Statement by SRSG Radhika Coomaraswamy

Security Council Open debate on Children and Armed Conflict

29 April 2009

 Madame Chairperson, Excellencies,

 Ladies and gentlemen,

 I thank you for convening this open debate of the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict. Chairperson, your presence here today testifies to the commitment of the Council to this issue and the crucial leadership of Mexico as new chair of the SCWG following the exemplary leadership of France.

Señora Presidenta,

You have before you the 8th report of the Secretary General on children and armed conflict. I am glad to convey to you today that progress has been made, especially in addressing the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and I would like to start here with these positive and encouraging developments. Thanks to the continuing efforts of the Security Council and its Working Group, five action plans have been secured to date, in Côte D'Ivoire, Sri Lanka, Sudan and in Uganda, and four others are in the process of being finalized in the Philippines, the Central African Republic and Burundi. As a result, six parties have already been removed from the “list of shame”. This demonstrates the power of the Council's focused attention and continuing engagement, and serves as a testament that it should continue to maintain pressure on violators to enter into a protection dialogue with the United Nations. I am also encouraged that some Governments, including Myanmar, have recently approached my office and their respective UN Country teams to deepen their engagement on the recommendations of the Security Council Working Group. In Nepal, discussions are continuing and planning is underway for the release of 3,000 minors in Maoist cantonments. However the recent crisis between the Maoists and the Nepal Army may impede the expected progress.  I strongly urge that the Government release them as a matter of urgency. Just this morning, I was informed that the Justice and Equality Movement in Sudan is in final discussions with the UN country team on finalizing an action plan.

This hope must be tempered, however, as the report of the Secretary General on children and armed conflict continues to present a disturbing picture of grave violations committed against children around the globe. This year, the report identifies 20 situations of concern where children remain vulnerable to abuse. The report chronicles 56 parties that continue to recruit and use children as child soldiers. A number of these groups simply refuse to enter into dialogue for action plans, while others, though willing to enter into dialogue, are prevented from doing so because the member state concerned has prevented the UN to approach non-state actors to devise action plans. 

In this report, the Secretary General has named 19 persistent violators who have been listed in the annexes for 4 years or more. The Council must now ensure that its words are not empty threats. Much depends on the Council taking measures against those who have repeatedly flaunted its resolutions and who continue to recruit and use children. It is now crucial for the Council to move forward by beginning a discussion about the process by which targeted measures might be applied against repeat offenders. In situations where sanctions committees already exist it is easier to envision such action. More systematic communications between the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict and relevant sanctions committees and expert groups is critical in this regard. In other cases where sanctions infrastructure does not exist, innovative solutions are necessary to ensure that violators are held accountable.

Señora Presidenta,

This open debate on children and armed conflict must be an occasion for the Council to re-enforce its commitment to children and advance its protection agenda even further. The Council has already granted powerful and unprecedented tools to enhance the work of child protection actors on the ground, particularly to deal with the issue of child soldiers. The decision of the Council to demand a list of parties to the annexes of the Secretary-General's report that recruit and use children and to consider possible targeted measures against them  has led to thousands of children being identified and released. Armed actor after armed actor have told me that they are determined to be removed from the Secretary-General's annexes. This list of shame has been a rallying point for all those who want to increase the protection of children in conflict areas. In this sense, the power of the Council can and has made a tangible difference in protecting children from being recruited and used by armed forces and groups.

However, these successes have also created an imbalance in the focus of the Council especially with regard to all other grave violations. The moment is now ripe for the Council to extend its focus beyond child soldiers to deal more effectively with other violations. Not to do so threatens to silence the suffering of thousands of children who are subjected to unspeakable crimes. Ideally, the list of the Secretary-General should include all grave violations against children to ensure that the framework for protecting children in situations of armed conflict is comprehensive. However, expectations do not always match realities, and therefore, the UN and its partners have chosen to call upon the Council to take a gradualist path for the expansion of the protection framework for children. This is why the child protection community is unanimously calling on the Council to begin, at a minimum, with expanding the listing criteria to include parties that commit rape and other grave sexual violence against children as a first step in this incremental approach. The inclusion of killing and maiming of children in line with international humanitarian law would also be an important contribution to protecting children. This would be a critical step forward, recognizing that sexual violence and intentional killing and maiming are  heinous crimes on par with the recruitment and use of children.

Señora Presidenta,

In my travels to conflict affected areas around the globe I have had the chance to meet dozens of courageous and talented people who are working for the protection of conflict-affected children. These staff members come from funds, programs and agencies like UNICEF, UNHCR, ILO, OHCHR, UNFPA, UNIFEM and from our NGO partners, reflecting the ever-more mainstreamed nature of child protection throughout the UN system as called for by the Security Council and by our Secretary-General himself.  I would like to thank UNICEF in particular for assisting me in my field visits. 

I am pleased to see that the UN Department of Peacekeeping has just finalized its child protection policy, which I fully endorse and which I am sure my colleague Mr. LeRoy will elaborate on.  I can not stress enough the centrality of UN peacekeeping and of child protection advisers in the monitoring and reporting mechanism as called for in SCR 1612. This is why it is also critical for the Security Council to ensure that its investment in protecting children is more systematically reflected in country-specific resolutions, with the inclusion on a more consistent basis of child protection provisions, including child protection advisors, in the mandates of peacekeeping operations and political missions.

Señora Presidenta,

The Security Council and the General Assembly have repeatedly urged me to undertake field missions to country situations, to be an independent moral voice for the sake of children and to advocate for their needs. My most recent trips have been to Gaza and Southern Israel and to the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Dungu, in the North east of the DRC where I recently visited, 990 people have been killed and 300 children abducted by the LRA since September 2008, and people are hiding in the bush to escape. In North Kivu the rapid integration of CNDP and other armed groups into the Congolese Armed Forces has resulted in children being associated with the ranks of the national army. Though 1300 have been released to child protection partners, many more remain as child soldiers. In South Kivu, impending Operation Kimia II, a joint FARDC/MONUC military operation against the FDLR, raises serious concerns of large scale displacement, use of children as soldiers and the possibility of exactions committed by uncontrolled armed units against civilian populations. With the United Nations taking part in offensive military operations, it is crucial that the Council follow these developments carefully to ensure that children are protected to the maximum extent possible.

In February I visited Gaza and Southern Israel after weeks of war. As it was just days after the fighting had ended, the children, their teachers and parents in Gaza were in a state of shock and they still had horror in their eyes. The children demanded accountability and the international community must respond. The crossings must be opened and reconstruction must begin in haste. Everyone hopes for peace and in Southern Israel, where children also live in fear, girls and boys spoke freely of reaching out to their Palestinian brothers and sisters.

In Sri Lanka the situation remains deplorable for children in the North East. I intend to send a special envoy on my behalf in the near future in consultation with the Government. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam continue to recruit children to fight on the frontlines and they use force to keep many of the civilians, including children, in harms way. The UN has urged the Government for military forbearance, and a prolonged pause in the fighting so that humanitarian workers can help negotiate safe passage for the remaining civilians. It is incumbent upon the Government to protect its citizens to the maximum extent possible and to refrain from using heavy artillery. Humanitarian actors have urged that the IDP camps set up by the Government meet international standards.  We hope short term military gain will not blind the authorities to the long term demands of reconciliation.  People stripped of their dignity are unlikely to forget, especially the children.

Señora Presidenta,

My field visits and the information contained in this report must be supplemented by the harrowing experience of children on the ground. Later this morning, you will hear from Grace, a former girl- soldier, who will describe to you what she went through and what she, and other children like her, hopes from this august body. While visiting the North Kivu Province of the DRC, I met with a 12 year old girl named Adila. She told me she had joined the Mai Mai militia because her parents could no longer pay for school and because she thought carrying a gun would protect her from being raped. However, as with thousands of other children in Congo, and despite her gun, Adila was also sexually violated and abused by her commanders. In the camp she was always near starvation but had to fetch water, cook and clean in addition to her combatant activities. Recently, Mai Mai groups have entered into the peace process, and Adila was identified and released by MONUC child protection. She is now in an NGO Transit Center supported by UNICEF, and has just gone back to school. Her eyes lit up when she told me that she plans to be a school teacher.

Señora Presidenta, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

What am I to say to Adila, Grace and to the hundreds of girl and boy victims of sexual violence whom I meet on my missions to conflict affected countries?  Is it fair to say that these children suffer a “second class violation”; that the Council does not wish to apply the same focus and engagement for these children?  In my heart of hearts, I believe this is not the intention of the international community and that this day will mark a new age in what my predecessor called the era of application.