9 November-99

I. The Context

I have come to Istanbul with two objectives in mind. First, I am here to pay tribute to the pioneering work of the OSCE. Examples of this work include the establishment and monitoring of standards; intervening at every phase in the evolution of conflict – preventively before conflict erupts, in the midst of conflict and in post-conflict situations; developing innovative methods for engagement on the ground. The experiences of OSCE sets it apart as a very important example of innovation in the fields of conflict prevention, management and resolution. Second, I have come here to make a plea to you on behalf of children who are being abused and brutalized in the context of armed conflict.

The preamble of the Charter of United Nations enjoins us “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. Yet, today, on the eve of the new millenium, we are witnessing unspeakable abominations directed against children in situations of conflict. This suffering bears many faces: children being killed; children being made orphans, children being maimed; children being uprooted from their homes; children being raped and sexually abused; children being deprived of education and health care; children being exploited as child soldiers; and children left with deep emotional trauma.

All non-combatants are entitled to protection, but children deserve special attention and require special protection. Children are innocent and especially vulnerable. They are less equipped to adapt or respond to conflict. They bear no responsibility for conflict in the first place, yet suffer disproportionately from its excesses. Moreover, children represent the hopes and future of every society; destroy them and you have destroyed a society.

Over the last decade, 2 million children were killed in conflict situations, over 1 million were made orphans, over 6 million have been seriously injured or permanently disabled, and over 10 million have been left with grave psychological trauma.

As we meet here today, in approximately 50 countries around the world, children are suffering from the effects of conflicts and its aftermath. Today, there are over 20 million children who have been displaced by war within and outside their countries. Some 300,000 young persons under the age of 18 are currently being exploited as child soldiers. And approximately 800 children are killed or maimed by landmines every month.

The magnitude of what we are witnessing today attests to a new phenomenon. There has been a qualitative shift in the nature of warfare. This is not war as we have known it in the modern era.

Several developments mark this transformation. Almost all the major armed conflicts in the world today are civil wars; they are being fought among those who know each other well; they pit compatriot against compatriot, neighbour against neighbour. They are often protracted, lasting years if not decades; they are marked by widespread social breakdown and lawlessness, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, and the involvement of multiple and often semiautonomous armed groups. Most cynically, children have been compelled to become themselves the instruments of war – indeed the weapons of choice – recruited or kidnapped to become child soldiers. A key feature of this struggle is the demonization of the so-called “enemy community” and the orchestration of vicious hate campaigns. The enemy community is often defined in religious, ethnic, racial or regional terms. The traditional limits on the conduct of warfare – international instruments as well as local taboos and junctions – are being cast aside. In this setting the village has become the battlefield and civilian population the primary target. This is soldier-on-civilian violence on an unprecedented scale.

These excesses are no longer exceptional, they are widespread across the globe; they are going on today in some 30 areas of conflict.

It is against this background that today up to 90 % of casualties in ongoing conflicts around the world are civilians – this figure was 5 % in World War I – the vast majority of whom are women and children. This is the world turned upside down.

This abomination is due in large measure to a crisis of values – a kind of “ethical vacuum” – a setting in which international standards are ignored with impunity and where traditional value systems have lost their sway.

We can and must reverse this trend of abomination. To do so, we must adopt serious concerted measures at both the international and national levels.

In my recent report to this year's UN General Assembly, a copy of which has been made available to you, I highlight some of the initiatives and actions I have been developing to give concrete expression and life to my mandate. I have also put forward in the report several recommendations to generate reflection and discussion, and to serve as a basis for on-going dialogue with all concerned actors; I commend them for your attention and action.

In my efforts to raise public awareness and mobilize international action on the plight of children affected by armed conflict, I have undertaken country missions to a number of countries affected by conflict to assess first-hand and to bear witness to the plight of children. To this end, in September 1998, I visited the FRY and Kosovo. In April this year, I traveled to Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to see Kosovo refugee children. At the conclusion of that mission, I put forward an Agenda for Action for the Children of Kosovo, which served to mobilize and consolidate the response of the international community to the situation of Kosovo refugee children.

In my work, I have particularly emphasized the role of regional organizations. I am very pleased that the protection and welfare of children affected by armed conflict has begun to gain the attention of OSCE. I know that during the first part of the current Review Conference several countries raised the need to focus the OSCE more systematically on this issue within the context of the discussion on the Human Dimension.

I am very grateful to the Chairman-in-Office, H.E. Mr. Knut Vollebæck, Foreign Minister of Norway, for taking the initiative to organize today's session devoted to “Children and Armed Conflict”.

II. 10-Point Agenda for Dialogue with OSCE

In addressing this final session on the Human Dimension of OSCE Review Conference, I should like to put forward ten concrete proposals – – A Ten-Point Agenda for Dialogue with OSCE – – on actions the OSCE could undertake to make the protection, rights and welfare of children affected by armed conflict a central concern in policy-making, priority-setting, resource allocation, programme activities and advocacy agenda.

(i). Placing the protection of children on the agenda of the Permanent Council

As the standing body for political consultation and decision-making within OSCE, the Permanent Council should pay special attention to the situation of children when discussing specific initiatives and concrete undertakings. As a first step, it should adopt a policy requiring that whenever reports are submitted to it on situations of armed conflict, transitions to peace and post-conflict situations, such reports should include assessments of the impact of those situations on children. This will provide the Permanent Council with information on the basis of which to address the protection and welfare of children on an ongoing basis. Similarly, OSCE's institutions, in particular the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the High Commissioner for National Minorities, should be encouraged to develop methodologies for OSCE and activities to monitor the situation and protection of children within their spheres of work.

We must undertake concrete initiatives to prevent or mitigate the suffering of children who are actually caught up in the midst of continuing conflict. In other words, we must explore concrete ways to translate the concept “Children as a Zone of Peace” into practical arrangements on the ground. In my visits to several countries, I have elicited commitments from parties in conflict on some of the following measures: to allow access to populations in distress in zones within their control; not to interfere with the distribution of relief supplies; to observe humanitarian cease-fires; not to attack schools or hospitals; not to use landmines and not to recruit or use children as soldiers. I urge OSCE to adopt children as a “zone of peace” within its region, and to that end to develop a practice for eliciting and monitoring specific commitments from all parties to conflict.

Although most of today's 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 “neighborhood 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 UNHCR and UNICEF. Among sub-regions selected as pilot cases is Kosovo and its neighbourhood; I look forward to working closely with the OSCE on this project.

Children suffer disproportionately in times of war. They therefore have a particularly high stake in peace. That is why we must ensure that their protection and needs feature prominently in any negotiations to end war and in peace accords. During my recent visits to Burundi, Colombia, Sierra Leone and the Sudan, governments and insurgency groups have agreed to place the protection and welfare of children on the agendas of peace processes currently under way in their countries. I call on the OSCE to promote this practice in its own peace-making demarches.

Particular attention needs to be given to the protection and welfare of children in OSCE-mandated field operations aimed at promoting peace, preventing and resolving conflicts and implementing peace agreements. First, the needs and rights of children must be recognized from the outset and should be firmly entrenched in the mandates of the field missions. Second, the OSCE should consider the possibility of attaching a senior officer explicitly tasked with ensuring coordination of issues related to protection and welfare of children in each of the field missions. Third, training should be provided for all personnel in the field missions with regard to the rights and protection of children. I have proposed similar elements in UN peace operations, which are now being put into practice in newly mandated operations. SRSG Bertrand Kouchner and I are consulting on how best to incorporate these elements into the operation of UNMIK in Kosovo.

I should also like to recommend that OSCE consider setting 18 as the age limit for participants in OSCE field missions. This would also be consistent with the policy recently adopted by the UN.

The participation of children in armed conflict is one of the most horrendous trends of recent wars. Although not an acute problem within OSCE countries, there have recently alarming reports of recruitment of young people within OSCE countries for use in hostilities in third countries. To stem this tide of abuse we need to adopt a three-pronged approach. First, we must work to raise the age limit for recruitment and participation of children in armed conflict from 15 to 18. Second, and in parallel efforts, we need to mobilize an effective movement of international pressure that can lean on armed groups currently abusing children in this way. Third, we must address the political, social and economic factors, which create an environment where children are induced by appeal of ideology or by socio-economic collapse to become child soldiers.

I should like on this occasion to address a particular appeal to OSCE member states to cooperate actively in current efforts to conclude the work on an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, on the involvement of children in armed conflict. Why is the completion of this project so important? Because it will enable the international community to concentrate its attention and action on the urgent task of curbing child soldiering on the ground.

Even when the fighting stops, children will continue to bear scars and suffer the long-term consequences of exposure to extreme violence and loss of youth and education. For many countries in the aftermath of conflict, the most daunting challenge is how to respond to the “crisis of the young people” – the desperate conditions of very young children and adolescents. The prospects of national recovery depend a great deal on rehabilitating young people and restoring to them a sense of renewed hope.

I urge OSCE to make the needs and rights of children a central concern from the outset of its post-conflict planning, programming and resource allocation. At the national level, a national commission on children, comprised of government, civil society and international organizations, should form part of the structures for national reconstruction and the consolidation of peace. The OSCE could promote this concept within the countries in its region.

On my missions in the past two years I have everywhere witnessed the deeply distressing and precarious situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Most of the children I have encountered in my visits are IDPs. When I visited Kosovo in September 1998, I was appalled by the suffering of the children and women, who had taken to the woods and mountain trails in their desperate flight from violence with virtually no shelter or basic necessities. In other areas within the OSCE region, such as Nagorno-Karabash, Tajikistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia and the Russian Federation (Chechnya), many hundreds of thousands of people have been up-rooted by violence.

Most people fleeing war or armed conflict, well over half of whom are children, do so within the borders of their own country. Today, there are some 25 million IDPs, the vast majority of whom are children and women. Their predicament underlines the need and the urgency for the international community to find a way to provide more systematic access, protection and practical support to IDPs. Here, too, OSCE is well-placed to set an example by developing some innovative methods of response to this problem within its region.

I have been struck by the absence of and hunger for information and entertainment among children in situations of conflict and its aftermath. We need to develop radio, and possibly television, stations and programmes, devoted mainly to the interests and needs of children in such situations (“Voice of Children” project). This would serve to give voice to children's concerns, offer education and entertainment and promote tolerance and reconciliation. In the OSCE missions where media affairs constitutes an important component of the mandate, as presently in Kosovo and also in Bosnia-Herzegovina, I urge that particular emphasis be placed on children's programming. The Representative for Freedom of the Media should also be encouraged to specifically suggest how the OSCE could best further the protection and welfare of children in this aspect of its work.

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. The most pertinent are the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Ottawa Convention on Anti-personnel Landmines, and the Geneva Conventions.

In addition, I strongly urge all OSCE member 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 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. I commend OSCE for innovative approaches developed over the years in promoting and monitoring the implementation of international norms. We must create a critical mass of practice worldwide.

Ultimately, the best way to protect children is to prevent the occurrence and recurrence of conflict. Armed conflicts have their roots in structural inequities, poverty and despair, and various practices of exclusion and marginalization. Three factors are especially relevant here. First, in too many societies today, we are witnessing a phenomenon in which within a country, there has developed a centre and periphery relationship, a situation in which there are systematic imbalances in the distribution of development resources and political power between different parts and sectors of the same country. To be meaningful, development and growth must benefit the people of a country as a whole and not just a section of it.

A second factor of conflict concerns the management of diversity in many of our countries. It is crucial to foster a sense of common belonging at the national level, while allowing below that the space for the expression of cultural, religious and regional diversities. Unfortunately, we have seen too many leaders manipulate the diversities within their societies in order to gain or retain power. We must work to repudiate this.

Thirdly, there is the issue of democratic practice. It is critical to build genuine democratic practice and the rule of law, because in the long run this provides a non-violent and routine way of mediating competing claims within a society.

In order to prevent conflict therefore, both international and national actors have a responsibility to take political, economic and social measures that can generate within communities a sense of hope in place of despair, a sense of inclusion and participation instead of exclusion, a sense of belonging instead of alienation.

Here again, because of its more comprehensive approach to security, OSCE is particularly well-placed to develop a culture of prevention.

Before concluding, I should like to draw your attention to UN Security Council resolution 1261 (1999), unanimously adopted by the Security Council on 25 August this year. This 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 affected by armed conflict as an important issue that legitimately belongs on the

agenda of the Security Council. Furthermore, the Council has clearly indicated its intent to remain fully seized of this issue by asking for a report on the implementation of the resolution by July 31, 2000.

Security Council resolution 1261 provides a most important tool for advocacy on behalf of children affected by armed conflict. I call on all organizations concerned for the protection of children, including OSCE, to fully use this new advocacy tool. Second, I call on OSCE member states to actively encourage the Security Council to apply the measures contained in the resolution in its future consideration of specific crises situations and in the mandating of peace operations.

In conclusion, let me say this. There is a danger that we in the international community may be exposed to so much that we could come to regard as normal the phenomenon that in fact represents a radical departure from the fundamental norms of conduct acceptable to our various societies. We must not let this happen.

We must create a political and social climate which makes the abuse and brutalization of children entirely unacceptable.

I have two requests to make of the distinguished delegates in this regard. First, it would be a powerful signal of support and advocacy on behalf of children who are being abused and brutalized in situations of armed conflict, if OSCE Governments, in the Summit communiqué from Istanbul, were to issue a clear and strong statement on this issue. I very much count on your support on this matter. Second, I firmly believe that OSCE, with its more comprehensive view of security, field-oriented activities and broad membership, is a natural home for the development of this agenda, concerning the protection of war-affected children. I hope that the 10-point agenda I have just proposed will form the basis of an ongoing dialogue and engagement to this end between the OSCE and my Office.

On the eve of the new millennium, I very much hope that we can resolve to make the rights, protection and welfare of children – – all our children – – a common cause that can unite us across the boundaries of our political orientations, religious affiliations and cultural traditions. We must resolve to make our world safe for all children.