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Statement by Ms. Virginia Gamba, SRSG-CAAC
Briefing of the United Nations Security Council
Children and Armed Conflict: Prevention of Grave Violations
13 February 2023
Madam Chair, Excellencies,
Thank you for organizing this timely briefing on preventing violations against children in armed conflict. With 25 situations currently monitored through the United Nations’ Children and Armed Conflict agenda, including one region, prevention of conflict and sustaining peace as envisaged by this Council’s resolution 2427 of 2018 has never been more pertinent or urgent, and I commend Malta for providing a platform where its implementation can be discussed.
In his address to the General Assembly last week, Secretary-General expressed the need for a holistic view of the peace continuum that identifies root causes of conflict and in his words, ‘invests in prevention to avoid conflicts in the first place, focuses on mediation, advances peacebuilding and includes much broader participation of women and young people.’ Each year in this chamber, I present his annual report on children and armed conflict with data collected through the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism denoting trends in violations that remain at a shockingly high level.
In 2021, the last reporting year, the United Nations verified nearly 24,000 grave violations committed against children. Violations with highest verified numbers were killing and maiming and recruitment and use, followed by the denial of humanitarian access and abduction. As we currently prepare our forthcoming report for 2022, data gathered shows that these trends continue.
Documenting and verifying violations and abuses has been the first critical step to understanding the situation of children in armed conflict on the ground. However, in face of continuous cycles of violence and conflict that are only becoming more intense, frequent, and complex, we are increasingly aware that understanding and identifying the pre-existing risks and vulnerabilities to children will be critical to protecting them and preventing violations of their rights once the conflict occurs.
Years of experience of our partners delivering reintegration programming and our own research shows that children who are most vulnerable to grave violations once the conflict or emergency arrives are those who lack education or livelihood opportunities, are in situations of poverty and displacement, or are children with disabilities, among other risk factors. These children are thus more exposed to recruitment and re-recruitment by armed groups and other risks such as gender-based violence in times of war. Similarly, where we document children being taken across borders and trafficked from or through conflict situations, we would be remiss to account for these situations if we were not to track and respond to the particular risks these children are facing. Assessments of risks and vulnerabilities would include, for example, systematically applying an intersectional gender lens to analyse data in order to establish a more complete and context-specific understanding of the factors that contribute to risks and vulnerabilities of boys as well as girls to conflict-related sexual violence, including gender stereotyping and socio-cultural norms. It would also include taking into consideration other circumstances such as age, disability and displacement as factors that could expose children to a higher risk of being a target of grave violations by parties to conflict. Every person under 18 years must be recognized as a child, as children are entitled to special protection under international human rights law, particularly under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Sustainably addressing the situation of the children already facing other forms of violence and abuses, as well as adequately addressing main drivers of recruitment, helps us break occurrence and reoccurrence of conflict. This requires investment in a response that is long-term and tackles the root causes of conflict.
Madam Chair, Excellencies,
What can we do going forward?
The UN’s Children and Armed Conflict agenda possesses a multitude of robust tools and initiatives developed at different levels for protecting children from grave violations in situations monitored through this agenda. Its strength has been dialogue with parties to conflict, with hundreds of commitments including 41 action plans having been put in place by warring parties to better protect children since the mandate’s inception. Recently, the mandate also sought to foster prevention, reinforced by the Security Council’s adoption of resolution 2427 and developed joint prevention plans with governments in situations on our agenda, in addition to action plans and other concrete, timebound agreements. Today, the Security Council gives us an opportunity to focus on its resolution 2427 and its need to provide support and capacity for its further implementation and operationalization.
Prevention plans have been developed in The Philippines, and we are engaging with the Central African Republic, Colombia, Mali, and the Sudan to develop more prevention commitments. Notably too, our existing action plans in South Sudan and Yemen contain prevention elements. I would also like to highlight the work done with regional organizations such as the African Union and the League of Arab States, with whom we have extensive cooperation. These regional organizations work with their Member States to promote child protection throughout their own processes and to further the prevention of grave violations against children.
Worth mentioning is that 172 State parties ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict; the Paris Principles, the Vancouver Principles, and the Safe Schools Declaration have each been endorsed by more than a hundred Member States, another strong commitment to protecting children in armed conflict. These instruments all contribute to child protection and prevention of grave violations.
But more needs to be done. There is opportunity to develop national-level strategies or common approaches to prevention, also at the subregional and regional levels and sufficient capacities should be provided to governments willing to engage in this direction. These would include sharing best practice for information exchange, and capacity building and follow up to existing protection and prevention commitments, including resolutions of this Council. It could also include a coordinated mapping of vulnerabilities on the ground in close collaboration with UN entities in countries or regions where such situations exist, possibly through deployable expertise.
Ideally, the UN’s capacity and expertise on child protection should be deployed to support this effort.
For these reasons, my Office and I have strengthened our partnership with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children and her Office to better address the continuum of violence and anticipate risks before, during and in the aftermath of conflict in order to close the conflict loop. We commit to better understanding and externally communicating integral linkages between these two agendas going forward, including between early warning and incidents of violations and abuses against children, with the children – and their voices – at their center. Humanitarian-peace-development nexus straddles prevention, protection, peacebuilding, and post-conflict reconstruction and should be better understood.
To close Madam Chair,
In October last year addressing the General Assembly Third Committee during my annual report presentation, I made a call to that body to collect all existing tools and initiatives related to children and armed conflict into a comprehensive international framework for unifying elements of this agenda towards better protecting children and preventing violations.
I hope this call will be heeded as now more than ever, the best antidote to children’s protection is preventing violations from occurring at all. This includes delivering on improved reintegration of children and finding sustainable solutions for peace in which children themselves contribute to the solutions. It is this Council that stands poised for the task and we stand ready to support you in your continued work.