GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Marshalling Political Will For Protection Of Children In Armed Conflict

New York, 14 October 2009 – Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, highlighted critical themes on the issue of children affected by war as she presented her annual report (A/64/254) to the General Assembly today.

The Special Representative welcomed the increased commitment of the international community to combat sexual violence in wartime through the adoption of Security Council resolutions 1882 in August, and 1888 in September. "Sexual violence against women and children shocks the conscience of the world. These abominable acts of violence can no longer be tolerated, and all those with the power to stop such violations must reinforce their will", she said. She also raised concern about the issue of sexual violence against boys and highlighted the practice of Bacha Bazi in Central and South Asia.

The changing nature of conflict poses major challenges for protecting civilians who are caught in the cross fire or victims of "collateral damage". Ms. Coomaraswamy stressed the importance of separating civilians from combatants in line with the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law. She urged parties to conflict to make every effort to better protect children. "Measures to protect civilians including children are essential and should be the centerpiece of any military strategy". She also advocated for international action on arms transfer, cluster munitions and land mines as measures that would help prevent unnecessary killing and maiming of children.

The Special Representative welcomed the release of Mohammed Jawad from Guantanamo and said that she was looking forward to similar action being taken with regard to Omar Khadr. "Juvenile justice protections must be put in place for children who are being prosecuted. No person under 18 years of age should be prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity," she stated. Child soldiers who were allegedly forced to commit atrocities should be made aware of the gravity of their acts but it should not be done in the context of a war crime prosecution. "We must not forget that they are primarily victims of adult cunning and cruelty. They should therefore be rehabilitated and assisted to find a constructive role in society", she added.

"The recruitment and use of children as child soldiers continues to be an important part of the children and armed conflict agenda. We need to continue the fight against impunity and to take action against recalcitrant perpetrators," said Ms. Coomaraswamy. She commended the commitment of the international community to tackle the phenomenon and urged all Member States to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child related to the recruitment and use of children. In this context, she announced the launch of a ratification campaign which will begin in 2010 in collaboration with partners.

The Special Representative further stressed the need to address protection concerns for children displaced as a result of conflict, who count among the most vulnerable categories of children. She advocated for the "rights and guarantees" (annexed to her report) which should be accorded to them including the right to education, the liberty of movement, the right to protection against sexual and gender based violence and the right to basic services.

"Children have clear insights into the causes and consequences of war and significant ideas on how they want to move forward." The Special Representative welcomed the General Comment on Article 12 by the Committee on the Rights of the Child setting out the framework for the participation of children, and which is also the central theme of the resolution on the right of the child this year. "Children should be allowed to enjoy their childhood and to participate in shaping peace agreements, rebuilding their societies and creating their future," concluded Ms. Coomaraswamy.

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For further information, please contact: Laurence Gérard, Communications Officer, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict – +1212-963-0984– gerardl@un.org