Statement by SRSG Radhika Coomaraswamy

Ministerial Follow-Up Forum to the Paris Commitments and Paris Principles on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups

29 September 2009.

            Mr. Joyandet, Ms. Ann Veneman, Excellencies and Distinguished Delegates, Colleagues.

             It is a privilege for me to be here today with you for this second high-level meeting on the follow-up to the Paris Principles and Commitments.

             2009 has been a terrible year for children. All around the globe, children continue to suffer from grave violations committed in the context of armed conflict. Despite the firm condemnation of the international community, children continue to be forcibly recruited and used as soldiers, abducted, killed or maimed. Schools that should be considered as unconditional zones of peace are still the target of attacks, and are used by armed elements to recruit large numbers of children. Ferocious conflicts in Gaza, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan have led to high casualty rates and the displacement of a large number of people, especially children. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, civilian populations, and especially women and children, are caught in the middle of joint UN-FARDC military operations against the FDLR.  In Nepal, despite the numerous promises made by the Maoist forces, approximately 3,000 child soldiers have been detained for two years in such camps, awaiting release and reintegration programmes that would give them hope for the future.

            Sexual violence, both against girls and boys, also remains of grave concern. Children are raped, gang-raped, or used as sexual slaves by armed groups. The security vacuum created by a conflict and the virtual absence of administrative and judiciary authorities is a fertile breeding ground for acts of sexual violence being committed in a climate of impunity. There cannot be peace when individuals are not held accountable for such grave violations against children.  Nor can there be any comfort when children are not given the support to deal with the psychological and physical consequences of such crimes.

 Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

             This horrifying picture should not prevent us from acknowledging that 2009 also brought the promise of progress for children.  Building on the successes of Resolution 1612, the Security Council last August unanimously adopted Resolution 1882.  This is a crucial step towards more accountability for children and for concrete actions on their behalf.  Armed forces and groups that are responsible for patterns of sexual violence and of killing or maiming of children will now be listed in the Secretary-General's “list of shame” along with those who recruit and use children.  In addition, they will be asked to enter into dialogue with the UN to prepare and implement time bound action plans to halt and prevent these violations.  We also expect that this Resolution will give the means to child protection actors on the ground to greater enhance data collection, especially on sexual violence and killing and maiming of children.

             In 2009, from all corners of the planet, hundreds of children have been released from armed forces and groups and freed from war.  Thanks to the concerted efforts of the UN, UNICEF and governments, action plans to prevent the recruitment of children have been signed with the MILF in the Philippines and with the Ugandan armed forces. We are also receiving encouraging news from Burundi, the Central African Republic and South Sudan where children are starting to be reintegrated into their communities.  Additionally in Myanmar, there is a slow but steady engagement on the part of the Government, and work is being undertaken with regard to the preparation of an action plan with Tatmadaw Kyi.

             These successful dialogues and releases would not have been possible without the implementation of the Monitoring and Reporting mechanism.  To date this mechanism, made up of UN relevant entities, exists in 16 countries and will also be put in place in Iraq by the end of the year.  It gives the Security Council a unique tool by providing it with timely, accurate and reliable information on violations committed against children. Today, the Monitoring and Reporting mechanism is evolving and entering into a new phase, as UN responsible agencies are stepping up to the plate to strengthen their expertise on data collection on all violations against children, with a special attention to sexual violence and killing and maiming.

             Our traditional partner, UNICEF, who remains the leading agency for child protection, continues to do tremendous work.  In the case of the Philippines for example, donors are called upon to support the implementation of the recently signed UN/MILF Action Plan to stop the use of child soldiers.  It is a political victory that now needs to be followed by timely and appropriate funding for reintegration, training and prevention programmes where UNICEF has a crucial leading role that needs to be supported.  In the Central African Republic, UNICEF is leading efforts to separate and reintegrate children formerly associated with the APRD.  Again, they need sustained long term funding for this to be a success. 

             UNICEF is also increasingly being seconded by other proactive members of the monitoring and reporting task forces such DPKO, ILO, OHCHR, UNHCR or UNFPA. I would like to bring two examples of that kind to your attention today.

             Chad is hosting close to half a million displaced persons, more than 60% of which are children under the age of 18. Children are highly vulnerable in situations of displacement, particularly in zones where security is volatile and with a widespread presence of armed elements. Child protection concerns amongst these populations are numerous, as they become more vulnerable to all types of exploitation, including sexual violence and child recruitment. Cases of child recruitment by Sudanese rebel groups and the Chadian army in and around refugee and IDP camps in eastern Chad are regularly documented, but most of the cases go unreported.  In areas like eastern Chad, where only a few child protection actors operate, it is crucial to support agencies such as UNHCR to enhance their Monitoring and Reporting capacities and feed into the 1612 and 1882 process with more and greater data on violations against children.  If funding needs are met shortly, UNHCR will be able to deploy eight new Child Protection Officers before the end of the year in eastern Chad.

             In Myanmar also, the Monitoring and Reporting mechanism needs to be reinforced by supporting mainstreaming partners of child protection. ILO, for example, has a negotiated agreement with the Government that allows families to lodge complaints on cases of forced labor including child soldiering and that provides privileged access to most of the territory for assessment purposes. Through this process information on child recruitment that would remain otherwise unreported can be fed into the 1612 and 1882 process.  Without such information, child protection partners would not be able to gain the children's release or design appropriate reintegration and rehabilitation programmes.  Here again, it is crucial that agencies such as ILO get the financial support they need to continue and enhance their child protection work.

             In this global protection framework, international and local NGOs also have a major role to play, both in the prevention of child recruitment and in a sustainable and community based reintegration.  They must be supported, both technically and financially.  It is also fundamental that such crucial partners can dialogue with donors and input to the implementation strategy at an early stage to ensure a fair and conflict sensitive approach.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

             The Paris Principles and Guidelines lay the ground work for more adaptable, flexible and inclusive release and reintegration programmes for children formerly associated with armed forces and groups.  It is a technical document that builds on more than ten years of experience on child protection and that need our full support and engagement.

             On the other hand, the Paris Commitments send a powerful political signal.  By adding their voice, States that endorse these commitments strengthen the existing child protection framework that ensures accountability and the global fight against impunity for crimes against children.  This afternoon, once more, we need to send a strong message to armed forces and groups. The stronger the message, the more children will be saved.

             Finally, we must remember the children.  In Nepal, where I traveled a year ago, I spoke with Mahendra.  He was a child in the Maoist forces, and had been held in a cantonment camp in the Terai region for more than a year at the time I met with him.  He had been recruited into the Maoist army directly from school. At a young age, he was taught to fight and kill.  He was unhappy to see me.  He said he wanted to remain in the Maoist army and then join the national army.  I talked to him and his friends for over two hours to point out to them that there are many other opportunities. They were not completely convinced until we presented them with the many options offered by tailor made reintegration programmes.  They started realizing that they could play a role in building a peaceful Nepal outside of the Army.  That is why we have to make every effort to be creative in the rehabilitation process. Successful reintegration based on the Paris Principles will give these children hope and trust, and a chance to dream of a brighter future.  Thank you.