United Nations Security Council Open Arria Formula Meeting on Ending and Preventing Grave Violations Against Children Through Action Plans: Best Practices from African States

Statement by Ms. Virginia Gamba, 

SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict

7 May 2018


Excellencies, Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me first to thank the Permanent Representative of Poland, Ambassador Wronecka, as well as Cote D’Ivoire, France and Sweden for organizing this discussion and for gathering us today to share experiences with the implementation of Action Plans to end and prevent grave violations against children.

Twenty years ago – almost to this day, the Security Council’s historic engagement on children and armed conflict formally began with a first open debate. On that day, my predecessor, Olara Otunnu, asked the council to “lead the way by sending forth a clear message that the targeting, use and abuse of children are simply unacceptable.”

Thanks to the leadership of Member States, the Council quickly saw the immense potential of a pragmatic approach to change the lives of tens of thousands of children affected by conflict. The resolutions adopted since 1999 have created an exceptional framework to not only end grave violations against children, but also to prevent them.

Our mandate is based on tools given by the Security Council that allow us to collect timely, accurate and reliable information through the Monitoring and reporting mechanism, to list parties to conflict who commit 5 of the 6 grave violations, and to engage constructively with them to put in place tangible measures to end and prevent these violations. Ultimately, our mandate is to stop the use and abuse of children in, for, and by armed conflict, and to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Action Plans are at the heart of this architecture.

So far:

  • 28 listed parties have signed Action Plans, including 11 Government forces and 17 non-state armed groups.
  • 11 Action Plans have been fully implemented and the parties delisted.

We are currently engaged in an Action Plan process with all Government security forces listed for the recruitment and use of children, except for one party added last year, and we have strong progress to report in some of the world’s most difficult conflict situations. Two additional action plans signed with Government forces are designed to respectively end and prevent killing and maiming, as well as sexual violence against children. We are also currently implementing 6 Action plans with non-State armed groups.

Action Plans have provided a political and operational framework to engage with parties to conflict and have led to high-level engagement on the protection of children.

Here are a few examples of achievements:

  • The recruitment and use of children has been criminalized in several countries;
  • Armies and armed groups have issued command orders banning the recruitment of children, or requesting the protection of schools;
  • Child protection units have been created;
  • There have been systematic screenings of troops to identify and release children;
  • Measures adopted to assess the age of new recruits in countries where birth registration isn’t universal;
  • and reintegration programs set up to help boys and girls recover and services for children recovering from the trauma of war

These are just a few examples that demonstrate the potential of Action Plans to act as a catalyst to generate long-term, structural advances, to foster accountability for violations and ultimately, to reach our most elusive goal: a change of behavior towards the protection of children.

Last year, with the delisting of the FARDC for child recruitment and use in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and MILF in the Philippines, we have proven once again that it is possible for both State and non-State armed actors to fulfil all requirements of an Action Plan, and to put in place sustainable measures to prevent violations in the future.

In a few minutes, you will hear more about the accomplishments of Chad, Cote d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, three countries where Action Plans were successfully implemented. You will also hear of how Sudan is using its Action Plan as a springboard to develop a national strategy on prevention of violations that could serve as a model for others; such as Colombia.

Excellencies, colleagues,

This is success. But we all know our work is just beginning. The challenges we face to improve the protection of children are daunting.

Now, I would like to underline areas where I am convinced we need to focus to ensure better engagement with parties to conflict.

Awareness raising is one of them, as you know the campaign Children, Not Soldiers has now ended, but its positive impact still endures. It created new possibilities for the UN to engage with parties to the conflict including Armed Groups. The action plan signed with the SPLM-North in Sudan is one example. The campaign was able to open space for the UN to engage with an Armed Group following positive engagement with Sudan’s Government.

Increasing public awareness and action are at the core of increase engagement with parties to the conflict. Soon, I will launch a new campaign, tentatively named “Not Their War”, that will highlight and push for constructive engagement to end -and prevent – all 6 grave violations. I am also promoting the campaign “Children Not Soldiers, Let Them Play” in conjunction with the 2018 Football World Cup.

Prevention is also an area we should focus on, the Action Plan with the Coordination des mouvements de l’Azawad in Mali went beyond ending violations for which the party is listed. One of their members – the MNLA, is listed for recruitment and use and sexual violence against children. The Action Plan is primarily meant to end the violations. But the coalition has pre-emptively engaged in a binding agreement with the UN to protect children as a whole.

Finally, we need to improve our Regional and Sub regional approach. These organizations could play an increasingly important role in the maintenance of international peace and security, particularly given the increased cross-border nature of recruitment and use as well as handover and release. We should and will also reinforce our partnership with countries that have fully implemented Action Plans – like Chad, DRC and Cote d’Ivoire or are in the final stretches of implementation of an Action Plan, such as Sudan, and Colombia. By becoming champions for the protection of children, they will ensure their positive experience is used to generate lasting change at home and in their sub region and region.

By developing a common approach to the protection of children, we will increase regional ownership and the sharing of best practices, which will also assist our prevention goals.

I also want to underline that in the coming years, key challenges and priorities for Action Plans should be:

  • the full implementation, or at least substantial progress, in the 13 ongoing Action Plans;
  • engagement with a greater number of non-State armed groups;
  • an expansion of our engagement with all parties to conflict to address all 6 grave violations, and
  • Using lessons learned and best practices on Action Plans to help us move towards the prevention of violations at national and sub-regional levels.

Excellencies, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

The Security Council serves as a powerful advocate to advance the children and armed conflict agenda. We stand ready to support your efforts and initiatives and I would like to reiterate my appreciation for Sweden’s leadership with the Working Group on CAAC. We are also looking forward to our ongoing collaboration to mainstream the needs of children affected by armed conflict in the work of the Security Council and other UN bodies. This work is essential to ensure the success of our efforts.

I would also like to commend member States for creating new or maintaining existing Groups of friends in many country situations where we have Action Plans as well as in New York and Geneva. These groups have proven very effective to ensure parties to conflict receive adequate and constructive support.

Excellencies, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

Last year, over 10,000 children were released as a result of the implementation of Action Plans.

This is great news. Releasing children is essential, but it is only a first step. Each child released needs physical and mental health support to overcome the long-term effects of war. They also need access to education or vocational training to learn the skills they need to adapt to civilian life. Reintegration also involves working with communities to overcome stigma and to help boys and girls reunite with their families.

Everyone agrees about the importance of reintegration. It is an integral part of every Action Plan. And yet, over 20 years after the creation of this mandate, we are still struggling to find sufficient resources to support children recovering from the trauma of war. Girls in particular, will need special and dedicated support to allow them to face the world with no stigma.

Similarly, more needs to be done to find and help those children unofficially or self-demobilized, some of whom might be unaccompanied children on the move as we speak.

I would like to use today’s forum to reiterate my call to make long-term reintegration a priority.

Finally, the work and priorities I have described rely upon the country task forces on monitoring and reporting, co-chaired by UNICEF and the highest UN representative in-country, often the head of a peacekeeping or political mission. Their work is crucial to generate advances for children, to rally and coordinate efforts with all our other UN and NGO partners. These task forces need to be strengthened and assisted.

Sadly, the lack of resources is affecting child protection advisors when the need for additional resources is abundantly clear. We need to be ready to engage a party to conflict, particularly non-state armed groups, when an opportunity arises. The strategic asset of CPAs in conflict prevention and resolution including engagement with parties to conflict is vital and should be more widely recognized – and supported.

Over 10 years after the first Action Plans were signed in Cote D’Ivoire, we no longer have to prove their effectiveness. I count on your support to help us use the framework they provide to better address all grave violations, to reach a greater number of parties to conflict, to turn our agreement that it’s Not Their War into a wave of action that will truly make a difference in the lives of boys and girls, who should not be soldiers, and who must learn again to play.

Thank you.