Foreign Minister Czaputowicz,
Executive Director Henrietta Fore,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Secretary-General, I would like to thank the Republic of Poland, and Foreign Minister Czaputowicz personally, for holding this Open Debate. It is vitally important that we take this opportunity to come together and focus on the current plight of children affected by armed conflict across the four corners of the globe.
As many in this room will be aware, 2019 marks 20 years since the Security Council first passed a resolution on children and armed conflict and the 30th anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This August is also the 10-year anniversary of resolution 1882 (2009) where this body decided it was necessary to increase the focus of the children and armed conflict mandate on killing and maiming and rape and other forms of sexual violence. Today’s debate therefore provides a milestone where we can take stock of our collective efforts to date.
Given these important anniversaries, I am very pleased that we have Mariatu and Peter here today to provide us with their insight from their experiences in Sierra Leone and South Sudan. I hope they will talk about both the impact of conflict of children and also inspire us with guidance. We need to better understand how we can build upon and improve the current work on the ground and better utilize child protection expertise to end and prevent violations. I extend a very special thank you to Peter and Mariatu for being here today.
Excellencies, dear colleagues,
To give my own insight, last month I travelled to Mali to assess first-hand the situation of children and advocate for increased protection measures for boys and girls.
My visit was the first of a Children and Armed Conflict Special Representative to the country. I travelled to Mopti in the center of the country, a region recently affected by dramatic spikes of violence. I met representatives from the authorities, child victims of the conflict and members of the Dogon and Peulh communities.
Time constraints meant that a joint meeting with representatives of the two communities was necessary. This format led to constructive exchanges. I was struck by their common recognition of the importance of protecting children from violence. It was clear to me that the protection of children can act as a confidence building measure between opposing parties. It can demonstrably positively impact peace processes and agreements, as we recently saw with the commitments of the two groups to cease hostilities.
This trip focused on the fundamentals of the mandate I represent. Over the time I have been Special Representative, I have expended much energy in engaging with parties to conflict where there is a willingness. This has inspired positive results. In many situations where the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism has been in place, Governments have put in place clear measures such as establishing inter-ministerial committees to interact with the country task force or passed laws on the protection of children. This has galvanized action and allowed progress to develop quickly as a direct result of high-level engagement.
Action plans are perhaps the most tangible example of the outcome of such engagement with parties to conflict. In recent months, three new actions plans have been signed with non-State actors and other engagement tools were put in place. However, we understand these tools are only the beginning of a process to better protect children. I take this opportunity to call on all concerned Governments, and on all those who can provide support, including the Council, to do their utmost to ensure full implementation of these commitments. When we have worked together effectively, we will see the real tangible progress through a reduction of violations and the release of children.
Regional and sub-regional work is a key element of this direct engagement. I take this opportunity to thank the Council for giving us the tools last year within the context of resolution 2427 (2018) to pursue prevention plans with these entities. I hope that soon we will have new instruments in these fora to aid our other engagement on the protection of children.
This high-level political engagement supports the cornerstone of our endeavors; the child protection efforts in situations of armed conflict. Access and actors in the field must be the priority to protect children and prevent violations. We cannot achieve anything without the tireless work on the ground of so many colleagues and partners.
For our part, in late 2018, I launched the “Act to protect” campaign with the African and European Unions. This campaign aims to support the work on the ground and has already been launched in Mali and utilized in Somalia. I hope we can count on the support of the Security Council and individual Member States as we push to create a tangible difference for all children affected by the six grave violations.
Excellencies, dear colleagues,
Unfortunately, for all our efforts to date, we are not yet at a point where we can be confident that the situation is improving year upon year. The report before you speaks for itself. Although we have less violations across four categories, we have an increase in killing and maiming and similar levels of sexual violence. In last year’s report two figures stand at very high levels: one for killing and maiming (over 12,000 children) and one for children who benefitted from reintegration assistance (over 13,500). Let me refer to both.
In 2018, verified cases of children killed and maimed reached record levels since the creation of the MRM. I echo the Secretary-General’s concern that unprecedented numbers of violations were attributed to national and international forces. It is vital that this Council redoubles its efforts to ensure that all parties abide by the principals of distinction, proportionality and military necessity. We must make sure that all military actions are guided by the fundamental tenets of International Humanitarian Law. In this regard, I urge parties to conflict issue specific command orders that address reducing child casualties. This will help us uphold the spirit of this Council when it passed resolution 1882 and recognized that more need to be done to stop killing and maiming of boys and girls.
Casualties caused by UXOs, IEDs and landmines are a real preoccupation of my Office, particularly as they cause long term and serious disability. I believe this is one area where “quick wins” can be made if there is a focus and a will from the international community to reduce the use and clear up these ERWs when peace agreements have been reached. I hope that next year we can see a reduction in these types of casualties.
While the other topic that the Council addressed 10 years ago in resolution 1882 is not as numerically startling at first glance, we still have a long way to go on tackling this issue. Rape and other forms of sexual violence is significantly under-reported, including when perpetrated against boys. The fear of stigma and retaliation, involvement of powerful perpetrators, lack of services and concerns for survivors and witnesses’ protection discourage children and witnesses from coming forward. It is clear that, unfortunately, this violation has proved difficult to address. I believe greater accountability mechanisms and adapted responsive care services for survivors can contribute to make significant progress in addressing this issue.
Moreover, too many children continue to be detained as a result of conflict. I urge that children exposed to alarming levels of violence should not be further ostracized once released from armed groups and armed forces. We must allow these children to be considered as what they are: victims of a conflict. This is particularly true for the most vulnerable ones, such as children currently or allegedly associated with foreign fighters. I would like to reiterate the message of the Secretary-General; no child should be deprived of a nationality. In this year of the 30th anniversary of the CRC, it is pertinent to recall that actions for all children affected by armed conflict should be taken with the best interest of the child at the forefront.
The facts contained in the report serve to emphasize my reoccurring point: we need to prioritize action on the ground and also protect the staff who do it. In 2018, conflict and military operations, insecurity, constraints on humanitarian access, staff reduction, threats, violence and infrastructure prevented child protection actors from doing their most fundamental mission: protecting children. I ask the Council and individual Members States to work with us to address this issue through emphasizing the need for humanitarian access in resolutions and bilateral relations. Child protection actors need to have access to provide life-saving support to victims and survivors of violations. We can strain every sinew at the highest level to prevent violations, but we also need to be able to respond quickly to violations when they occur.
Notwithstanding the restrictions on access, I am pleased that a high number of children were separated from parties to conflict and provided with reintegration assistance. These releases occurred due to the engagement of Child Protection Actors as part of the development of action plans or as a result of emerging peace processes, mediation and dialogue between government and armed groups. It is therefore important for me to reiterate that these figures justify the extensive effort in engaging with joint action plans with all parties to conflict, as well as promoting child and armed conflict language and concerns at the heart of all peace dialogue and processes. Separating children provides opportunities for boys and girls to be given a second chance at life. We must ensure more dialogue and more engagement. By the same token, we must also ensure that we are ready to receive released children appropriately through adequate and comprehensive programmes that are funded and readily available. We cannot afford to lose children once they are released and we cannot afford to make them wait their turn for reintegration assistance.
This is why reintegration and the consideration of real reintegration needs of boys and girls globally is so urgent. I want to thank Poland for the priority it has given to this task through their important role in the Group of Friends of Reintegration that was launched by my Office, together with UNICEF, in late 2018.
Foreign Minister Czaputowicz, Excellencies, dear colleagues,
I would like to end by imploring you to support the mandate to the greatest extent possible. We need your support to engage with parties to conflict to end and prevent violations; we need your support to ensure that there is sufficient pressure to make commitments mean something; and, most of all, we need your support to ensure that there is the requisite child protection capacity to give children affected by conflict all the support they need.
Watch the 2019 Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict