Remarks by SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Virginia Gamba
Allow me to warmly thank the co-sponsors of today’s event; Belgium, the Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea and France for organizing a session on such a timely topic.
Thank you also to colleagues from MINUSCA and Geneva Call for taking the time to be with us to share your expertise.
Seventeen years ago today, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict entered into force. OPAC is now ratified by 168 countries, including, recently, by the Central African Republic.
The Optional Protocol enshrined the idea that children do not belong in armed groups or forces in conflict. This is why this day is also known as the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers.
Today, I would like to use the opportunity to urge all those countries who have not yet had the opportunity to do so to join OPAC.
Universal ratification is not only symbolic. It’s a necessary step to demonstrate our shared commitment on the path towards universal implementation.
Excellencies, dear colleagues,
We also meet less than a week after the signing of a peace and reconciliation agreement between the Government of the Central African Republic and 14 armed groups. An agreement brokered notably by the African Union, the UN, with negotiations supported by Sudan and taking place in Khartoum.
I personally advocated, jointly with colleagues on the ground, for child protection issues to be discussed during the peace talks and for the inclusion of measures to protect boys and girls in this peace agreement, including sustainable reintegration of children formerly associated with armed groups.
I am encouraged to see that the parties recognized that children and women were the most affected by conflict in the Central African Republic and that some important child protection provisions were taken into account by the parties.
All parties committed to end:
- any act that could violate children’s rights, including the recruitment and use of children;
- Any violent act against women and girls, including sexual violence
- Obstruction of aid deliveries, IHL violations, including crimes against humanitarians, attacks against schools and health facilities
Peace agreements come with lots of hope and this one is no exception.
As we meet today, the words of the President of the Central African Republic still resonate.
President Faustin Touadera called on the citizens of his country – and all those who can support – to join forces to rebuild, to feed, educate and heal all boys and girls. And indeed, the peace agreement brings tangible opportunities to do just that, especially for the children of the CAR.
My colleague Natalie will have more on the challenges and opportunities that children currently face in the country. But allow me to say a few words to emphasize how our most recent data demonstrates the devastating impact of this conflict on boys and girls.
Which also brings us to the precise topic of today’s discussion. Insecurity, access restrictions and attacks on humanitarian personnel and infrastructure, contributed to the shrinking of humanitarian space. According to the Country Task Force, there were 120 security incidents against humanitarian actors recorded last year. Enough for 25 humanitarian organizations to decide that their only option was to suspend their operations. Six humanitarian workers were killed, 23 others injured and 5 more were abducted.
In a country where more than half of the population, require humanitarian assistance to cover basic needs, including 1.5 million children, colleagues from the UN and NGO community struggle on a daily basis to provide life-saving assistance. Women and children are increasingly exposed to protection risks.
In 2018, Indiscriminate attacks on civilians resulted in deaths and maiming of children and continued to trigger mass displacements of populations throughout the country.
The recruitment and use of children by armed groups continued including reports of children used by armed groups as human shields. Many boys and girls were abducted, mainly for recruitment purposes.
Sexual violence against children – boys and girls – was another concern, including many instances of gang rapes.
Attacks against schools and hospitals contributed to the depletion of already fragile health infrastructure and education systems.
UNICEF also reported last November that 340 schools remained closed in areas where insecurity persists almost 2 months after the start of the new school year.
Excellencies, dear colleagues,
It is a call for all of us to redouble our efforts to ensure the availability of adequate resources for child protection support and services.
In this extremely challenging environment, the child protection specialists from UNICEF, MINUSCA and all our civil society partners continued to roam the country to work, to assist children, to set up and operate programs and, equally importantly, to engage with parties to conflict.
Again, you will hear more about engagement with parties to the conflict in a few minutes but allow me to highlight some results.
In May 2018, an Action Plan between the United Nations and a member of the ex-Seleka coalition, the Mouvement patriotique pour la Centrafrique, covering the 4 violations for which they are listed: Recruitment and use, sexual violence, killing and maiming and attacks on schools and hospitals. Recently, the MPC appointed four zone commanders in areas under its control who are to serve as child protection focal points in their respective zones.
Command orders to ban the recruitment and use of children were issued by the the Front Populaire pour la renaissance de la Centrafrique and by the Union pour la paix en Centrafrique, also members of the ex-Seleka.
As regards the engagement with the Anti-Balaka on child protection issues, UN dialogue continues to be carried out with local Commanders, and community leaders and communities are sensitized about not associating and using their own children.
The above-mentioned groups ex Seleka and Anti-Balaka continue to release children and It is also important to note that they are signatories of the peace agreement.
Again last year, this engagement has led to the release of more than 560 children from armed groups, a continuation of a trend established in the past years with high numbers of children released. Indeed, since 2014, more than 10,000 children have been separated from the armed groups in the Central African Republic
As you are aware, I have taken a special interest in what happens to children once they are released. Providing sustainable reintegration services to boys and girls in the Central African Republic is a challenging endeavour, to say the least. Security concerns, lack or basic infrastructure, displacement, insufficient resources… These are just a few of the challenges faced by UNICEF and partners to provide desperately needed services.
In its most recent Humanitarian Action Appeal, UNICEF requested funding to assist 3,000 children released from armed forces or groups with socioeconomic reintegration and case management support.
We owe it to these children to ensure that adequate resources are available for their reintegration. We owe it to this ongoing peace process to provide these boys and girls deeply affected by the conflict with tools to turn the page on violence.
Excellencies, dear colleagues,
Unfortunately, the shrinking of humanitarian space is a phenomenon that is not limited to the Central African Republic. In Yemen, thousands of children are on the brink of starvation because of access restrictions. In Mali, incidents of denial of humanitarian access are on the rise, resulting in the delay or withdrawal of staff and suspension of activities. In Syria or Myanmar, the work of child protection actors is hindered by security concerns and lack of access.
My work, our work relies heavily upon child protection advisors and specialists. They are professionals who play a leading role to monitor and document violations against children, to establish dialogue with governments and armed groups to end and prevent violations and to assist in the release of children from armed actors.
In total, MINUSCA has a team of 14 child protection officers and advisers based in Bangui and throughout the country in 3 additional offices. UNICEF’s child protection team has 13 staff and is working in collaboration with several NGO partners who deliver services for children, notably reintegration.
The achievements of our colleagues in the Central African Republic, and elsewhere, should not be taken for granted. They are the results of an incredible commitment and desire to have a positive impact on the lives of boys and girls, sometimes at the risk of their own personal security.
Sadly, the lack of resources is a factor affecting their capacity to deliver at a time when the number and violence of conflicts should in fact demonstrate the need for additional child protection capacity. I urge you to ensure that this capacity is maintained in mandates and funding decisions. We cannot afford to weaken the Security Council-mandated capacity to monitor, report and respond to grave violations against boys and girls.
The children of the Central African Republic, and elsewhere, are counting on us. Let us pledge today to do all we can to preserve our capacity and expertise to protect them.