“The protection of children is a topic of universal resonance for all of us,” highlighted the Director-General of UN Office in Geneva, Michael Møller, as he kick started Geneva Peace Week 2018 with the event Building Peace: Protecting Children in Conflict on 4 November 2018. “This type of event is exactly why we started Geneva Peace Week, here in the City of Peace, where we bring together the richness of different actors for frank discussions on challenging, but pressing realities,” he said.
The event, organized by the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) and co-sponsored by the Permanent Representations of Belgium and Uruguay to the UN, highlighted that ending and preventing violations against children in armed conflict is not only a moral imperative but can also contributed to building sustainable peace. The event also contributed to building support for the Special Representative’s strategic focus on prevention and presented ways in which Member States, civil society and others contribute to building peace through the implementation of the CAAC agenda and related prevention initiatives.
“What binds New York and Geneva together is the agenda of prevention, which is the very topic of our side-event. We’ll indeed discuss today how we can build sustainable peace in ending and preventing violations and violence against children in armed conflict. Children, who represent roughly half of the world’s population affected by conflict, largely remain invisible victims,” emphasized the Permanent Representative of Belgium to the United Nations in Geneva, H.E. Amb. Geert Muylle, in his opening remarks.
“Ending violations against children in times of war is the primary focus of my work. But we do not stop there. Preventing violations – and therefore contributing to building peace – is our ultimate goal,” emphasized the SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba. The mandate of the Special Representative has been given stronger tools to prevent violations against children affected by conflict through the adoption in July 2018 of Security Council Resolution 2427. Reaffirming the important role the Special Representative can play in contributing to conflict prevention, the resolution calls upon States and the United Nations to mainstream child protection into conflict prevention activities and conflict and post-conflict situations with the aim of sustaining peace and preventing conflict.
“The war took everything: my family, my friends, my childhood.” Messeh Leone, advocate for children affected by war
Messeh Leone experienced war at a very young age in his country, Sierra Leone. “But I’ve been among the lucky ones,” said the young man who now lives in the United Kingdom and advocates for children affected by war. “Society generally doesn’t really want to listen to children, their voices are easily discarded. That’s why education is important. Children need to be guided and protected to be able to bring their voice to the table,” he said, emphasizing the global responsibility to protect children from war.
World Vision Representative Erica Hall highlighted the importance of a collaborative approach to better protect children and building peace. “If we want sustainable peace, it won’t happen without children,” she raised. “We know that protecting and empowering children requires coordination and collaboration at all levels – from the community up to global level. We can’t do it alone – no one can. We must all play our part,” she added.
“In the Central African Republic (CAR), about 70% of the country is controlled by armed groups,” highlighted Nathalie Ben Zakour Man, Senior Child Protection Advisor for the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in CAR (MINUSCA). “It is crucial to constantly talking to the armed groups, maintaining the dialogue and keeping the communication lines open.” Thanks to this ongoing dialogue and strong advocacy on the ground and at different levels, 11,429 children (30% girls) have been separated from the armed groups in the Central African Republic since 2014.
UNICEF Representative Jean-François Basse underlined the importance of changing the way we talk about protecting children in armed conflict by focusing not only on the recruitment and use of children, but on all six grave violations and on reintegration. “Releasing children is important but the reintegration of children is equally important,” he plead.
Ezequiel Heffes from Geneva Call, an organization working closely with armed non-State actors to promote respect for international humanitarian norms in armed conflict, reminded that the engagement on child protection issues should be ongoing and not only during active conflict. “Engagement should continue beyond the conflict, in negotiating peace agreements, for example,” he said.
A point echoed by the Permanent Representative of Uruguay to the UN in Geneva, H.E. Amb. Ricardo González Arenas, in his closing remarks. “Child protection must be part of any comprehensive strategy aimed at preventing and resolving conflicts with a view to sustainable peace. That is why child protection issues should be included in peace processes from its very early stages, duly taking into account the best interest of the child,” he said.