ADDIS ABABA/NEW YORK, 7 March (OSRSG) — Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Olara A. Otunnu has expressed his distress and grave concern about recent reports alleging extensive sexual exploitation of children in refugee camps in West Africa.

These allegations are extremely serious, all the more so since they concern those who have been entrusted with the responsibility for ensuring the protection and well-being of these children. Refugee children are among the most vulnerable victims of war, and adolescent girls are especially vulnerable to exploitation within that group, Mr. Otunnu stated. He reiterated the Secretary General’s and the Refugee High Commissioner’s call for full investigation of the allegations and swift action against those found to have committed the abuses in question. “There should be no impunity for crimes against children”, he declared.

The Special Representative stated that the central mandate of his Office is to ensure the protection and rights of children affected by armed conflict. Working together with key partners, especially the United Nations Department for Peacekeeping Operations, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and non-governmental organizations, his Office has been engaged in developing several preventive initiatives to enhance the protection of war-affected children. These include incorporating child protection into peacekeeping mandates and the deployment of child protection advisors in peacekeeping operations.

We also are working with these partners to produce training and guidance materials for personnel in the field. We want to ensure that the rules of conduct concerning children are clear for all field staff and that United Nations operations in conflict areas are equipped with the training materials and the supervisory staff necessary to oversee and address transgressions, said Mr. Otunnu.

Mr. Otunnu stated, “The UNHCR/Save the Children-United Kingdom assessment report has sounded serious alarm bells. We must now move quickly to put in place comprehensive measures and arrangements, several of which have been highlighted in the assessment report, to ensure greater protection for war-affected children”. In particular, he endorsed and underscored the following measures:

— Ensure adequate provision of basic humanitarian needs, especially food rations, for refugee populations. “It is clear that the desperate survival

conditions of some of the displaced communities have facilitated their exploitation by those with power and resources”, Mr. Otunnu stated.

Review and strengthen arrangements for supervision, monitoring and management of camps.

Ensure vigorous enforcement of the code of conduct for peacekeepers and develop a similar code for all other humanitarian personnel.

Address the pervasive sense of powerlessness on the part of refugee communities, by involving them, particularly women and children, in decision-making processes and management of camps.

Deploy More female staff — both local and international — in positions of authority.

Ensure that supervisory and international staff spend More time in closer proximity to affected populations.

Install community liaison persons within peace and humanitarian operations.

conduct Systematic awareness-raising campaigns so that refugees are aware of their rights and humanitarian workers are aware of their responsibilities.

Constitute An independent oversight Committee to monitor the effective implementation of these measures.

Mr. Otunnu concluded, “My Office will join hands with all concerned partners — UN agencies, humanitarian NGOs and affected communities — for concerted action to eliminate abuses against refugee children wherever they may be occurring. “

The Special Representative serves as international advocate for children affected by armed conflict by promoting standards and measures for their protection in times of war as well as their healing and social reintegration in the aftermath of conflict.

For further information please contact: Mary Ellen Glynn (New York), Tel. 212-963-9648; Fax: 212-963-0807, e-mail: Glynnm@un. org; or Michele Shortley (Addis Ababa), Tel. 251-1-444 162; Fax: 251-1-511 292, e-mail: shortley@un. org.