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.
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.
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 A