Statement by Ms. Leila Zerrougui,
Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Children and Armed Conflict
Presentation of the Annual Report of the SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict to the United Nations General Assembly
Third Committee of the General Assembly
Promotion and protection of the rights of children

14 October 2015

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Mr. Chairman,
Distinguished delegates,
Dear colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to be here today with Ms. Santos-Pais and Mr. Abdi to provide an update to the Third Committee on the situation of children and armed conflict and participate in this interactive dialogue.

Every year I have presented to this body I have said that the plight of children in conflict has worsened. Unfortunately, this trend has not changed. The report before you notes that the last half of 2014 and the first half of 2015 were marked by acute periods of violence and protracted conflicts. In many situations around the world, an increasing disregard for international law was in evidence. Since the report was published, this has sadly not improved, and in some situations it has worsened.

In the last two weeks, the Central African Republic has relapsed into violence, sparked by the murder of a 16 year-old boy. The situation in Afghanistan deteriorated in Kunduz, where many children have been killed and injured. The ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq, as well as rising tensions and violence in the State of Palestine and Israel, show no signs of abating. In Nigeria and neighbouring countries, Boko Haram continues to conduct frequent suicide attacks, often using young girls. In each of these situations, children are paying a very high price. We are also witnessing an increasing number of refugees and displaced persons who are fleeing conflict and violence, almost half of whom are children. We all recall the image of Aylan, the Syrian boy lying lifeless on a beach, which weighs heavily on our collective conscience.

Yemen and South Sudan were highlighted as situations of particular concern at the time the report was written. Since then, in Yemen, aerial bombardments and ground combat have intensified and the number of child casualties is appalling. I continue to urge all parties to the conflict to show restraint and act in accordance with international humanitarian law during the conduct of hostilities. I call upon Member States to reinforce this message.

In South Sudan, a new peace agreement was recently signed, including provisions for child protection, however the situation remains precarious with continued violations of the ceasefire arrangements. I urge the Government and the opposition to abide by that deal, and I ask those in the room to do all within their power to ensure compliance.

The report also highlighted the prevalence of groups that perpetrate extreme violence. These groups have committed unspeakable atrocities against children, and tested the response capacity of national authorities and the international community alike. Whilst recognizing the challenges that States face in addressing the threats posed by such groups, let me reiterate that responses that do not comply with international law risk aiding the very groups Governments seek to combat. Holistic approaches that take into account legitimate grievances, political alienation, and protection of human rights of the population are the only way to sustainably address the challenge. Education is a key factor in countering the extremist discourse of these groups and reducing the risk of radicalization.

Every child, everywhere, has the right to a quality education. However, this right is compromised for millions of children affected by conflict. In Yemen, in less than six months in 2015, at least 161 schools have been destroyed and 409 damaged. Thousands of schools have not re-opened due to insecurity, interrupting access to education for 1.8 million children. In Syria, thousands of schools have been destroyed and damaged since 2011. Over 60 per cent of Syrian refugee children do not have access to education. The impact of attacks on education – even after a short period of hostilities – has long-term consequences. It is critical that the General Assembly continues to stress the importance of the protection of education, and that Member States prioritize financial support for education in emergencies. Ensuring quality education for all is one of the Sustainable Development Goals which, if achieved, will have a significant impact on the lives and futures of children.

The reporting period also witnessed a substantial increase in the number and scale of abductions of children, which are linked to other grave violations, including recruitment and sexual violence. In response, the Security Council took action in June, and elevated the violation of abduction to a trigger for listing in the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict. Many Member States in the room today co-sponsored resolution 2225, and I commend you for strengthening the United Nations’ tools to address this violation and further protect children in armed conflict.

Arrest and detention of children on security charges and without due process is another area affecting thousands of children in today’s conflicts. It is particularly worrisome that children allegedly associated with armed groups are increasingly treated as security threats, rather than as victims of grave violations.

We should remember that boys and girls are being recruited and used because we have failed in our duty to protect them. This body has recognized the need to have a better picture of the issue of deprivation of liberty of children. My office will contribute to the in-depth global study requested by the General Assembly, and I hope that this will contribute to strengthening the legal framework to protect children deprived of liberty in situations of conflict.

In light of the continued increase in grave violations against children, accountability is critical to prevent further violations, and to provide redress to victims.

Mr. Chairman,
Despite the daunting challenges children have faced over the past year, important progress has been achieved. The “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign continues, with strong support from Member States, regional organizations, United Nations partners and civil society. Building on the steady progress to date, we must redouble our efforts to catalyze continued advancements in the coming year.
Some of the Campaign countries have seen an escalation in conflict and increased security challenges, which I have mentioned. While it is unlikely that all Government forces will be delisted by the end of 2016, a number have demonstrated clear commitments and commendable progress. I have asked those Governments to galvanize efforts to finalize the implementation of their Action Plans. I am confident that progress is possible, but this will require Member States’ collective support for Campaign countries.

A number of field visits allowed me to engage in dialogue with Governments, including Campaign countries. These visits facilitated the establishment of the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism in Nigeria, advanced the implementation of the action plan in Myanmar, and allowed successful advocacy for the release of children and the ratification of child protection treaties in Somalia. I am very pleased to congratulate Somalia for ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child just two weeks ago. I also welcome Myanmar’s signature of the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict and hope that they follow Bahamas and Kiribati, who recently ratified OPAC.

Other collective efforts have also helped United Nations partners to protect children from the effects of conflict. My report highlights that intensive work resulted in the release of thousands of former child soldiers in Myanmar, DRC and South Sudan. I have seized the opportunity of peace negotiations to advocate for strengthened protection of children, including in Colombia, Central African Republic and Myanmar. In Colombia, I am very hopeful that the release of child soldiers will be a next step in reaching a lasting peace. We have also been in direct contact with non-State armed groups in Sudan and Myanmar, where there is discernible progress. I welcome the command order issued on 30 September by the Justice and Equality Movement of Sudan that reiterates its commitment to prohibit the recruitment and use of children in its ranks.

When discussions with parties to conflict bear fruit, resources need to be mobilized quickly to support the release and reintegration of former child soldiers, with special attention paid to the needs of girls. I ask that Member States commit to providing technical and financial support to reintegration programmes. Experience has shown that effective reintegration of children is a strategic intervention, and inextricably linked with long-term sustainability of peace and security.

Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

Despite this progress, the weight of global insecurity is sitting heavily upon our shoulders. The daunting challenges can only be addressed through innovative and broad collaboration. It is clear that the children and armed conflict mandate is only as strong as the support that it receives. I aim to continue to strengthen relationships with Member States, regional organizations, civil society and United Nations partners to sustain efforts to protect children through political engagement, expert advice and resources. Only with this support will we be able to work together to confront these challenges.

Thank you.