Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict

 Statement by SRSG Radhika Coomaraswamy

Thursday, 17 July 2008

 Thank you, Mr. President.

I welcome the opportunity to participate in this open debate on the theme of children and armed conflict.  I thank the delegation of Vietnam, and His Excellency Le Luong Minh for their foresightedness in choosing this topic and for working with dedication on this important issue for us all. I would also like to thank the Secretary-General for his presence here today and for his constant support of this mandate.

I would also like to thank the Chair of the Council's Working group on Children and Armed Conflict, and all its members for their tireless efforts in bringing this issue to bear in the work of the Council.  For the many children who have benefited from the Council's robust action, I would like to further thank you on their behalf.  

Mr. President, earlier this year we had the opportunity to undertake such an open debate around the Annual Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict.  During that debate I stressed the concerns of the report, reiterating the position that the Security Council is the UN body of action on issues of peace and security and that it should take steps to begin considering targeted and concrete measures against the sixteen persistent violators who have been on the “shame list” of the Secretary-General's report for four years consecutively.  I also requested the Council to consider moving forward the agenda and to expand the scope of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict to cover all situations of concern and all grave violations against children, especially the crime of sexual violence which, like the recruitment of child soldiers, is always deliberate, targeted and a direct consequence of criminal intent and which received the special attention of the Council recently in its resolution 1820.  I reiterate these messages again today and hope that the Council, in its wisdom, will move toward greater protection for children in conflict zones.  In this context, I look forward to the discussions regarding the possibility of a new resolution that will capture some of the concerns that have developed in the attempt to implement Security Council resolution 1612.

This new resolution must move the agenda forward by expanding the gateway to the annexes to include all other grave violations, or in the very least, and especially after Security Council resolution 1820, lay renewed emphasis on the question of sexual violence against children. Such a resolution should also consider the possibility of setting up a process which will eventually lead to taking targeted measures against persistent violators.

Mr. President, this debate on children and armed conflict then allows us to move beyond the immediate agenda of the Security Council to reflect on the bigger picture and the longer-term issues concerning children and armed conflict.  During the course of the year, Member States have expressed the view that my office should look more deeply into the root causes of grave violations against children, especially the phenomenon of children associated with armed groups and also look more closely at the problems of reintegration and sustainable development.  As a result, my office is in the process of convening a research project on the root causes of children being associated with armed groups, and we hope to convene a meeting later this month of child protection experts to identify the crucial messages and gaps with regard to reintegrating children affected by conflict into their societies.

Any person who wishes to understand the phenomenon of grave violations against children must of course analyse the root causes and any future solution to the problem of children associated with armed groups must involve a comprehensive approach that deals with their successful reintegration. Mr President all the relevant agencies of the United Nations are part of the Task Force on children and armed conflict, and depending on their specialization concentrate on different aspects of the problem. My office hopes to facilitate this approach by calling for increased donor support and collaboration to strengthen their programmes on the ground so that they adequately respond to the concerns of children in situations of armed conflict. Programmatic clarity and best practices continue to be an important part of our advocacy efforts especially during field visits.

Reintegration of children in situations of armed conflict is a long term process. A recent seminal study by the Harvard School of Public Health which followed former child combatants over a ten year period showed that the impact of the conflict continues even after ten years with many having psycho social problems. This was particularly true of those who were made to commit very violent crimes and those who were subject to sexual violence. Girl children had the worse indicators with a majority having major problems with social integration because of low level of acceptance by families and communities. The younger the child recruited and the longer they stay associated with the armed groups the more difficult their adjustment. Another very interesting aspect is that even children who were not associated with armed groups but lived in situations of armed conflict displayed the same vulnerabilities.  Education was found to be a key for the successful recovery of children. It is for this reason that my office and UNICEF are considering compiling a manual of best practices, in line with the Paris Principles, an important initiative by the government of France which sets out the standards for reintegration programmes.

Mr President, though I am in perfect agreement that understanding the root causes of conflict and identifying strategies for reintegration are important, they should not steer the Council away from its task of ensuring accountability for and fighting impunity of persistent and grave violators of children's rights in situations of armed conflict, a task in which it has a supreme advantage over other organs of the United Nations, including the possibility of imposing targeted measures.  While the Funds and Programmes and other parts of the United Nations are well placed to respond to root causes and the need for sustainable development, it is the Security Council that can focus on grave violations. The Council, as the guardian organ of peace and security must concentrate on taking action against those who persistently violate its resolutions.  Though it must deepen its understanding it must not move away from its central focus.  It will be most effective if it focuses on taking firm action against those who commit grave violations against children and who, by doing so, threaten peace and security.

Mr. President, over the last three months, I have visited Iraq, Chad, Central African Republic and Afghanistan to view first-hand the problems of children affected by armed conflict in those situations of concern.  In Chad and Central African Republic in particular, I have seen how the Council's work under Security Council Resolution 1612 is having a direct effect on the ground, how the imprimatur of the Council results in the response of non-state actors to enter into agreements and release children, how governments sit up and listen and how child protection activists both within and outside the UN system are strengthened and empowered by your commitment. All this is a tribute to your willingness to embark on this unprecedented initiative that is 1612 and I wish I could bring you the children who have been released from the clutches of armed groups because of your actions so that you may see the fruit of your work. It is important that we collectively reassert our commitment on this issue so that we may see how we can realistically move the agenda forward.

Finally, Mr. President my visits to Iraq and Afghanistan have convinced me that the nature of warfare is changing, that there are different and more difficult challenges ahead to protect children and the Council must play its part.  Aisha was an 11-year old girl we met in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.  Throughout the one hour I was with her and her family, she did not smile and her eyes reflected sadness.  Her family was a victim of “collateral damage” and her school had been attacked by insurgents.  Yet, despite all the dangers, she was determined to go to school, and her eyes lit up only when she said she hopes to be a teacher. The time has come for us to re-double our efforts in these regions, to renew our commitment to ensure that children will not be recruited or be used as suicide bombers, that they will not be detained in military detention without due process which protects their vulnerability as minors, that their schools will not be attacked, that they or their families will not be collateral damage and that girl children will not be the targets of sexual violence or denied access to schools.  Children in these harsh battlegrounds must also be able to dream of a democratic world, free of violence, tolerant of diversity where everyone will live in peace and dignity. I end my speech today with the words of Emmanuel Jal, the former child soldier from Sudan who filled the halls of conference room four yesterday with a song he dedicated to the humanitarian worker who rescued him along with 175 others.  He said, “I stand here because someone cared; I stand here because someone dared; the sky is now my limit.”