Statement of Olara A. Otunnu


Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

to the Commission on Human Rights


Item 13

In my recent report to the General Assembly, I have provided a comprehensive description of the activities and initiatives undertaken by my Office in the

course of 1999. In my Additional Report to the Commission on Human Rights I have highlighted developments and issues that are of particular concern to the Commission and to the broader human rights community. I look forward to your discussion of the two reports and of the recommendations contained therein.

Two primary goals have guided my advocacy work. The first goal is to build a worldwide social and political movement for the protection of war-affected children– a movement to repudiate and reverse the present trends of widespread abuse and brutalization of children in armed conflict.

The second major objective is to instigate a critical mass of activities and initiatives for the benefit of children-in the midst and in the aftermath of armed conflict–measures, practices and attitudes that will become self-sustaining beyond the lifetime of this mandate.

To attain these objectives, I wish to share with you some ideas and proposals on which I should like us to work together, as our common endeavours, in the course of this year.

I. A week of truce–For the sake of our children

Until now the international community has had some success, on an ad hoc basis, in negotiating temporary cease-fires with warring parties for various humanitarian purposes. In particular, UNICEF and WHO have undertaken a number of successful vaccination campaigns during such days of tranquility, the most recent being the polio vaccination campaign conducted last year in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

We must build on this experience and do more. I am proposing that the international community call on all warring factions in all on-going conflicts to stop fighting, for the sake of our children, at the same time, for a period of one week in the calendar. This week would be devoted to protection of children and would be more than symbolic. It would enable the international community to provide relief and vaccinations to war-affected children. This should also be a period to undertake various cultural and educational activities in all countries, to promote peace, in particular activities for and by young people.

II. Involving young people in the movement–Children-to-Children Network

I believe that we must involve young people as an active part of a worldwide social and political movement for the protection of war-affected children-as participants, advocates, and provide to them with opportunities for self-expression. In this connection I have proposed the development of several initiatives. One such initiative is children-to-children network.

This involves building links between children in war-affected countries and their counterparts from countries at peace, so that they can learn about each other's vastly different experiences, build solidarity among themselves, and enable children to act as advocates on behalf of other children. Such links could be developed on direct and community-based levels, school-to-school, university-to-university, neighborhood-to-neighborhood, association-to- association. Modern information technology, including the internet, should be employed to facilitate such communication and exchange among young people.

III. Developing radio programmes for the benefit war-affected children-Voice of Children Initiative

I am often been struck by the absence of and hunger for information, recreation and entertainment among children in situations of conflict and in its aftermath. To fill this gap I have proposed the systematic development of radio stations and programs–“Voice-of-Children”–devoted mainly to the needs and interests of children and young people in those situations. This would serve to give voice to children's concern, offer education, training and entertainment, promote tolerance, reconciliation, and raise awareness of the rights and protection of children. The “Voice of Children” project will operate at two levels.

At the national level I am encouraging the establishment and development of local radio stations and programmes in conflict affected countries. Such projects, while driven by local professionals and civil society actors, will require strong support from international partners. This initiative is currently being explored in several conflict-affected countries.

The second level involves the use of international broadcasting networks such as NHK, BBC, VOA, RFI and Deutsche Welle. Beyond the present ad hoc efforts, I have proposed that they systematically allocate time, space and resources to develop, produce and air programs specifically targeted towards the benefit of war-affected children.

IV. Placing the Protection and Well-Being of Children on Peace Agendas

Children suffer disproportionately in times of war. They therefore have the highest stake in peace. I have proposed that the protection and well-being of children should feature systematically in any negotiations to end war and in peace accords. During my visits to Burundi, the Sudan, Sierra Leone and Colombia governments and insurgent groups have agreed to place this issue on the agendas of the peace processes currently under way in those countries.

V. Curbing child soldiering: taking measures on the ground

I am delighted that after several years of negotiations, consensus agreement has finally been reached on raising the minimum age for recruitment and participation in conflict. I wish to congratulate the Working Group on achieving a high common ground for the protection of children. I extend my warm appreciation to the Chair-person of the Working Group, Ambassador Catherine von Heidenstam for her remarkable leadership and quiet persistence. I wish also to pay a very special tribute to the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers for the patient work, determination and all-out mobilization that was instrumental in concluding the draft protocol.

The raising of the age limit for participation in hostilities from 15 to 18 is a victory for children exposed to cynical exploitation in situations of armed conflict. While the new consensus does not go as far as I would have liked, it is a most important step towards eliminating the use of children as soldiers and their participation in hostilities.

Five elements of the draft optional protocol are especially significant in this context:

States are to take “all feasible measures” to ensure that members of their armed forces who have not attained the age of 18 years do not take a direct part in hostilities;

States are to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of 18 years are not compulsorily recruited into their armed forces;

Insurgent armed groups are prohibited, “under any circumstances”, from recruiting persons under 18 years or using them in hostilities;

The new standards apply both to international conflicts and civil wars;

States parties are called upon to cooperate, through technical cooperation and financial assistance, in the prevention of child recruitment and the use of child soldiers, and in the rehabilitation and social reintegration of ex-child soldiers.

The one aspect in which the agreement falls short of the “straight 18” position that I have advocated is in the area of voluntary enlistment into national armed forces. This is indeed a disappointment. Nevertheless, the raising of the minimum age to at least 16 and the inclusion of specific safeguards, including the provision of reliable proof of age and the informed consent of both volunteer and parents, represents an improvement on existing standards.

I urge all States to prepare for the early adoption and speedy ratification of the Optional Protocol. And, when ratifying the optional protocol, I urge States to consider depositing binding declarations pursuant to article 3, establishing age 18 as the minimum age for voluntary recruitment into their national armed forces.

With agreement on the optional protocol in place, I now wish to address a very important appeal to the international community. We must now turn our energies to making a difference on the ground, concentrating on several tasks:

advocating unequivocally for 18 as the minimum age for participation in conflict;

exerting concerted international pressure on parties in conflict that abuse children as combatants;

addressing the political, social and economic factors that facilitate the exploitation of children as soldiers;

building the capacity and mobilizing more resources in order to respond more effectively to the rehabilitation needs of ex-child soldiers; and

broadening our scope of concern to embrace all children affected by conflict.

In my visits to particular countries I have been able to elicit and obtain commitments from several parties to conflict for the protection of children. A list of these commitments is attached to my report to the Commission on Human Rights. Although I am pleased to report that some of these commitments have been honored, many are yet to be translated into deeds. I do not expect a miraculous transformation in conflict situations from one day to the next, but I am convinced that we can do more to more effectively monitor and enhance adherence to these commitments. The international human rights community has a critical role to play in this context. I am calling on you to use your presence on the ground, your advocacy activities, and your channels of communication and influence to this end.

VII. Fighting impunity for crimes against children

To bring an end to impunity for egregious violations of children's rights in time of armed conflict, I am recommending that all aspects of peace processes involving amnesty, truth, or justice should highlight the abuses perpetrated on children, as well as the circumstances that enabled those abuses to occur. And when amnesty legislation is contemplated in transitions from war to peace, we must ensure that the perpetrators of child rights violations are not exempted from responsibility for their actions.

In this connection, I urge all States to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which is a powerful tool for the protection of children. I have been working with UNICEF and key NGOs to help ensure that the Court's rules of evidence and procedure protect the interests of child victims and witnesses involved in eventual ICC proceedings.

It is also significant that recent developments in international law now enable, and sometimes require, states to exercise jurisdiction over persons suspected of grave crimes under international law, regardless of where those crimes took place and irrespective of the nationality of the accused or the victims. I urge States, particularly those reviewing their national legislation with a view to ratifying and implementing the Rome Statute, not only to define the crimes within the Court's jurisdiction as national crimes, but also to ensure that national courts can exercise “universal jurisdiction” for egregious violations of child rights in the context of armed conflict. This step would complement the Court's jurisdiction and make it harder for the worst war criminals to find refuge in the aftermath of their deeds.

VIII. Building on Security Council resolution 1261

I have made it a priority in my work to ensure that the protection of children affected by armed conflict becomes a major concern on the agenda of the Security Council. The adoption in August of last year of Security Council resolution 1261 was a landmark, momentous development 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 finally given full “legitimacy” to the protection of children as an issue that properly belongs on the agenda of the Council.

We must to press to full advantage this development. I now call on the international human rights community: to employ resolution 1261 as an important tool of advocacy on behalf of children affected by conflict. I also call on you to encourage the Security Council to apply the provisions of resolution 1261 on an ongoing basis in its activities and decision-making. And I invite you to provide input for the Secretary-General's report, currently under preparation, to the Security Council on Resolution 1261. Your perspectives, proposals and ideas are very important in this exercise.

IX. Integrating child protection into UN peace and security activities

One of the most important issues on which I have been working to ensure that four elements are brought into an integrated framework.

First, I have proposed that the protection, rights and well-being be explicitly indicated as a priority concern in the mandates of peacekeeping operations; this proposal has been endorsed by the Security Council and so far, two UN peacekeeping operations have adopted mandates to help ensure the protection of children throughout the process of consolidating peace (UNAMSIL in Sierra Leone and MONUC in the DRC).

Second, I have been working to ensure that reports to the Security Council on relevant issues and countries reflect the situation of children. The Security Council has expressed its appreciation for such information, and has now requested the Secretary-General, through resolution 1261, to make specific recommendations on the protection of children in his reports to the Council.

Third, I have been advocating the provision of training on the rights and protection of children and women to all peace operation personnel-both civilians and military. The Security Council endorsed this objective in resolution 1261, in which the Secretary-General was requested to ensure that personnel involved in peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace-building activities have appropriate training on the protection, rights and welfare of children.

Finally, to ensure the implementation of the child protection dimension of peace operation mandates and to advise the head of a peace mission in a given country, I have proposed the appointment of Child Protection Advisers (CPAs) – senior officers explicitly responsible for ensuring action and coordination for the protection and well-being of children. Recently my Office, UNICEF and DPKO, in collaboration with other key UN partners, completed the drafting of the Terms of Reference for the CPAs.

The role of the CPA is to help ensure that the protection of children's rights is a priority concern throughout the peacekeeping process and the consolidation of peace in war-torn countries. CPAs will advise the relevant peacekeeping operations and, under the overall authority of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the field, will coordinate with relevant UN agencies, NGOs and national authorities to ensure that children's issues are incorporated fully into all relevant peacekeeping and peace-building policies and programmes. CPAs will also work to ensure that all personnel involved in UN peacekeeping operations – both military and civilian – have appropriate training on the protection of children's rights.

The first CPA has assumed her position with the UN peacekeeping operation in Sierra Leone, UNAMSIL and two CPAs have assumed their posts with MONUC, the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Additional CPAs will be deployed with MONUC and deployment in other UN peacekeeping operations is under discussion.

Typically, CPAs will be drawn from the ranks of experienced staff in key UN agencies and from relevant NGOs and development agencies with expertise in the protection of children's rights. I encourage members of the international human rights community to help generate a pool of highly qualified candidates for this most important role. I call on all of you, especially those of you with presence and programmes in the field, to extend support and encouragement to the CPAs. The effectiveness of their role will depend on your support.

X. Post-Conflict Programmes

Apart from the reestablishment of security and the consolidation of peace, perhaps the most daunting challenge a country faces after war is the “crisis of the young people”-the desperate conditions of young children and adolescents. The prospects for recovery in many countries therefore depend very much on rehabilitating these young people and restoring to them a sense of renewed hope. This is why I have been calling on key actors responsible for designing post-conflict peacebuilding programmes, in particular national governments, the World Bank, the European Commission, UNDP and other relevant UN agencies, bilateral aid agencies, and NGOs, to make the needs of children a central concern from the outset of their planning, programming and resource allocation.

In this context, some of the core issues around which I have been seeking to mobilize concerted and effective response are: disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of child combatants, return, reunion and resettlement of displaced children and families, programmes for mine awareness and rehabilitation of child victims of landmines, programmes for physical and psychosocial rehabilitation for the injured, the maimed and the traumatized, and provision and rehabilitation of basic medical and educational services.

XI. Building Local Capacities for Protection and Advocacy

It is critical to build and strengthen local capacities for protection and advocacy for children affected by armed conflict, both in the midst of ongoing violence and in its aftermath. In this connection, I have advocated a number of initiatives in countries affected by armed conflict: the establishment of a National Commission for Children (as proposed in Sierra Leone) to ensure that the protection and welfare of children are a major priority in the aftermath of conflict, and that this will be reflected in national priority setting, policy making and resource allocation; the formation of informal groups of elders and statesmen to serve as local advocates within a country (as in Liberia), and the formation of a parliamentary caucus for the protection of children (as in Sierra Leone).

I call on the donor community, international NGOs and UN agencies to do much more to support and strengthen local NGOs and civil society organizations.

XII. Integrating child protection into the work of the OHCHR and the CHR

I urge the Commission to make the rights of children affected by armed conflict a central concern throughout its activities and outcomes, including in its monitoring actions, requests for reports from rapporteurs, experts, representatives and working groups, and in its resolutions. To ensure that the Commission obtains reliable and adequate information on violations of child rights, it is important that all relevant reports to the Commission should include sections on the fate of children in situations where they have been seriously affected by armed conflict.

I call on the Commission on Human Rights to make systematic use of resolution 1261 in the protection of children's rights in situations of armed conflict. I urge the Commission's rapporteurs and working groups to incorporate the provisions of the resolution into their work in specific countries and to provide information about the implementation of the resolution in their reports to the Commission.

I would also encourage the OHCHR to take steps to develop guidelines and monitoring manuals on child rights for the field offices and for the special procedures. Finally, I propose that as a general rule, monitoring and reporting on children's rights be included in the mandates of the field offices to ensure consistent attention to the issue, and that the offices are provided with the necessary expertise and resources.

XIII. Providing protection for internally displaced communities

In my visits to countries affected by armed conflict I have encountered first-hand the massive and growing phenomenon of internal displacement and the deeply distressing conditions of internally displaced persons. I have strongly supported the efforts and initiatives of Francis Deng and Mrs. Sadako Ogata.

I strongly believe that the time has come for the international community to develop a more systematic response and framework for providing protection and practical support to internally displaced persons, the vast majority of whom are women and children.

XIV. An appeal to the business community

There is an urgent need to monitor and control the flow of arms and the exploitation and trade of natural resources in theatres of conflict where women and children are being systematically brutalized. I am calling on the international business community to assume its social and corporate responsibility in that context and to refrain from doing business that fuels war economies in such situations. I urge relevant business sectors to develop voluntary codes of conduct within their industries to address this serious issue, and I urge the international human rights community to monitor and report on these linkages.

I call on the international human rights community to monitor and report on these linkages.

XV. Launching an international campaign for the protection of war-affected children on the ground: an era of application

We now have at our disposal a very impressive body of international instruments that provide for the protection of children in situations of armed conflict. Among these are the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Geneva Conventions and their Protocols, Security Council resolution 1261, ILO Convention 182, and eventually, the new optional protocol to the CRC on the involvement of children in armed conflict and the ICC Statute. I believe that the time has come for us to launch a specific campaign focussing on the protection of children in situations of armed conflict, to develop various activities– awareness-building, exerting concerted political pressure, tapping into relevant local norms within societies-to ensure the application of these norms on the ground.