UNIC Pretoria supports 5th annual Francophonie festival with exhibit on child soldiers

In a call to raise awareness of the worldwide phenomenon of child soldiers, UNIC Pretoria provided support to the High Commission of Canada in Pretoria as well as the Alliance Française of Pretoria to display a photographic exhibition entitled “Children of War”: Broken Childhood”.

Produced originally by the UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, the exhibition will form part of the month-long Francophonie festival at the Alliance de Française in Pretoria from 20 March to 17 April 2014.

Accompanying the opening of the exhibition on 20 March was a film screening on child soldiers entitled, War Witch (French: Rebelle). With over 130 people in attendance, the film was followed by a panel discussion on the topic, moderated by journalist and broadcaster, Jean-Jaques Cornish. Giving an account of their different experiences and expertise on the topic of child soldiers, the two panel members, Patrizia Benvenuti, Chief of Child Protection for UNICEF South Africa and Jamala Safari, poet and author of “The long great agony and pure laughter of the god”, spoke passionately about the topic.

Responding to a question on the complexity of the recruitment of child soldiers, Ms. Benvenuti replied, “Ending the use of child soldiers can be extremely challenging, particularly when children are enlisted for combat by armed, non-governmental groups. Modern conflicts are characterized by governmental breakdown, making it difficult to identify and influence those recruiting and using children as soldiers.”

It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of children are unlawfully recruited to participate in armed conflicts as soldiers, messengers, spies, porters, cooks or to provide sexual services.  Many are pressed into combat where they may be forced to the front lines or sent into minefields ahead of older troops.  Some children are also used as suicide bombers.  This is taking place every day, in many countries around the world, violating children’s rights, destroying their childhood and compromising their future.

Source: UNIC Pretoria/6 April 2014

Leila Zerrougui at the 71st UN General Assembly: Highlights

The high-level week of the 71st session of the General Assembly is in full swing at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, is taking part in a series of high-level meetings and events to discuss the global situation of children affected by conflict, and how to better address their plight.

Here are the day-by-day highlights:

Friday, 23 September

On the last day of the High-Level week, Special Representative Leila Zerrougui attended a Ministerial Meeting on the Implementation of the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali, which discussed needed support to the country, including assistance for the implementation of the peace agreement.

Throughout the day, she met high-level officials from France, United States, European Union, Malaysia and others, the latter being the current chair of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.

 

The Special Representative also had substantive discussions with representatives of Sudan and Iraq. With the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Sudan, she welcomed the recent release of 21 children arrested for association with armed groups and also discussed the implementation of the Action Plan, signed in March, to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children by Government security forces. During the meeting with His Excellency Mr. Ibrahim Al-Eshaiker Al-Jaafari, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Iraq, they discussed the significant challenges faced by the country to protect the country’s children.

The Special Representative’s week ended with a conversation with the President of the Republic of Niger, which included a discussion of the protection of children and the response to the regional threat posed by Boko Haram.

Niger - Mahamadou Issoufou

NIGER: His Excellency Mr. Mahamadou Issoufou, President

Thursday, 22 September

On the fourth day of this year’s General Debate at the General Assembly, Special Representative Leila Zerrougui met high-level officials from Malta, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Mexico and others to discuss joint efforts to protect children in countries affected by conflict around the globe. Strengthening the collaboration between all those involved in the protection of children, including Member States, is of major importance in the international fight against the use of child soldiers and other grave violations against children in times of war.

Special Representative Zerrougui also met with Her Excellency Ms. Diosita Andot, Undersecretary, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process of the Philippines, to discuss efforts to end the recruitment and use of children by armed groups in the Philippines.

Philippines - Diosita Andot

PHILIPPINES: Her Excellency Ms. Diosita Andot, Under-Secretary, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process

In addition to other meetings and events, the Special Representative met other senior UN colleagues in New York for the week to discuss regional developments and share best practices.

Wednesday, 21 September

Halfway through the High-Level week of the 71st General Assembly, Special Representative Zerrougui began her day at the Security Council Briefing on the situation in the Middle East, which focused on Syria.

Later, Ms. Zerrougui met UN colleagues from Iraq and UNHCR to discuss the situation of children and shared concerns on their respective agendas.

Ms. Zerrougui headed to the Ford Foundation to join a discussion panel at the launch event of Alliance 8.7, a Global Alliance to coordinate efforts to succeed in the implementation of SDG 8.7:

“Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms” SDG 8.7

Alliance 8.7 Event

Leila Zerrougui speaks at an event organized to launch the Alliance 8.7. Copyrights: Office of the SRSG-CAAC

At the event, the Special Representative recalled that joint efforts by all actors involved in the protection of children have led to the release of 115,000 child soldiers in the past 15 years and called on renewed collaboration to fulfill the promise of the SDGs.

Among other meetings and events, the Special Representative had the chance to discuss the situation of children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with Ms. Jeanine Mabunda Lioko, Personal Representative of the President of the DRC in Charge of the Fight Against Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment.

Tuesday, 20 September

On Tuesday morning, Special Representative Leila Zerrougui attended the opening of the General Debate at the General Assembly Hall. This year’s debate is held under the theme “The Sustainable Development Goals: a universal push to transform our world”, and marks the first anniversary of the Adoption of the 2030 Agenda, which promises to address the plight of children affected by armed conflict.

Again on Tuesday, Ms. Zerrougui had high-level bilateral meetings with Member States to discuss the 20th anniversary of the mandate, the campaign Children, Not Soldiers, as well as current challenges and successes to address the plight of children affected by armed conflict. The Special Representative met with officials from the United Kingdom, Spain, Norway and Angola.

She also met with Her Excellency Ms. Maria Angela Holguin Cellar, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Colombia, to discuss the implementation of the historic agreement to separate and provide reintegration services to all children in the ranks of the FARC-EP. The final peace agreement will be signed on 26 September and the first groups of child soldiers from the FARC-EP were separated on 10 September.

Colombia - Maria Angela Holguin Cellar

COLOMBIA: Her Excellency Ms. Maria Angela Holguin Cellar, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Later on Tuesday, the Special Representative sat down with the Vice-President of Angola, His Excellency Mr. Manuel Domingos Vicente, and thanked him for his country’s support.

High-level week at the General Assembly is also the occasion to meet UN colleagues from around the world to discuss ongoing work and challenges to protect children affected by armed conflict. Today, Ms. Zerrougui met with colleagues from UNICEF as well as the UN Resident Coordinator in Yemen.

Later that day, the Special Representative exchanged with several world leaders and ambassadors at receptions organized by Member States.

Monday, 19 September

Again this year, the General Debate of the UN General Assembly brings world leaders together in New York. For the first time, the General Assembly organized a high-level summit on large movements of refugees and migrants. Special Representative Zerrougui and other colleagues from her office attended the summit as this crisis affects millions of children, forced to leave their homes because of conflict.
Early in the afternoon, Leila Zerrougui attended the ministerial side event “Bringing Da’esh to Justice”.
The Special Representative also had several bilateral meetings on Monday, notably with leaders and high-level officials from Luxembourg, and Belgium, as well as future members of the Security Council Italy and Bolivia. She thanked them for their support and discussed current challenges and successes, including upcoming celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the creation of the mandate.

At 6:30 pm, the Special Representative joined the launch of a photography exhibition entitled “Far from Home: Children in Refuge”, hosted by the Permanent Representative of France and Save the Children.

Sunday, 18 September

As the countries’ delegations begin to arrive in New York City, Leila Zerrougui met with His Excellency Mr. Stéphane Dion, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. During the bilateral meeting, Ms. Zerrougui thanked Canada for its continued support: Canada is, in fact, long time sustainer of the SRSG’s mandate, besides being Chair of the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict. Also this year, Foreign Minister Dion reaffirmed his country’s commitment to improve the protection of children affected by war.

Canada - Stéphane Dion

CANADA: His Excellency Mr. Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Later on, the Special Representative first attended a UNICEF high-level event on children in refugee and migrant crisis, and later she delivered a speech at the World Child Panel “I’ve Moved, My Rights Haven’t”, highlighting the root causes of displacement of children.

Follow this page for daily updates on Leila Zerrougui’s activities during the high-level week of the 71st General Assembly.

Philippines: Ending Use and Recruitment of Children for the Future of the Bangsamoro People

Mindanao is the second largest island group in the Philippines. It has around 20 million inhabitants, including the Bangsamoros or ethnic Filipino Muslims who call Mindanao their home. The island is also the scene of a long-standing conflict between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), who are seeking self-determination and increased autonomy for their people.

The conflict waged in the past decades resulted in grave violations against boys and girls, including the recruitment and use of children for military purposes. After decades of conflict, almost every child living in an area controlled by the MILF has a family member or close acquaintance that is part of the armed group.

While a lack of economic opportunities may be a factor motivating children to join the MILF, societal acceptance, as well as encouragement by relatives and friends have contributed to boys and girls seeking to associate themselves with the armed group.  In many cases these children live at home and attend the local school or madrassah, but can be called upon by the MILF to perform auxiliary roles when needed. Children fought in combat operations and were also associated with the armed group in support roles as messengers, cooks or cleaners.

A strong commitment for children

The MILF was first listed for the recruitment and use of children in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict in 2003. Four years later, following the adoption of Security Council resolution 1612, a country task force was set up to facilitate monitoring and reporting on all six grave violations against children, establish dialogue with parties to the conflict and develop Action Plans to end violations. These efforts led to the signing of an Action Plan between the United Nations and the MILF in 2009, aimed at ending the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

The historic signing of the Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro in March 2014, after 17 years of negotiation with the Government of the Philippines, made the creation of a self-governing region an attainable reality and created further momentum for the implementation of the Action Plan.

The MILF appointed a new five-member panel to oversee the implementation and has since shown a strong commitment to work towards a child-free military structure, with significant progress having been achieved.

Shifting perceptions and attitudes

Creating recognition that every person under the age of 18 is a child that must be disassociated from the military structure has been an important enabling factor in the implementation of the Action Plan. This change in perception began with orientation sessions for troops in all 31 base commands. These sessions focused on the roles and responsibilities of MILF leadership and rank and file, and highlighted sanctions for non-compliance. The provisions of the Action Plan, the MILF Code of Conduct and Command Orders were also disseminated.

In Mindanao, community sessions and continuous interaction with the group’s military structure also contributed to the shift in perception. Among those who embraced the shift were the members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Women’s Auxiliary Brigade (BIWAB) who are members of the MILF military.

Wilma Madato, Training Officer of the Bangsamoro Islamic Women Auxiliary Group and a member of the Action Plan implementation panel reflected on her role as a woman and mother in the struggle for self-determination.

“As mothers, we need to know that it is the right of every child to have an education. Our children belong to the classrooms and not in the camps or in the battlegrounds,” she says.

Finally, in 2015, UNICEF Philippines launched a local version of the campaign ‘Children, Not Soldiers’ to reinforce the work already achieved to raise awareness about the importance of protecting children from any form of military activity and to acknowledge the MILF’s commitment to end the recruitment and use of children.

The campaign ‘Children, not Soldiers’ was originally launched to galvanize support to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children by national security forces in conflict. In countries such as the Central African Republic, Mali and the Philippines, the campaign has also been used to support efforts to end the recruitment and use of children by armed groups.

A better future for Bangsamoro children

As of June 2016, the majority of the benchmarks of the Action Plan have been reached. The MILF leadership is implementing a four-step process to identify and release all children associated with the military chain of command. The steps include the identification of all children in the military rank and file, their disassociation from the military structure and creating social awareness and understanding to prevent new recruitments.

Ensuring that children that have been disassociated from the MILF military structure today remain separated in the future is crucial to the success of the Action Plan. This is why the UN continues to support the armed group to ensure rigorous age verification mechanisms in recruitment processes, ongoing screening of troops and the application of existing accountability mechanisms in cases of non-compliance.

It is equally important to support children and youth and help them find alternatives to military life, including by providing viable educational and vocational opportunities. Concerted efforts by the Government, MILF, the United Nations and the international community is essential to strengthen already existing programmes, create new opportunities, and help Mindanao turn the page once and for all on underage recruitment.

Afghanistan: Film Festival on Impact of Armed Conflict on Children

On 3 September in Herat city, UNAMA with members of the Department of Information and Culture, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), civil society and the local media and arts community jointly collaborated for the first ever Film Festival on the effects of armed conflict on children. The event was widely publicized locally in Herat, where approximately 220 film aficionados and critics were in attendance.

There have been many festivals in Herat, but none have ever focused on children’s issues, and in particular, effects of the conflict on children.

“The festival gave me a chance to know that there are many children who are suffering from hard work. I also learnt that there are many children affected by the armed conflict. I did not know this.” [Kayhan, a primary school student]

Film makers from Herat and Badghis provinces submitted films that touched on important and timely issues of children’s rights, including the effects of conflict on family life, education and healthcare attacks on schools the devastating impact of unexploded ordnances, explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices on children and recruitment and use of children by parties to the conflict. A condition of registration was that films included at least one female as director, narrator, script writer or lead character.

The Festival provided an important opportunity for Afghans from all walks of life to exercise their cultural rights with courage and innovation. Many of the films reflected personal experiences or told the story of those closest to the writer. The films provided a creative and unique collective voice to children facing conflict across the country. Conducted under volatile conditions in Afghanistan, this Festival also offered an important avenue to inspire civil society, and particularly youth, to advocate and address human rights through a media platform.

The armed conflict in Afghanistan is increasing in terms of complexity, geographic scope and levels of violence, with particularly harsh consequences for children. In the first half of 2016, the United Nations documented:

  • 1,509 child casualties (388 deaths and 1,121 injured)
  • Children accounted for 85 per cent of all civilian casualties caused by Explosive Remnants of War (ERWs) – the second leading cause of child casualties
  • 46 incidents affecting access to education
  • 64 incidents affecting access to healthcare
  • 34 children recruited and used by parties to the conflict.

A total of 32 films were submitted by filmmakers from Herat and Badghis provinces. A number of entries were from women and the disabled community. Majority of participants and film makers were youth. Four judges from UNAMA, civil society and the AIHRC reviewed the films and selected the two top films. Certificates were presented to the best director, actor, actress, child actor, child actress, cinematographer and editor. The festival audience also received the opportunity to vote on the Best Film in the People Choice Award category.

The Best Film was from a 16 year old 11th grade high school student who also clinched the award for Best Director for her film entitled “Ja Khali” (Empty Space), which depicts the story of a young boy who desperately wants to continue his education but is forced to quit school and work as he becomes the sole breadwinner after his father’s conflict-related death. Unfortunately, this is a reality for a numerous and growing number of children throughout Afghanistan.

“I found the festival theme very strong and useful and therefore I was motivated to make a short film about the effects of armed conflict on Afghan children.” [Ms. Mahbooba Barat, Director and Producer of the top Film, “Ja Khali”]

The runner up film was ““Wazifa Shenas” (Duty Bound), directed and produced by a medical doctor serving in the Afghan National Border Police (ANBP). The film focuses on the dilemma faced by an ANBP commander when members of an armed group to which he has jailed threaten to kill his son unless he releases the jailed members.

A documentary is currently being produced to highlight the journey of the film makers, and focus on the reasons why they wrote their respective scripts, the production process and their personal experience in participating in the festival itself.

Impact of Armed Conflict on Children – Twenty Years of Action Following the Publication of Graça Machel Report to the General Assembly

Twenty years ago, Graça Machel’s report “Impact of armed conflict on children”, asked the international community to come together to address the plight of children affected by war.

For two years, Machel had travelled to conflict zones and met children, families, humanitarian workers and Government officials to better understand what boys and girls were going through.

On 26 August 1996, the report she presented to the General Assembly described conflicts in which “[n]othing was spared, held sacred or protected – not children, families or communities.”

She added that “the struggles that claim more civilians than soldiers have been marked by horrific levels of violence and brutality. Any and all tactics are employed, from systematic rape, to scorched-earth tactics that destroy crops and poison wells, to ethnic cleansing and genocide. With all standards abandoned, human rights violations against children and women occur in unprecedented numbers. Increasingly, children have become the targets and even the perpetrators of violence and atrocities.” [para. 24]

The report described the violations most commonly occurring to children in times of war, as well as a call to action with practical recommendations, including the nomination of a special representative of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict to keep the protection of children “very high on the international human rights, peace, security and development agendas” (source: A/RES/48/157).

Four months later, the General Assembly answered her call and recommended the appointment of a Special Representative on children and armed conflict, who would report back to the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council (then called the Commission on Human Rights) annually.

The action generated by the General Assembly, and the tools developed by the UN Security Council to address the sufferings of children affected by war, have enabled consistent progress in the past 20 years, even though important challenges remain to protect them.

Progress

Since 2000, more than 115,000 child soldiers have been released as a result of dialogue and Action Plans with national armed forces and  armed groups.

The advocacy generated by this mandate has brought about a global consensus among Member States that children should not be recruited and used in conflict, and should be protected from all other grave violations. Thanks in part to the momentum generated by the campaign ‘Children, not Soldiers’, launched with UNICEF, in 2014, the UN is currently engaged in an Action Plan process with all Member States listed for recruitment and use of children in their national security forces and there is progress to report in most countries, including a significant reduction in verified cases of recruitment and use of children.

Engagement with non-State armed groups continues to grow. The UN currently has a dialogue with listed parties in the Central African Republic, Colombia, Mali, Myanmar, the Philippines, Sudan and South Sudan. In 2015 alone, this engagement has led to the release of over 8,000 children. In Colombia, the involvement of the Special Representative contributed to a historic agreement between the FARC-EP and the Government to release all children recruited by the FARC.

Despite this important progress, emerging and protracted conflicts are disrupting the lives of millions of children, and continue to fuel the largest movement of populations the world has experienced since the Second World War. The UN reports annually on tens of thousands of children killed, maimed, recruited and used as child soldiers, abducted and victims of sexual violence. Boys and girls are victims or targets of groups using extreme violence. Detention is too often used for children allegedly associated with armed groups. Schools and hospitals are under attack, and boys and girls have little or no access to basic life-saving humanitarian assistance. While there has been some progress at national and international level, impunity for crimes committed against children is prevalent.

Looking forward

When the children and armed conflict mandate was created, the General Assembly fully recognized the way we treat children today will have a huge impact on the peace and development of our societies of tomorrow. The new development agenda is poised to become a cornerstone of international efforts to bring about substantial progress to address the needs of all children, including those affected by conflict.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognize that children, who represent the majority of the population in many countries affected by conflict, are key to building peaceful and strong societies. Human rights, peace, justice and strong institutions are at the heart of the SDGs. This includes ensuring quality education and health services for all, ending the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and ending all forms of violence against children.

As we look forward to more years of progress, we need to use the tools already available and the promise of the SDGs to their full potential. The international community has an important role to play. It is now our collective duty to remain united to ensure that boys and girls from around the world will benefit from the meaningful change we have envisioned.

Increasingly complex armed conflicts have dire impact on children

The impact on children of the collective failure to prevent and end conflict is severe, with regions in turmoil and violations against children intensifying in a number of conflicts, the senior United Nations envoy on the subject said today, stressing that this situation stems directly from an erosion of respect for international humanitarian and human rights law by conflict parties.

In her annual report to the UN General Assembly, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, highlighted the devastating impact on children of increasingly complex conflicts, despite concerted efforts and significant progress achieved over the past year.

The report, which covers the period from August 2015 to July 2016, notes that the proliferation of actors involved in armed conflict and cross-border aerial operations created highly complex environments for the protection of boys and girls.

A news release on the report explains that in 2015, and again in the first half of 2016, Afghanistan recorded the highest number of child deaths and injuries since the UN started systematically documenting civilian casualties in 2009. In addition, in Syria and Iraq, violence continued unabated.

And in South Sudan, following a year during which children were victims of brutal violations, hopes for improvement “all but evaporated” with the resumption of conflict last month. In Yemen, the escalation of conflict continued with alarming levels of child recruitment, killing and maiming and attacks on schools and hospitals.

The current report also marks the twentieth anniversary of ‘children in armed conflict’ mandate, and takes stock of the achievements accomplished since the publication of Graça Machel’s ground-breaking report, “Impact of armed conflict on children,” which led to the creation of the mandate of the Special Representative by the General Assembly.

Since 2000, over 115,000 children have been released as a result of action plans and advocacy. Engagement with non-State armed groups is growing and recently contributed to a historic agreement between the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP to release all children in the ranks of the FARC-EP.

The advocacy generated by this mandate, and reinforced by the campaign Children, not Soldiers, has led to a global consensus among UN Member States that children do not belong in security forces in conflict. This progress in addressing recruitment and use over the last 20 years has been built upon and utilized in work to reduce other grave violations, notably sexual violence and attacks on schools and hospitals.

Yet, the report cites complex and emerging issues needing particular attention, including protection challenges posed by violent extremism, attacks on health case and protected persons, and displacement, specifically noting that armed conflict has resulted not only in human casualties, but also in an ever growing number of displaced children.

Indeed, according to the UN refugee agency, an unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced away from their homes among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are children. As such, Ms. Zerrougui encourages Member States and other partners to support initiatives to help displaced children rebuild their lives, particularly through ensuring that education is prioritised in emergency settings.

Among the key recommendations to the General Assembly and Member States that warp up the report are:

  • To ensure that Member States engagement in hostilities, including in efforts to counter violent extremism, are conducted in full compliance with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law;
  • To highlight the rights of children displaced by conflict and the obligations of States of origin, transit and destination;
  • To treat children allegedly associated with non-State armed groups as victims entitled to the full protection of their human rights;
  • Encouraging Member States concerned by the “Children, not Soldiers” campaign to redouble their efforts to fully implement their Action Plan;
  • To take appropriate measures to reintegrate children, giving special attention to the needs of girls; and
  • To ensure that special attention is paid to children affected by armed conflict in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

This article was originally published by the UN News Centre on 24 August 2016

Yemen: Ban condemns reported coalition airstrike on rural hospital that leaves 11 dead

The UN Special Representative for Children and Arrmed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, adds her voice to the Secretary-General”s to condemn the reported coalition airstrike yesterday on a hospital in the town of Abs (Governorate of Hajjah) that killed 11 people. On Saturday, another airstrike hit a school in the Sa”ada governorate, killing at least 10 children and injuring 28 more.

“The children of Yemen have endured enough hardship since the beginning of this conflict. I call on all parties to abide by their obligations under international law, including by protecting schools and hospitals,” said Leila Zerrougui.

The media reported that more than 19 people were also wounded when an airstrike hit the hospital supported by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, in the rebel-held town.

According to a statement issued by Mr. Ban”s spokesperson, the Secretary-General notes that the parties to the Yemeni conflict have damaged or destroyed over 70 health centres to date, including three other MSF-supported facilities, and he “is deeply disturbed” by the intensification of airstrikes and continuing ground fighting and shelling, especially in populated areas.

The UN chief also stressed that the shrinking humanitarian space and limited access to essential services for Yemenis, a situation exacerbated by the return to full-scale hostilities, is a matter of ever greater concern, the statement said.

The statement further notes that hospitals and medical personnel are explicitly protected under international humanitarian law and any attack directed against them, or against any civilian persons or infrastructure, is a serious violation of international humanitarian law. All such attacks should be investigated through prompt, effective, independent and impartial.

The Secretary-General also reiterated his call on the parties to renew their engagement – without delay and in good faith – with his Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, in pursuit of a negotiated solution, the statement added.

In Geneva, Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO), told reporters that the UN agency also condemned the attack and repeated its call on all parties with their commitments and obligations under international humanitarian law to protect health workers and facilities.

Hajjah is an area which hosts a large number of internally displaced persons and had already been suffering from serious disruptions in health service delivery and shortages of medical staff due to the closure of health facilities and the departure of medical personnel, he said, noting that the hospital, one of a few functioning ones there, was receiving 100-150 outpatients daily, providing life-saving services, especially for mothers and children.

There were 23 patients in surgery, 25 in maternity ward as well as 13 new-born and 12 patients in paediatrics at time of the bombing, he said, adding that since the escalation of the conflict in March 2015, more than 13 health workers had lost their lives and 23 had been injured.

Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that OHCHR staff on the ground was investigating the attack against the MSF hospital, and reiterated that attacks on medical facilities were clearly prohibited under international humanitarian law.

Following nearly 16 months of conflict in Yemen, the cessation of hostilities was declared on 10 April. While peace talks between a Yemeni Government delegation and a delegation of the General People”s Congress and Ansar Allah have since continued, serious violations have occurred in Marib, al Jawf, Taiz and in the border areas with Saudi Arabia.

Following nearly 16 months of conflict in Yemen, the cessation of hostilities was declared on 10 April. While peace talks between a Yemeni Government delegation and a delegation of the General People”s Congress and Ansar Allah have since continued, serious violations have occurred in Marib, al Jawf, Taiz and in the border areas with Saudi Arabia.

On 6 August, the UN special envoy announced a one-month break for the talks, during which “the focus will be on working with each side separately to crystalize precise technical details.”

This article was edited from a news item originally published by the UN News Centre

Yemen: UN chief condemns attack on school that killed at least 10 children

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the attack, reportedly an airstrike, on a school in northern Yemen that killed at least 10 children and injured many more over the weekend.

According to a statement issued by his spokesperson, the Secretary-General expressed “dismay” that civilians, including children, continue to bear the brunt of increased fighting and military operations in Yemen.

Mr. Ban called for a swift investigation of this tragic event in the Sa”ada governorate and urges the parties to the ongoing conflict to take all necessary measures to prevent further violations of international humanitarian law and human rights and do everything in their power to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, the statement said.

“The Secretary-General reiterates that there is no military solution to the crisis in Yemen,” the statement said.

The UN chief also called upon the parties to renew — without delay and in good faith — their engagement with his Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, in pursuit of a negotiated solution, the statement said.

The UN Children”s Fund (UNICEF) also issued a statement on the killing of children in a religious school that also injured 21 others.

“The children killed, aged between six and 14 years, were studying in a school in the Juma”a Bin Fadil village in Haydan,” the statement said, adding that the surviving children were being treated in a hospital in Sa”ada.

With violence across the country intensifying over the past week, the number of children killed and injured by airstrikes, street fighting and landmines has grown sharply, the statement noted.

“UNICEF calls on all parties to the conflict in Yemen to respect and abide by their obligations under international law,” including the obligation to only target combatants and limit harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure, the statement said.

Following nearly 16 months of conflict in Yemen, the cessation of hostilities was declared on 10 April. While peace talks between a Yemeni Government delegation and a delegation of the General People”s Congress and Ansar Allah have since continued, serious violations have occurred in Marib, al Jawf, Taiz and in the border areas with Saudi Arabia.

On 6 August, the UN special envoy announced a one-month break for the talks, during which “the focus will be on working with each side separately to crystalize precise technical details.”

Originally published on UN News Centre

Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict

Statement by Ms. Leila Zerrougui,
SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict

Open Debate of the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict
2 August 2016 – Security Council Chamber

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Watch Leila Zerrougui’s remarks at the UN Security Council

 

Mr. President, Secretary-General, Mr. Lake

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to start by expressing my gratitude to Malaysia for organizing this open debate and thanking you all for attending.

The Secretary-General has just outlined how children continue to be the primary victims of armed conflict. This was Graça Machel’s most troubling conclusion in her report twenty years ago.

Click to read a summary of the Annual Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict

Click to read a summary of the Annual Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict

Unfortunately, despite concerted effort and significant progress, we have not yet changed this fact. The report before you notes that a multitude of prolonged and increasingly complex conflicts are having a devastating impact on children. In a number of situations, a shocking disregard for international law is in evidence and impunity prevails.

In 2015, armed groups and government forces killed, maimed, recruited and used, and inflicted sexual violence upon tens of thousands of boys and girls. There were over two thousand attacks on schools and hospitals documented in 19 out of 20 situations in the report. Abduction remained a widespread concern with over four thousand incidents in 2015. Conflict also impacts children in ways that are not captured by the report’s statistics. Children lose their parents, they are disabled due to easily curable illnesses and they suffer long-term psychological trauma.

As the Council is well aware, children have been significantly affected by violent extremism. Many groups operating today defy the norm that attacks must not be directed against civilians and they commit routine and brutal acts. To give an example, this April in Iraq, ISIL publicly executed a 15 year-old boy who they accused of being a “disbeliever”. The boy was tied between two cars that were driven in opposite directions. While the challenges faced by Member States to address these groups and protect civilians are evident, security responses that do not comply with international law inflict further harm. They even risk aiding the very groups Governments seek to combat.

The besiegement of civilians by Government forces is unconscionable. Airstrikes and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas by international coalitions or individual Member States are an acute concern. They have contributed to some of the highest numbers of documented child casualties. Extra judicial killings and torture of civilians has also been reported in territory liberated from armed groups. Governments are increasingly using militias to fight in support of their forces. These groups frequently lack the respect for, or even understanding of, international humanitarian law. The ongoing reports of recruitment and use of children by this group of actors are another concern.

Counter terrorism legislation is being broadly applied in many situations without appropriate check and balances. Children are being apprehended based on alleged links to non-state armed groups or on expansive interpretations of protecting national security. Civilian courts are being marginalised and juvenile justice is inexistent. Children can be held for months or even years by military or intelligence actors. If a child goes before a judge, it is often in a military or special court where due process and fair trial standards are sorely lacking.

Even children have been sentenced to death. Just two weeks ago, in Somalia, I met boys condemned to death for their alleged association with Al-Shabaab. This cannot be an acceptable outcome for children when they are rescued from armed groups. Many have been abducted and forcibly recruited and are primarily victims. Detention is also employed in some situations as a tactic to recruit and use children for intelligence gathering purposes. I cannot emphasize enough the danger they are put in when they are used in this way. Reports of children being executed by armed groups for suspicion of collaboration with Government forces are all too common.

The lack of respect for international humanitarian law is also having ramifications beyond conflict zones. As the Secretary-General noted, children are being displaced in ever increasing numbers. Unfortunately, the response from some Member States has not always been in the best interests of children. We must do more; including supporting the small number of conflict affected Member States which host 90 per cent of the refugee population to provide basic services.

Mr. President, Excellencies,

While the overall picture today is not positive, we cannot forget that progress has been achieved and continues in many places.

I would like to seize the opportunity of briefing the Council in the 20th year since the creation of the mandate to briefly reflect on some key accomplishments. Since the Secretary-General’s first report to this body, more than 115 thousand children associated with parties to conflict have been released as a result of dialogue and Action Plans. To date, 25 Action Plans have been signed with parties to conflict. Nine parties have fully complied and were delisted – in Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Uganda.

The Children, Not Soldiers campaign has also helped to consolidate the emerging global consensus that child soldiers should not be used in conflict. With the Government of Sudan signing an action plan earlier this year, the United Nations is now engaged in implementing a written commitment with all Member States listed for recruitment and use of children. Since the launch of the campaign, there has been a significant reduction in verified cases of recruitment and use of children by national security forces, especially in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Myanmar. I call on all concerned Governments, and on all those who can provide support, to do their utmost to fully implement these Action Plans.

Peace processes continue to represent a vital opportunity to engage with parties to conflict on child protection. Most recently, in Colombia, the Government and the FARC-EP concluded an historic agreement to separate and reintegrate all children associated with the armed group. The agreement’s successful implementation will be an important signal to parties in other protracted conflicts that committed dialogue can lead to results.

The United Nations is also engaged in dialogue with listed armed groups in the Central African Republic, Mali, Myanmar, the Philippines, Sudan and South Sudan. Years of work with Governments to improve legislative frameworks, to build institutional capacity, and to address challenges such as birth registrations are bearing fruit. I am pleased to say that this engagement has helped thousands of children in the last 18 months alone. I urge national authorities to support ongoing and future discussions with armed groups on action plans so that many more can benefit.

The coordinated action generated by this mandate is at the heart of these achievements. The dedication and tireless efforts of Member States, UN colleagues, civil society and many more have and continue to bring about positive change for boys and girls living in communities ravaged by war. This shows that when parties to conflict faithfully engage, where there is political space to act on behalf of children, we are able to achieve results.

Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are mandated to work and to achieve results with Governments and non-State armed groups, operating in the world’s most difficult environments.

As the Secretary-General noted, the goal of the report before you today is not to cause discomfort, but rather to bring about change for boys and girls confronted by violations the international community considers abhorrent. Our work often involves a difficult balancing act, but the tools developed by this Council to address grave violations against children are invaluable. The progress I have just outlined demonstrates that they are pragmatic, constructive, and powerful enough to convince parties to conflict of the urgency to protect children.

Our success depends on our impartiality, on the credibility of the tools at our disposal, and on the international community’s support for our work. I want to reiterate my support for our dedicated colleagues on the ground who work tirelessly to achieve results.

Despite successes over the years, there is no denying that the overall picture of violations in situations of armed conflict is extremely worrisome. Concerned Governments bear the primary responsibility for the protection of civilians. The United Nations stands ready to support Governments in their efforts to protect children and help address violations outlined in the report, but we cannot make up for the lack of political will.

Others in this Chamber have a critical role to support these efforts. As members of the Security Council and the international community, you can and must do more to address the root causes of the suffering of children. Greater efforts must be made to prioritize conflict prevention and support peace processes, to ensure respect for international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law, but also to seek accountability when violations are committed. Impunity remains in times of war. This body has a crucial role in ending it.

The number of crises we are faced with today will test our capacity in 2016 and for many years into the future. We face a considerable challenge and we need creative ways to support initiatives and programs to protect children. I call on Member States to ensure adequate resources for education and health services in emergencies, and to provide financial and technical support to effective reintegration programs for former child soldiers. These initiatives are vital if we are to build long term sustainable peace and security.

This mandate, and the action it continues to generate, represents a beacon of hope for millions of children affected by war. Our capacity to work together, to generate will to untangle the most difficult situations, will have a decisive impact on the present and future of millions of children.

Watch Leila Zerrougui as she addressed journalists following her presentation to the UN Security Council

Afghanistan: Highest Number of Child Casualties in First Half of 2016

In the first six months of this year, 5,166 civilians were either killed or maimed in Afghanistan, a half-year record since counting began in 2009, a United Nations report published today shows. Almost one third of them were children.

This year’s casualties include 1,509 children (388 dead and 1,121 injured) – a figure the UN Human Rights Chief described as “alarming and shameful,” particularly as it represents the highest numbers of children killed or wounded in a six-month period since counting began in 2009.

Afghanistan mid year report

Click to read the report

“These numbers are a cruel reminder of the disproportionate impact of war on children and of the urgency to act to protect them,” said Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.

Between January and June this year, the human rights team of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) documented 1,601 civilian deaths and 3,565 injured civilians, an increase of four per cent in the total number of casualties compared to the first six months of 2015, according to the report, titled ‘Afghanistan Midyear Report 2016; Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.’

The total civilian casualty figure recorded by the UN since 1 January 2009 through 30 June 2016 has risen to 63,934, including 22,941 deaths and 40,993 injured.

There were also 507 women casualties, 130 killed and 377 injured.

The figures are conservative – almost certainly underestimated – given the strict methodology employed in their documentation and in determining the civilian status of those affected.

Afghanistan mid year report

In the press release, Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, stressed that the report must serve as a call to action by parties to the conflict “to do all they can to spare civilians from the horrors of war.”

“Every single casualty documented in this report – people killed while praying, working, studying, fetching water, recovering in hospitals – […] represents a failure of commitment and should be a call to action for parties to the conflict to take meaningful, concrete steps to reduce civilians’ suffering and increase protection,” Yamamoto said.

“Platitudes not backed by meaningful action ring hollow over time. History and the collective memory of the Afghan people will judge leaders of all parties to this conflict by their actual conduct,” he added.

Casualties attributed to pro-Government forces increased 47 per cent
While anti-Government elements remain responsible for the majority – 60 per cent – of civilian casualties, there was an increase in the number of civilians killed and injured by pro-Government forces between January and June this year.

During this period, UNAMA documented 1,180 civilian casualties attributable to pro-Government forces, which is 23 per cent of the total so far this year, but a 47 per cent increase compared to the same period last year, primarily as a result of ground engagements.

Ground engagements continue to cause the highest number of civilian casualties, followed by complex and suicide attacks and improved explosive devices.

Explosive remnants of war disproportionately impacted children who comprised 85 per cent of the casualties caused by such devices. The report contains several accounts of children killed or maimed while playing with such objects.

During the period covered by the report, 157,987 Afghans were newly displaced – a 10 per cent increase over the same period last year. This brings the estimated total number of conflict-induced internally displaced Afghans to 1.2 million.

The report also documents other serious human rights violations and abuses, including the deliberate targeting of women in the public sphere, use of children in armed conflict, sexual violence against boys and girls, attacks on educational and health facilities, abductions and summary executions.

Human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and judges have also been targeted, in some cases being labeled by the Taliban as “military targets.”

The report also notes the results of an investigation into the bombing of a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in October last year, stressing that there remains a need for “a fully independent, impartial, transparent and effective investigation” with a view to assessing possible criminal liability.

The report highlights the need for accountability and justice for all human rights violations and abuses, underlining that victims and family members must not be required to submit written complaints for the authorities to initiate investigations, particularly in view of the low literacy rates in the country.

Both UN officials emphasized that the casualties only provide part of the picture of suffering, failing to capture the full extent of the harm and limitations imposed on the Afghan people by the armed conflict.

“The protracted conflict has meant that access to education and healthcare, to livelihood and shelter, to the freedom of movement and to a whole host of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights has been severely curtailed for millions of Afghans for far too long,” Mr. Yamamoto said.

This post was edited from a news article published by the UN News Centre

High-level Side Event on Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Children Affected by Armed Conflict

Sharing Best Practices in Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration in the Field

NEW YORK –On July 11, the Permanent Mission of Belgium to the United Nations and the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict organized a high-level event on the rehabilitation and reintegration of children affected by armed conflict at the United Nations Headquarters. This event featured a discussion to share best practices on psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children in the field.

His Excellency, Mr. Didier Reynders, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Affairs of Belgium, started the event by giving the welcoming remarks.  As the keynote speaker, Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians emphasized that “emotional wounds of armed conflict must be healed through psychological support to children.”

Thousands of children around the world are associated with armed forces and armed groups. Boys and girls are not only used in combat, but also in support roles or for sexual purposes. Once released from armed forces or armed groups, many suffer from severe psychological disorders.

 

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“Providing reintegration opportunities for children affected by conflict is not only a moral and legal obligation incumbent upon us,” Ms Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said in the event: “but also an important pillar to create sustainable peace.”

The event highlighted challenges and opportunities to ensure an effective reintegration for children. Kabba Williams, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone, emphasized the importance of education to help children reclaim their lives.

“What we expect and demand is that former child soldiers should be part and parcel of dialogue, the policy making, planning and implementing of policies that lead to access to education,”said Mr. Kabba Williams, “I know only too well the pain and suffering of children affected by armed conflict – and the healing power of education in aiding children affected by conflict to build back their lives and enrich their communities.”