08 September – Open Debate Security Council Statement

Madame President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I come to you today with a heavy heart for the children affected by armed conflict around the world. Though we continue to see progress to better protect children, new crises are rapidly overshadowing these gains. Some of these crises are covered in the report before you, while others have begun or intensified since the report was submitted. This council has been briefed on Syria repeatedly and the situation there remains grave for children. You have also recently travelled to South Sudan and Somalia and witnessed for yourself the conditions there. Children in these and other conflicts are paying a high price.

The events that are unfolding in Iraq have led to increased grave violations committed by all parties to the conflict. I am appalled by the total disregard for human life shown by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levante during its rapid expansion within Syria and from Syria into Iraq. The images that we see through media reporting of indiscriminate and brutal killings of civilians, including children, are leaving us speechless and horrified. Although the highly unstable security situation in the region slows our monitoring, we know that up to 700 children have been killed or maimed in Iraq since the beginning of the year, including in summary executions. I remain deeply concerned over recent reports of ISIL targeting minorities, including children and women, in the growing area under their control in Syria and Iraq. ISIL has tasked boys as young as 13 to carry weapons, guard strategic locations or arrest civilians. Other children are used as suicide bombers. Sadly, we have also received reports of Iraq Government allied militias using children in the fight against ISIL and the whereabouts of numerous children jailed on security charges by the Government is currently unknown following militias storming these facilities in July.

ISIL is not the only perpetrator of child rights violations, rather part of a broader regional challenge which includes Boko Haram’ expansion of its area of operation. Boko Haram has been listed this year for the killing and maiming of children and attacks on schools and hospitals and the United Nations are currently setting up the monitoring and reporting mechanism to better gather and verify information of grave violations against children in northern Nigeria. Targeted attacks on schools, students and teachers by Boko Haram have led to the death of at least 100 schoolchildren and 70 teachers in 2013. Health workers, including polio vaccinators in the north-east, have also been targeted. The abduction of the girls from Chibok, in April of this year, has horrified the entire world. Over 200 girls are still in the hands of Boko Haram and I call on the Government of Nigeria and its partners to take any and all measures to bring the girls back. We are now receiving reports that Boko Haram has recruited and used boys and girls as young as 12 years of age in their attacks, including in raids on schools. I am also worried by reports about grave violations perpetrated by armed elements allegedly associated with Government forces in northern Nigeria. I look forward to the Government’s announced investigation into these incidents as perpetrators, no matter who they are, must be held accountable for their acts.

Madame President, Excellencies,

It would be remiss if I did not address the horrific toll that the conflict in Gaza has taken on the children. We have seen intense fighting that far exceeds the casualties of the previous escalations in 2008-2009 and 2012 combined. I am horrified by the fact that since the beginning of July, more than 500 Palestinian children were killed and at least 3,106 were injured or maimed by Israeli forces – two thirds of whom are under the age of 12 and one third of whom have been permanently disabled. At least 244 schools, including 75 UNRWA schools, were shelled by Israel’s armed forces and one school was used as a military base by the IDF. As the school year has started, and 110,000 people remain displaced, many in school facilities, the access to education for the children of Gaza is severely affected and will remain limited for the foreseeable future. To add to this tragedy, medical personnel were also killed during the shelling and half of Gaza’s hospitals were damaged, preventing children from obtaining urgent medical care.

There are victims on both sides and I am equally disheartened by the killing of one Israeli child and the injury of six others since the beginning of July as a result of rocket fire by Hamas. The indiscriminate firing of rockets against civilian areas also resulted in the damage of three schools in Israel. In addition, the use of three vacant UNRWA schools by Palestinian armed groups as weapons stores in Gaza is unacceptable.

We cannot afford impunity in the face of such grave violations of international law that in some cases may amount to war crimes. The events in Gaza must be thoroughly investigated and identified perpetrators from all parties to the conflict must be held accountable. I cannot stress enough the urgent need to work towards a lasting peace. A ceasefire is only a temporary measure and we have been here before. The international community must put its weight behind addressing the root causes of this conflict. As the Secretary-General himself has said, we cannot afford to have another cycle of violence; the people in the State of Palestine and Israel deserve a durable peace which respects the rights of all parties, and which should place high value on the rights of the children.

Madame President, Excellencies,

Many other situations witnessed grave violations against children in 2013 and face similar challenges today. Instability and rising tensions in Libya, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Mali or South Sudan continue to threaten the wellbeing of the weakest and require our outmost efforts to protect them.

The intensification of activities by armed groups give rise to military responses that sometimes mirror the tactics of the groups they are fighting, including the use of methods of warfare with little or no respect for civilians. We must remind Governments, who are sometimes under extreme pressure, of their obligations under international humanitarian law in the conduct of operations and under international human rights law at all times.

The fight against impunity remains one of the key aspects in our efforts to not only react to but prevent grave violations against children. We must make better use of the tools at our hands in ensuring that perpetrators face prosecution: by including them in sanctions regimes, by doubling our efforts in enhancing national capacities in the judicial sector, and by strengthening the framework of international justice, including the referral of perpetrators to the International Criminal Court.

Madame President, Excellencies,

To raise attention and address these harrowing challenges facing children in conflict, this Council has given my Office, the broader United Nations, concerned Governments and partners the tools to reduce violations or end them entirely. Chief among these tools are Security-Council mandated action plans with State and non-state parties who recruit and use children, kill or maim children, who attack schools and hospitals, or perpetrate sexual violence against children. Of course the implementation of these action plans would not be possible without the efforts of all our partners, including UNICEF, DPKO, DPA and their child protection advisors on the ground.

Six months ago, I launched the global campaign “Children, not Soldiers jointly with UNICEF to work towards a goal of no children in Government forces by the end of 2016. In the past six months, the campaign has received an almost overwhelming amount of support first and foremost from the countries concerned and the Security Council, who endorsed it in its Resolution 2143, but also by regional organizations, NGO partners, and Member States. I am particularly happy to welcome Forest Whitaker, the UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and reconciliation, who has joined our efforts under the “Children, not Soldiers” campaign. I want to extend my gratitude to all.

The Government of Chad, with the full support of the United Nations, already fulfilled all the requirements under its action plan to end and prevent the recruitment of children in its armed forces, and has been de-listed from this year’s report of the Secretary-General. In May, Yemen became the 7th country concerned by the campaign to sign an action plan with the UN. During my visit in June, South Sudan recommitted to the action plan signed in June 2012. Progress was also achieved in Somalia. During my recent visit, Somali authorities showed strong will to move forward on the implementation of its action plan. Important progress continues in Afghanistan, Myanmar and the DRC.

Madame President, Excellencies,

The vast majority of the parties listed are non-state actors. To date we have concluded an equal number of action plans with state and non-state actors. Non-state actors continue to approach my Office and our partners on the ground to conclude action plans to end violations against children. A recent example is the commitment to end child recruitment communicated to my Office and to this Council by the Free Syrian Army in Syria. Riek Machar of the SPLA in Opposition has also signed a commitment with me in May. We are witnessing progress with non-State armed groups in Darfur, and I am hopeful that we will be able to conclude the compliance activities of our action plan with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines soonest. I am encouraged by such progress and the Council’s constant encouragement in this regard is a boon to our efforts.

I cannot overemphasize the importance for specific attention to the plight of child victims of armed conflict in peace processes and agreements. Children are the future of a society. Longstanding peace will never be achieved without giving the children the means, skills, and education to re-build a society and institutions torn by armed conflict. Although the primordial aim of a cessation of hostilities must be a swift end to fighting, and children are often the first to profit, the more substantial stages of peace negotiations can be challenging with regard to grave child rights violations. We must do more to include special provisions for children affected by the conflict into peace agreements.

Madame President, Excellencies,

Today’s armed conflicts increasingly see schools and health facilities in the direct line of fire. The Security Council has recognized this important aspect in its resolutions 1998 and 2143. To implement the tools provided to us in these resolutions, I have jointly published ‘Protect Schools and Hospitals’ a guidance note on attacks on schools and hospitals with UNICEF, UNESCO and the World Health Organization. With this guidance, our field practitioners will be better equipped to monitor and report, engage in advocacy and work with parties to conflict to end and prevent attacks on schools and hospitals.

A key strategy of my mandate as Special Representative has been to deepen my engagement with regional organizations. My Office has a long-standing relationship and developed a series of guidelines in conjunction with the European Union. I have continued to actively engage with the African Union and am happy to note that, in addition to the partnership agreement signed last year, the African Union has just announced the creation of a Special Envoy on Children and Armed Conflict. With the escalation of conflict and its impact on children across the Arab world, I have sought to strengthen ties with the League of Arab States and we are developing a cooperation agreement to enhance our common work. My Office also continues to engage with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to further mainstream child protection standards among the forces of its member-states and partners.

Madame President, Excellencies,

No one in this room today, having read the Secretary-General’s report and heard the latest developments in the conflicts before this Council can consider children as a “collateral” issue. Indeed we now know that, in a large majority of conflicts around the world, children are targeted and used deliberately – conflict confronts them in their homes, at school, in hospitals and when they seek to run away. That is why we, and the world with us, expect so much of the Security Council and why this Council can and must place children at the centre of each and every peace and security action it takes; from peace agreements to mission mandates to accountability for crimes. I count on you, but more importantly, the child victims around the world count on you.

Thank you for your Attention.

For the press release, please visit here.

For more information please contact:

Stephanie Tremblay, Communications officer,
Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict,
Tel: +1 212 963-8285
Mobile: +1 917 288-5791
tremblay@un.org

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