Statement by SRSG Gamba, Open Debate of the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict

Statement by Ms. Virginia Gamba, SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict

Open Debate of the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict
31 October 2017 – Security Council Chamber

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Mr. President, Secretary-General,

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I took up the position of Special Representative in May of this year. This is the first time I have had the pleasure of briefing this chamber in the capacity of Special Representative. I would like to take this opportunity to thank France and its Foreign Minister, His Excellency Jean-Yves Le Drian, for taking the initiative to hold this debate.

I will start by echoing the sentiments of the Secretary-General and stress my worry at the information outlined in the report. In my short time in this position, I have observed with grave concern the picture painted through the information collected by United Nations child protection actors on the ground. These of course include UNICEF who are seated behind me. In 2016, over 20,000 violations affecting children were documented by those dedicated colleagues. That is a horrifying number of boys and girls who were subjected to unspeakable acts, mostly by armed groups, but also by Government Forces and unknown armed actors.

Children were used as the fuel of war in the reporting period, and they have fared little better in 2017. Our most recent information indicates that the number of children recruited and used has remained at startling levels in South Sudan and Somalia.  Attacks on schools and hospitals have been alarmingly high in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, conflict is ongoing and child casualties are all too common. In recent months, armed groups and Governments have continued to delay and deny lifesaving aid to children. Sexual violence against boys and girls is also widespread in many countries currently experiencing conflict.

I firmly believe that every generation has its most acute shame when it comes to armed conflict. For example, World War One witnessed the use of gas on soldiers. In recent years, what we have inflicted upon children in warzones will be our disgrace. We must take urgent action to address this use of children as expendable commodities by warring parties.

In this regard, the recent announcement of additional commitments to protect children by Member States is a source of hope. In particular, I would like to highlight the Paris Principles as an important initiative that helps protect victims of recruitment and use. There are also a number of other steps that Member States have taken, such as ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child or endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration. I am very pleased that Yemen endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration on 17 October and hope that other Member States will follow suit.

Making these commitments is an important first step, but we need to work together to ensure that these political pledges make a practical difference for children on the ground.

We have seen that when there is political will, working together has resulted in tangible progress. The report documents these advances in diverse situations. Ranging from Nigeria, with the signature of an action plan by the Civilian Joint Task Force, to the delisting of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines. Colombia has also been a bright spot with the separation of children from the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo. And it would be remiss of me not to mention the strong progress by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which led to their delisting for recruitment and use of children.

The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen led by Saudi Arabia also put in place several measures aimed at better protection of children. These efforts were acknowledged in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report. A technical team from my Office has just returned from Riyadh where they met the force commander and reviewed and helped to strengthen those measures. Similar activities are being prepared for the next few months with Yemeni and Sudanese authorities, among others, to reinforce existing mechanisms, open new child protection units and provide additional training.

I hope that these examples of cooperation and political engagement can be used as models by others. We need to roll out such best practices in as many situations as possible to better protect children. The Security Council has a vital role in aiding this endeavour. You can use the tools available to you to ensure that as many parties as possible are open to serious discussions with United Nations child protection actors on reducing and, indeed ending, violations.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

One particular issue highlighted in the report is that of armed groups who utilize tactics of terror or are considered ‘violent extremists’. This is not necessarily a new challenge, but it is significant nonetheless. With so called ‘violent extremist’ groups, we have seen an increase of violations year upon year across the six grave violations. It is indeed a great challenge to put a stop to these horrors. But while there may be a temptation to adapt approaches to counter such armed groups, we must ensure that all responses are in line with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law. In particular, we must place precaution, distinction and proportionality at the heart of military efforts.

It is also important to recall the key tenant of the Paris Principles. That all children allegedly associated with armed groups and armed forces are primarily victims. They must be treated as such and I urge the adoption of protocols for their handover to civilian child protection actors. We must also avoid stigmatising these children. I am sure Mr Shaikh will speak further on this issue.

In my short time in this role I have seen that separation, demobilisation and reintegration of children are vital interventions. They are much more effective than mass detention at creating long-term security. We must give these processes every chance of success. I would like to take this opportunity to appeal for adequate funding from Member States to implement and sustain reintegration, reinsertion and re-skilling programmes. These programmes, led most notably by UNICEF in collaboration with many other actors, have helped release and reintegrate over 100,000 children since we first reported to the Security Council.

I also encourage the Security Council to focus on the detrimental impact on children of widespread screening of civilians in situations of armed conflict. While some children are detained on the basis of their association with an armed group, others are deprived of their liberty for significant periods due to the area where they happen to live. Although Member States have an obligation to ensure the security of their citizens, we must not further victimize children. It will only damage the future generation and create grievances.

Mr. President, Secretary-General,

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to end by underlining some core efforts we can make to improve our response to violations.

First, we cannot continue to allow impunity to prevail. Member States must prioritise accountability to break the cycles of violence and aid prevention efforts. We can all work to strengthen our support for justice systems of Member States affected by armed conflict. In particular, we should provide expertise on investigating and prosecuting crimes against children.

As the Secretary-General has said, we must also enhance partnerships. I welcome the leadership and contributions of regional and subregional organizations to the protection of children. But I feel we can do much more together. Working with these organisations will be one of the key tenets of my mandate tenure. I truly believe that it will be a significant multiplier for our efforts and I hope I can receive the resources to engage in this task.

We also need resources within conflict settings. I call upon the Security Council to continue to request the deployment of dedicated child protection capacity to United Nations peace operations. This is vitally important, but something that is currently under scrutiny. It is a great paradox that this capacity is being reduced at the very time we need it most.

Without sufficient resources, we will not be able to deliver on the mandate given to the United Nations by the Security Council. These actors make a real difference to the lives of children and tangibly support senior civilian and military leadership in their efforts to protect children.

Lastly, we need peace. While it might seem trite to say, it is the most effective way to prevent violations against children. Politically, we must look at conflict prevention and resolution efforts in a different manner. We must recognize that children are at the heart of, and not at the periphery of, contemporary armed conflict. The children and armed conflict mandate has a vital contribution to make to the prevention cycle. In this regard, when peace is in its fledgling stages, child protection provisions must be included in ceasefires and peace agreements.

Thank you