Every year, world leaders gather in New York for the opening of the UN General Assembly session. It is a week filled with diplomacy and high-level events.
In meetings with Government officials from several countries, Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, advocated for better protection of children affected by conflict. She discussed progress and challenges in the signature or implementation of agreements with the United Nations to end grave violations against children.
Idriss Déby Itno, the President of Chad, reaffirmed his commitment to finalize the implementation of a road map agreed upon during Ms. Zerrougui’s visit to the country last May. The Chadian National Army has been listed in the annexes of the Secretary-General Report since 2009 and has signed an action plan with the United Nations in 2011 to end and prevent the recruitment of children.
One of the Special Representative’s priorities during the General Assembly was to follow up on her July visit to Syria. She met members of the Syrian Government, who informed Ms. Zerrougui that, following her request, an inter-ministerial committee has been set up to interact with the United Nations and address child rights violations taking place in the country. Members of the opposition reaffirmed their desire to work with Ms. Zerrougui’s office to address the recruitment of child soldiers, their separation and reintegration. Discussions with both parties will continue in the coming weeks.
With the Yemen delegation, the conversation focused on the imminent signature of an action plan approved by the Government to end the recruitment and use of children by the Government’s forces.
Central African Republic
With delegates from the Central African Republic, Ms. Zerrougui emphasized the impact on children of the country’s political instability and humanitarian crisis. She expressed her concern that grave child rights violations are taking place in the country and that children who had been separated from armed groups have been re-recruited.
Ms. Zerrougui also reached out to States committed to improving the protection of children and discussed how they can support her mandate and programmes such as the reintegration of former child soldiers.
Talking About the Protection of Children at the General Assembly
Protecting children affected by conflict was at the heart of several events organized in and around the General Assembly.
Education Cannot Wait
On Monday, 23 September, the Special Representative spoke at the event “Education Cannot Wait”, chaired by Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The high-level speakers, including Queen Rania of Jordan, Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s Executive Director and Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s Director General, called for better access to education for children affected by conflict.
“Thousands of children cannot go to class because their schools have been shelled, looted, turned into barracks, detention centers of sniper posts,” Leila Zerrougui reminded the audience during her intervention. “The Security Council gave the Secretary-General a mandate to list armed forces and armed groups that attack schools.”
She added that her office is working to strengthen the UN’s capacity to monitor and report on such attacks and to engage in dialogue with armed forces and armed groups to end the violations and better protect schools, teachers and children.
“The world has denounced the recruitment of child soldiers; the world has decried sexual violence in conflict. Let us condemn and take action against attacks on schools with the same strength and conviction,” concluded the Special Representative.
Social Good Summit
On Monday night, Leila Zerrougui went to the Social Good Summit and shared the stage with Grace Akallo, a former girl soldier abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda. The panel, titled Child Soldiers Never Again: Protecting Children Caught in Conflict, was moderated by Mark Goldberg, the Managing Editor of UN Dispatch.
“There is no acceptable way for children to be involved in hostilities,” Special Representative Leila Zerrougui told the audience.
She explained how she works with partners such as UNICEF to reach out to armed forces and armed groups who are listed in the Secretary-General’s Annual report on Children and Armed conflict.
“We want them to stop the violations, and to commit to work with the United Nations to release and reunify children with their families,” she said. We also want them to prevent future recruitment and use of children.”
Grace Akallo, talked about the challenges she faced to rebuild her life after she escaped from the Lord’s Resistance Army. She also talked about her current work as Founder and Executive Director of United Africans for Women and Children’s Right.
You can watch the panel and read a transcript of Ms. Zerrougui’s remarks here