10 Sept 2012 – Human Rights Council Statement

Madame la Présidente, Excellences, Mesdames et Messieurs,

C’est un privilège pour moi d’être ici aujourd’hui pour vous présenter le rapport de mon prédécesseur, Mme Radhika Coomaraswamy.  Et c’est un honneur de m’adresserde nouveau au Conseil des droits de l’homme, devant lequel j’ai eu à présenterlorsque j’assumais les fonctions de Présidente-Rapporteur du Groupe de travail sur la détention arbitraire. C’est donc avec beaucoup de plaisir  que je renoue le contact avec le Conseil dans le cadre de mes nouvelles fonctions.

Qu’il me soit tout d’abord permis de remercier et de rendre hommage à Mme Radhika Coomaraswamy pour ses efforts et pour l’excellent travail qu’elle a accompli au cours de son mandat. Je sais que vous lui avez toujours prêté main forte et j’ose espérer que je continuerai à bénéficier de votre confiance et de votre soutien. J’assume cette nouvelle charge après quatre années passées en République Démocratique du Congo, une expériencequi m’a exposéeàdes défis majeurs concernant cette thématiqueet d’autres questions connexes et qui m’a permis de mesurer la complexité des situations de conflits armés. J’ai été témoin directe des défis auxquels sont confrontés les enfants touchés par les conflits armés. J’ai puobserver les difficultés et les efforts du Gouvernement de la RDC pourprévenir les violations et répondre aux besoins des enfants. Les défis sont énormes, mais les progrès ne sont pas négligeables. Je tiens à souligner que malgré les défis, le Gouvernement et les Nations Unies ont réussi à établir un partenariat solide. Ainsi, je suis ravie de partager avec vous que le gouvernement de la RDC s’est engagé à signer un plan d’action avec les Nations Unies pour mettre fin au recrutement d’enfants et aux violences sexuelles contre les enfants dans les services de sécurité de la RDC.

Ladies and gentlemen,

During the period under review, children continued to be killed and maimed, recruited by armed groups, victimized by sexual violence and denied humanitarian access. Nevertheless,last year witnessed some important positive developmentsfor children affected by armed conflict. Two verdicts passed by the ICC and the Special Court for Sierra Leone this yearagainst the Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga and former Liberian President Charles Taylor, respectively,set important international jurisprudence on the war crime of recruiting and using children. In Lubanga’scase, it also made a significant contribution to the development of the right to reparations in international law.

 These two verdicts send a clear signal to commanders that child recruitment is a war crime and perpetrators will be held accountable. These cases influence andmay alter the behaviour, decisions and orders of parties to conflict.Indeed, the possibility of appearing before the ICC is increasingly serving as a deterrent against child recruitment in places where armed conflict is occurring.

The Lubanga case also acknowledges and strengthensthe right to reparations in international humanitarian and human rights law. In August 2012, the ICC issued its first ever decision on principles for reparations for victims in theLubanga case, signaling that justice for children should focus on the restoration of their rights, and reparations to address loss of family, education and livelihood.Reparations can provide more immediate accountability for children andenable reconciliation within communities, and through them, the experiences of a significantly larger number of victims, and the loss and harm from a wider range of violations, including sexual violence,may beaddressed.

 There are, however, significant challenges to the implementation of reparations programmes, including in terms of financial and human resources, managing the expectations of victims and the choice of reparative measures. Reparations can range from the material to the symbolic, and from individual to collective rehabilitation. A separate challenge involves managing perceptions and interpretations of victimhood. For example, child victims of recruitment or sexual violence may face stigmatization or marginalization,which may lead to social exclusion, particularly of girl child soldiers.Community members may also resent former child soldiers, who they may feel are being rewarded by reparations for having taken part in hostilities, thus reinforcing existing divisions and grievances. Reparations must strive to signal that human rights violations cannot be tolerated, and tocontribute to dismantling the relationship between former commanders and their victims.

Before turning to the prevention of grave violations against children, I would like to take this opportunity to stress that international justice cannot replace, but rather complement, national accountability mechanisms, specifically where national authorities are unable or unwilling to bring alleged perpetrators to justice. The challenge in conflict-affected developing countries is not always lack of will, but often one of capacity. I myself have witnessed how the political will of national authorities has been crippled by a lack of resources, and means to fight impunity. When the political will exists, the burden falls on all members of the United Nations to join forces and ensure that national authorities have the capacity to translate their will and desire for accountability into reality.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

During the period under review, important successes were achieved to prevent the commission of grave violations.Since last September, five new action plans to halt and prevent the recruitment and use of children were signed, between the United Nations and parties in the Central African Republic, South Sudan,Somalia,andMyanmar. In addition, last month, the then Transitional Federal Government of Somalia became the first party to signan action planto prevent thekilling and maiming of children by its forces. Nevertheless, the signature of action plans is only the first step. The action plans signed between the UN and State security forces or armed groups setconcrete and time-bound activities for the release and reintegration of children, and provide measures to prevent further recruitment. This concrete and time-bound set of measures must be completed before we can be certain that a protective environment exists for children.In this regard, I am pleased that in Nepal, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist(UCPN-M)has taken the remaining steps neededto fulfil its commitments under the Action Plan signed pursuant to Security Council resolution 1612, and as such has been removed from the Secretary-General’s list of parties that recruit and use children.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Preventing child recruitment is first and foremost context-specific. Different strategies apply depending on whether recruitment is forced or voluntary; on whether the conflict is international or non-international, conventional or asymmetric. The mandate, presence and capacity of the UN and other international actors on the ground also infuences the prevention approach that is best taken. Nevertheless, there are some broad measures that can be taken in multiple contexts. I would like to focus on these today. The first is the criminalization of under-age recruitment and the domestication of international norms and standards prohibiting the recruitment and use of childrenare crucial first steps for prevention. Thismust be accompanied by domestic enforcement through national rule of law institutions.Again, here I would like to emphasise that achieving accountability must be a common effort: while the primary responsibility lies with the government, donor countries should support, and help to strengthen, national efforts by providing assistanceto capacity-building.

Secondly,to be successful, prevention strategies must also address the root causes of ‘voluntary’ recruitment, such as poverty andsocial grievances, in a holistic manner. Prevention of child soldiering in conflict contexts is a result of peacebuilding efforts, and conflict-sensitive development and humanitarian assistance. 

Thirdly,in situations where State institutions lack capacity, the prevention of child recruitment beginsat the community level.Raising awareness amongstfamilies, communities and their leaders on child protection, and promoting the establishment of child protection mechanisms are crucial for the prevention of grave violations.Community figures such as elders, traditional and/or religious leaders can also reach non-State parties to promote child protection commitments and prevent recruitment. For example, in parts of Afghanistan, elders have been actively mediating with the Taliban to ensure the protection of schools, and to facilitate girls’ access to education.

As is noted in my predecessor’s report, a common challenge in many conflict-affected areas is the creation of linkages between locally-based protection structures, on the one hand, and a formal child protection system and Government services, on the other. Often, despite the existence of strong legal and policy frameworks, Government services donot reachthe local level.In their absence, community-led mechanisms can often make a difference. These may include civil society groups formed specifically for the purpose, such as child protection committees or community care coalitions, or they may simply build on existing structures.To be effective, however, these mechanisms need adequate funding, capacity and knowledge to deal with child protection issues.

In many contexts, children join armed forces or groups due to a lack of options. Conflict-affected countries continue to lag behind in the realization of the Millennium Development Goals, including on education, health and child mortality. Poverty often also means a lack of access to education and other basic services, and therefore the possibility of any other form of social mobility does not often exist. These factors lead many young people to see mobilisation as their only opportunity to provide for themselves and their families.Initiatives to combat poverty and to provide children and youth with alternatives through quality education, both formal and informal, and national programmes for job creation and income generation for young people should be top priorities in national prevention strategies.

To conclude, Madame President,I would like to highlight three points:

First, more must be done to ensure accountabilityat the national level, through the prosecution and investigationof perpetrators. For this, I urge donors to support conflict-affected countries, providing them with sustained and timely technical assistance. Lessons can also be learnt from the ICC’s experience in terms of child protection and participation, as well as on reparations.

Second, with regard to the prevention of child recruitment, I call on Member Statesto ensure that children and young people are provided with alternatives to recruitment. Education and employment creation should be important components of national strategies to address the stabilization of conflict affected areas.

Lastly, more long-term and sustainable support for reintegration of conflict-affected children is needed, including through swift support to the implementation of action plans between the UN and parties listed in the annexes of the SG’s annual report on children and armed conflict.

Thank you,Madame President.