Statement in the Security Council On the occasion of the

 Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict

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Radhika CoomaraswamyUnder-Secretary-GeneralSpecial Representative of the Secretary-Generalfor Children and Armed Conflict

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Tuesday, 12 February 2008

United Nations, New York

Statement in the Security Council by SRSG-CAAC

Radhika Coomaraswamy

 Tuesday, 12 February 2008

  Señor Presidente, Your Excellency Mr. Samuel Lewis Navarro, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, 

I thank you for convening this open debate of the Security Council at the Ministerial level, a session devoted to taking action to ensure the protection of children exposed to armed conflict.  The level of the debate and your presence here today testifies to your strong commitment on this critical issue.  I am very grateful to the Security Council, its Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, and particularly the leadership that France has been providing in the Working Group on the agenda for the protection of children affected by armed conflict.

It is with hope, tempered by caution, that I present to you this report of great significance. The seventh annual Secretary-General's report on Children and Armed Conflict has reviewed developments in 18 situations of concern, recording systematically the following six grave violations:  killing or maiming of children; recruiting or using child soldiers; attacks against schools or hospitals; rape and other grave sexual violence against children; the abduction of children; and the denial of humanitarian access to children. Altogether, 58 offending parties have been specifically named and listed; they are drawn from 13 situations of concern.  All 58 offending parties are responsible for the recruitment and use of child soldiers.  In addition, many of them are also responsible for committing other grave abuses, as recorded in the lists.

I am pleased to state that this report has been a United Nations system-wide collaborative effort.  I would also like to stress that the hallmark of the monitoring and reporting exercise, as well as this annual reporting to the Security Council, has been a constructive dialogue, at all levels, with the member-states concerned for the benefit of the war-affected children.

 Señor Presidente,

In the past year, much has been accomplished on this ambitious agenda for children.   The Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict has met on six occasions and there have been positive developments as a result of their recommendations and actions.  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, after an initial delay, the Government brought to trial former Mai-Mai Commander Kyungu Mutanga, also known as “Gedeon”, for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the recruitment of 300 children in Katanga Province from 2003 to 2006.  This action follows strong recommendations by the Working Group to take appropriate legal measures against members of armed groups accused of grave crimes against children.  This marks a turning point, which shows us that through our collective efforts we can transform protective standards into compliance and mere condemnation into accountability. 

Important precedents have also been set to end impunity for crimes against children.  We look forward to the trial proceedings by the International Criminal Court of militia leader Thomas Lubanga who is facing charges of recruiting child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo's northeastern Ituri region, and similar indictments for two other Ituri militia leaders.  The trial of former head of State, Charles Taylor of Liberia by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and the sentencing by the Special Court of Sierra Leone of three members of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council and Civil Defence Forces militia for the recruitment and use of child soldiers send an important message that such crimes against children will not be tolerated and that those who engage in the practice will be brought to justice.

Señor Presidente,

We are increasingly witnessing the implementation of key commitments by parties, through action plans, and this in turn is beginning to yield concrete results in terms of protection for children on the ground.  A noteworthy achievement has been realized with the parties to the conflict in Cote d'Ivoire where for the first time we have a delisting of parties from the annexes. The Forces nouvelles and the four armed militias, FLGO, MILOCI, APWe and UPRGO have successfully implemented their action plans, ceased all recruitment of children, and this continues to be verified by the UN country team- hence resulting in their de-listing.  The dialogue in Cote d'Ivoire has resulted in the release to UNICEF and child protection agencies of approximately 3,000 children.  This success should reinforce the resolve of the Council, as your engagement is making a real difference in the lives of these children.  Progress on action plans to end the recruitment of children by armed forces and groups has also been made in the Central African Republic, Myanmar, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Uganda and Chad. 

I am also pleased to note that the Government of Colombia has accepted to implement the monitoring and reporting mechanism pursuant to Security Council resolution 1612, and I look forward to working with them closely. 

Señor Presidente,

In spite of the impressive progress, I regret to report that the overall situation of children affected by conflict remains grave and entirely unacceptable.  There are still many challenges that remain and my office, along with fellow partners, especially UNICEF, child protection advisors of Peacekeeping operations and political missions, UNHCR, ILO, OHCHR, UNDP and NGOs, strive to continue the important work begun by this Council by enhancing our collective efforts for the protection of children affected by conflict.  Indeed, although I address this Council, the protection of children is an issue which necessitates the concerted efforts of all Member States.  I am happy to see the presence of many Member States in this hall today.  I thank you for your commitment on this issue.

It is imperative to note that in certain situations of concern, the inability for the UN monitoring and reporting regime to engage in dialogue with non-State actors has impeded progress on securing the release and rehabilitation of children associated with such groups.  I urge the Council to call on relevant Member States to facilitate dialogue between non-State armed groups for the purposes of developing action plans to halt recruitment and use of children and to address all other grave violations and abuses committed against children.

I would also like to draw your attention to several urgent challenges that will require our close examination, as a basis for continued global efforts for war-affected children.

  • To achieve the protection of children affected by conflict, we need to expand our recognition of the changing characteristics of conflict. Today there are “grey zones” of conflict, blurring traditional lines between armed conflict and criminal violence, often involving trans-national crime, non-traditional warfare and trafficking. Terrorism and counter-terrorism measures pose their own special problems for the protection of children today, as we witnessed recently in Baghdad. The use of suicide bombing is entirely unacceptable. Nothing can justify this.  We have witnessed child victims at both ends of these acts: children have been both used as suicide bombers in certain instances, while many children have been killed by suicide bombings.  Counter-terrorism strategies also cause concern as we move away from police methods to large scale military action with collateral damage which sometimes includes the killing and maiming of children; 
  • Systematic and deliberate attacks on school children, teachers and school buildings have escalated in certain conflict situations.  In Afghanistan, such attacks are targeted against girls' schools, in an effort to intimidate and prevent girls from accessing education.  This seems to follow a particular pattern and contain an ideological dimension that is disturbing.  We urge that measures be taken to secure the schools as zones of peace through commitments of parties to ensure the child's right to education;
  • In regional conflicts, such as in the Great Lakes and Horn regions of Africa, cross-border recruitment of children from IDP and refugee camps is surging.  Research shows us that security in camps is one of the major factors in the recruitment of children; the greater the security the less the recruitment.  This has important implications for humanitarian agencies running refugee and IDP camps and for our peacekeeping operations.  Cross-border movement of child soldiers and their recruiters is also posing a great deal of problems for agencies working with these extremely vulnerable populations;
  • The detention of children for alleged association with armed groups in violation of international standards is increasingly worrisome.  Many of the detained children are subjected to ill-treatment, torture, forceful interrogation methods and deprived of food and education.  The children also lack recourse to prompt and appropriate legal assistance, and usually are not separated from adults;
  • The use of indiscriminate weapons, such as cluster munitions, during attacks in areas of civilian concentration has a severe impact on those populations, especially children, even long after the conflict may have ended.  I am heartened to learn that a major international conference on a binding international instrument prohibiting cluster munitions, will take place this spring in Dublin.
  • Señor Presidente,

    Sexual and gender-based violence, including rape against children is a devastating consequence of conflict in many parts of the world.  Sexual violence against children by State and non-State parties to conflict is prohibited by international humanitarian law.  In the Great Lakes region, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi, we have received information that there are appalling levels of sexual and gender-based violence. Impunity for these acts is widespread.  It is imperative that perpetrators of acts of rape and other sexual violence which leave a long-term, devastating impact on the victims are prosecuted in accordance with the gravity of such crimes.  Like the recruitment and use of children, sexual violence is always deliberate, targeted and a direct consequence of criminal intent. We cannot tolerate such action in any context but when it involves children, it is especially abhorrent. 

    Señor Presidente,

    The recruitment and use of child soldiers has been the main concern of the Council and the gateway to the annexed lists of the annual Secretary-General's report to date.  We feel this was a great step forward for the Council, and parties that continue to engage in this serious crime must be put on notice that targeted measures will be undertaken against persistent violators. However, there are five other grave violations and child victims of these grave violations and abuses deserve the attention and protection of the international community.  It is our belief that the gateway to the annexed list of parties should include all the grave violations. 

    Nonetheless, for reasons mentioned above, the Council may wish to take an incremental approach and initially consider systematic sexual violence against children as an additional gateway to the annexes.  In this respect, the inclusion of grave sexual violence will represent an important step forward in the monitoring process, particularly to hold violators accountable for this egregious crime against children.

    Señor Presidente, 

    It is now time that the Security Council move from words toward effective action.

    There are 16 persistent violators who have been on the annexed lists for 5 years in a row.  Although certain parties in the DRC, Uganda, Sri Lanka and Myanmar are making efforts, several others remain in contempt of the Council and its resolutions.  The Council has already, on previous occasions, expressed its intention to take concrete and targeted measures against these parties. It is most important that the Council make good on its promise in order to ensure the credibility of this exercise. The targeted measures could include the imposition of travel restrictions on leaders and their exclusion from any governance structures and amnesty provisions, the imposition of arms embargoes, a ban on military assistance, and restriction on the flow of financial resources to the parties concerned.  I urge the Security Council to begin to constitute a mechanism to review and oversee the imposition of targeted measures against these violators to end these trends toward impunity in all situations.

    Señor Presidente,

    The Security Council is playing a historical role when it deals with this theme and this mandate.   In recognizing that the protection of children in armed conflict is an important peace and security issue which requires effective and decisive action, the Council has moved the agenda forward understanding that there can never be peace in the world unless we take care of our children.  One of the hallmarks of this agenda has been that at the most critical moments, the imperative to protect children has over-ridden political considerations.  The Council and its Working Group is encouraged to continue to prioritise children above all-else.No one who has looked into the eyes of a child soldier can be at peace unless we rid this world of this scourge.  No one who has held the hand of a young girl who has suffered multiple rapes can ever forget their duty to work for the protection of the vulnerable.   I would like to thank the Council and my fellow partners for taking this historic journey together, toward peace and justice for children.

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    Statement in the Security Council by SRSG-CAAC Radhika Coomaraswamy

    Tuesday, 12 February 2008