Central Committee, the WCC’s principal governing and policy making body. The Central Committee adopted a resolution in which it welcomed and expressed strong support for the mandate and work of the Special Representative and for Security Council Resolution 1261 on “Children and armed Conflict”; it called on its worldwide network of member churches and church-related institutions to undertake and to support concrete initiatives for the protection of children affected by armed conflict; it resolved to incorporate this issue as a significant part of the programme and activities for WCC’s Ecumenical Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010). Earlier, WCC’s 1998 Harare Declaration called upon member churches to work to prevent use of children in armed conflict.
I welcome the strong support expressed by the Vatican for this agenda and the engagement of the Catholic Church in communities affected by conflict. I am keen to deepen this engagement through the Church’s advocacy outreach as well as its worldwide network of humanitarian institutions.
I have held consultations with the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Conference, and with Islamic scholars and clerics; we are actively exploring several possibilities for engagement and collaboration.
There is an urgent need to monitor and control the flow of arms into and the exploitation of natural resources from theatres of conflict, where it is clear that children and women are being systematically brutalized. I have therefore called on the international business community to assume its social and corporate responsibility in this context, and refrain from doing business which fuels war machines in such situations. As a start, I have urged them to develop voluntary codes of conduct within their own industries to address this serious issue. In that context, I welcome the recent statement by the International Diamond Manufacturers Association (IDMA) that it will work closely with the UN in order to achieve greater compliance with sanctions in the context of the Angolan conflict. The IDMA committed itself to “working within the diamond community to ensure that there is a zero tolerance in respect of any violation of the Angola sanctions”.
I have also worked to ensure that the issue of children and armed conflict is not only on the agenda but firmly embedded in policy-making, political
advocacy and operational programmes of regional organisations.
I am very pleased that the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) accepted my appeal to issue a strong statement on behalf of children affected by armed conflict in their communiqué at the end of their summit on Monday. The Durban Communiqué contain
Heads of Government expressed grave concern at the harmful and widespread impact of armed conflict on children and the long-term consequences of this for peace, security and development. They strongly condemned the targeting and abuse of children in situations of armed conflict and the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict in violation of international law, calling on all parties concerned to put an end to such practices. They welcomed United Nations Security Council Resolution 1261 of 25 August 1999, and the current efforts to draft an Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child and Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts and encouraged efforts by all relevant actors at the national and international level to develop more coherent and effective approaches to the issue of children and armed conflict
Most recently, I have proposed a 10-point agenda to form the basis of an ongoing dialogue and engagement between the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and my Office. I have also called on the OSCE to adopt a strong call on th
At the normative level, my preoccupation has been to promote the application of the two pillars of protection, namely: international humanitarian and
human rights instruments, and traditional local norms that provide for the protection of vulnerable populations, especially children and women in times of wars.
Over the past 50 years, the nations of the world have developed a truly impressive body of international humanitarian and human rights instruments, many of which provide for the protection of children in situations of armed conflict. In addition, on this occasion, I should like to urge states to sign and ratify the following two instruments which provide for the protection of children in the context of armed conflict: the Statute of the International Criminal Court and the ILO Convention concerning the Prohibition of the Worst Forms of Child Labour. The establishment of ICC in particular is very significant for the protection of children: it is a powerful tool that considerably reinforces advocacy for children; it establishes international criminal jurisdiction over individuals responsible for the most serious crimes against children; and it should serve as a deterrent to such crimes.
But the impact of these instruments remains woefully thin on the ground. Words on paper cannot save children in peril. We must therefore shift our energies from the juridical project of the elaboration of norms to the political project of ensuring their application and respect on the ground.
On the occasion of the anniversary of the CRC, we must remember that there are many countries where conflict is raging and children are suffering. I am
presently preoccupied with three situations in particular – – not all of them highly publicized.
-In Chechnya (Russian Federation), children are suffering in many distressing ways – – they have been displaced in large numbers; there have been reports of some children having been injured or killed by artillery and missile attacks and some having died
-Angola is still very much at war, with major military action underway. Here, too, children are the hardest-hit among a civilian population traumatized by so many years of brutal war. Thousands of children are severely malnourished; they are being killed
I appeal to the parties in conflict to allow free, unhindered access to humanitarian agencies working to distribute relief supplies, to refrain from recruiting or using under-age combatants, to refrain from targeting civilian sites where children are highly vulnerable, to stop re-mining areas that have already been cleared, and to respect guarantees of safety for humanitarian personnel in the field.
-The war in the Republic of Congo – – commonly known as Congo-Brazzaville – -has truly been a forgotten war, where children are facing horrendous suffering. They are among an estimated 800,000 internally displaced persons – – an extraordinary number for a
Reports this week from rural areas detail widespread atrocities perpetrated upon civilians, including the systematic rape of thousands of young girls. One report from the Pool region, the scene of recent military operations, speaks of “a whole generation of youth which has resorted to a life of plunder and extortion” and of a people “violently oppressed by both sides”. I urge the international community to give this humanitarian crisis the serious attention it deserves.
When we come to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the CRC, I hope that the activities being developed under my mandate will have succeeded in generating broad-based awareness on the fate of children affected by armed conflict, that this awareness will have led to global outrage concerning these abominations, and that this outrage will in turn have led to a world-wide mobilization and the beginnings of a movement of repudiation.
My ambition and hope are that our common endeavors — the efforts of Governments, the work of operational UN agencies, and the activities of NGOs — to give concrete expression and life to this mandate, will result in a critical mass of activities and awareness at all levels and by all actors, activities that should become self-sustaining beyond the life-span of this mandate.
Finally, I should like on this occasion, to pay particular tribute to the frontline work of UNICEF, UNHCR, WFP, UNDP and the European Commission, together with international and local NGOs. Their role, together with the work of UNHCHR, WHO, FAO and OCHA, is crucial in translating our common concern into operational activities on the ground.