Strong commitments to protect children are contained in a joint statement issued by the leaders of three armed movements active in the long-troubled Sudanese region of Darfur.

The trio issued the statement after meeting one by one in Austria with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, then consulting with her collectively during two further days of conferencing that included the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UMAMID).

Saying that children are the “heart and soul” of Sudan, the statement is signed by Abdul Wahid al-Nur of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/AW), Minni Arko Minnawi of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A/MM), and Gebreil Ibrahim Mohamed Fediel of The Justice and Equality Movement for Sudan (JEM).

“We…pledge to continue to make every effort necessary to prevent members of our Movements from perpetrating any grave violations against children,” the leaders say.

They agree that “protecting children is an individual and collective responsibility and should be part of an early engagement, and not await a formal comprehensive peace agreement by all parties to the conflict.”

The leaders also say they are “prepared to remain actively engaged in follow-up consultations, including with the participation of other actors, until a comprehensive peace agreement is realized.”

The consultations were held under the auspices of the Austrian Study Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution (ASPR) ­– in coordination with UMAMID – in Schlaining Castle, Stadtschlaining, Austria from 26-29 May.

Their aim was for SRSG Zerrougui to engage in direct dialogue with the leaders of the three armed groups in order to assess ways to consolidate progress made, in conjunction with UNAMID, in ending violations against children.

Following the consultations with the three leaders, SRSG Zerrougui travelled to Vienna, where she met with the Permanent Representative of the Sudan to the United Nations and other International Organizations in Vienna.

The collection of consultations represent part of the ongoing efforts of SRSG Zerrougui to help parties engaged in conflict to remain committed to the imperative that protecting children is as much a part of their responsibilities as is seeking a lasting and just peace.

The movements of the three leaders as well as the Government forces of Sudan  are among six entities in Sudan that are listed in the annex of the 13th annual Report of the Secretary-General on children in armed conflict, covering 2013.

The annex lists parties identified as having committed at least one of four “trigger” violations among six grave violations against children affected by armed conflict that the United Nations Security Council has resolved to have monitored and reported.

The other Sudan-based entities listed are Pro-Government militias and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N). All six are listed as “parties that recruit and use children.”