11 Oct 2000 – General Assembly

UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY

THIRD COMMITTEE

ITEM 110

PROMOTION AND PROTECTION OF THE RIGHTS OF CHILDREN

OPENING STATEMENT by Olara A. Otunnu

Under-Secretary-General

Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

Wednesday, 11 October 2000

Conference Room 1

United Nations

I. Introduction

As you begin deliberations on the issue of children affected by armed conflict (CAAC), you have before you two reports: the report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict (S/2000/712, A/55/163), which was submitted to both the Security Council and the General Assembly in July 2000, and my annual progress report (A/55/442). The two reports are complimentary and should be considered together.

May I especially draw your attention to the very comprehensive set of recommendations contained in the Secretary-General's report. Apart from those addressed specifically to the Security Council, the recommendations are for consideration and action by the General Assembly in this session. That is the reason why I have not duplicated them in my own report.

This session of the General Assembly marks a kind of coming of age for the mandate of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG): this marks the end of the first three-year tranche and the beginning of the next three years of extension. I will therefore devote my introductory remarks to an assessment of the mandate over the last three years and to sketching the outlines of an agenda for action for the years ahead.

II. Progress achieved during the first mandate

Over the past three years, working together, we have registered important and tangible progress in moving forward the agenda for the protection of CAAC.

A. Placing war-affected children high on the international political agenda

We have succeeded in placing the protection and rights of CAAC high on the international political agenda.

Placing war-affected children on the agenda of the Security Council. The Security Council has formally affirmed (SCR 1261) that the protection and security of CAAC is a peace-and-security concern which legitimately belongs to its agenda; it has set out important principles and measures for action; it has now established a practice of an annual open debate on this issue.

In addition, since 1998, 19 presidential statements, 12 resolutions, 62 reports, and 54 open debates in the Security Council have made significant references to CAAC. The SRSG also briefed the Council on several occasions after his visits to conflict situations.

Note: In this document, CAAC is used as shorthand to denote “children affected by armed conflict.”

Placing war-affected children on the agendas of regional organizations. In the space of a few years, major regional organizations – – EU, OSCE, OAU, ECOWAS, OAS, G8 – – have come to embrace this issue as part of their own agendas through important political declarations and commitments. This is a major breakthrough, especially since most of these organizations had not previously seen this issue as belonging to their province of action.

We must work with them to encourage deeper engagement, to integrate this concern into their policies and mechanisms, into resource allocation and field operations, and into “neighborhood initiatives” to curb cross-border activities which are harmful to children.

Incorporating child rights into international cooperation agreements. Following proposals made by SRSG in early 1999 working together with NGOs, the new ACP-EU Partnership Agreement, which was signed in June 2000, includes provisions on child rights and war-affected children. This breaks new ground for an international cooperation agreement. Setting the parameters for trade and development cooperation between the 15 EU countries and the 71 ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) states, the agreement contains provisions on protecting children's rights, rehabilitating and reintegrating children in post-conflict situations.

Political support from governments. Over the last few years, a number of governments have made the protection of CAAC a prominent feature of their domestic and international policies. They have developed important initiatives and have applied their influence to advance this agenda in various international fora.

Major international conferences devoted to children affected by conflict. A series of major international conferences devoted to the theme of CAAC have helped to highlight and develop the agenda. These have included: London Symposium on Children and Armed Conflict (June 1998), co-sponsored by the UK Government; Tokyo Symposium on Children and Armed Conflict (November 1998), co-sponsored by the Government of Japan and the Japan Committee for UNICEF; ECOWAS Ministerial Conference on War-Affected Children in West Africa (April 2000 in Ghana), co-sponsored by the Governments of Ghana and Canada; OSCE Human Dimension Seminar on Children and Armed Conflict (May 2000), held in Warsaw; and, Winnipeg International Conference on War-Affected Children (September 2000), organized by the Government of Canada.

Public outreach. Public outreach has been a key element of the SRSG's efforts to mobilize international public opinion on behalf of CAAC. Engagement with media and various public fora has significantly raised the profile of this issue. In 1999, for example, media engagement resulted in 63 articles in leading newspapers and magazines, 31 television interviews, 39 radio interviews and 32 press briefings.

Placing child protection on peace agendas. Although children suffer disproportionately in times of war, they have been absent from peace agendas. SRSG has worked to change this. Over the last three years child protection has been explicitly mentioned in the following peace agreements: Northern Ireland (1988), Sierra Leone (1999) and Burundi (2000). In addition, governments and insurgent groups in Sudan and Colombia have also committed to placing the rights and protection of children on the agendas of their on-going peace processes.

Incorporating child protection into peacekeeping mandates. In a very significant development, the Security Council has accepted to incorporate the protection of children into peacekeeping mandates. So far, this has resulted in the placement of child protection provisions into the mandates of UNAMSIL in Sierra Leone and of MONUC in DRC.

Child protection advisers. The establishment of the role of child protection advisers (CPAs) in UN peacekeeping operations is an important innovation. The first CPAs have now been deployed in Sierra Leone and DRC. The Security Council reaffirmed, in resolution 1314 (2000), its readiness to include child protection advisers in future missions.

Placing CAAC in regular reports to the Security Council. Child protection sections have now become an established feature of regular reports to the Security Council on specific conflict situations as well as on thematic concerns.

Country visits. The country visits by SRSG have served as an effective advocacy tool, helping to draw significant attention to the situation of CAAC. Since the inception of the mandate, SRSG has conducted 17 country visits, seven of which have been follow-up visits.

Outcomes of country visits have included commitments from parties to conflict, an increase in donor resources targeted at CAAC, and a significant growth in NGO advocacy and programmatic activities. A framework for collaboration on children and armed conflict has also been established within UN country teams, and between them and NGOs.

Obtaining commitments from parties to conflict. Through direct engagement and field visits, important commitments for the protection of children have been secured from state and non-state parties to conflict. During the first mandate, 36 commitments were obtained, nine of which have been fully met. On most occasions, this was the first time that the parties to conflict had given any undertaking to observe humanitarian and human rights standards. (A full description of the commitments obtained by the SRSG is provided in his most recent report to the Commission on Human Rights (E/CN.4/2000/71)).

The major challenge now is how to more effectively monitor and enhance adherence to these commitments.

It is critical that concerned international actors – – Security Council, governments, UN agencies, regional bodies, NGOs, the media – – employ their influence more deliberately to engender observance of commitments and obligations for the protection of CAAC.

Developing local initiatives for the benefit of children affected by armed conflict. During the first mandate, we have seen the development of some very innovative local initiatives on behalf of CAAC. Examples include:

National Commission for War-Affected Children in Sierra Leone – – the first body of this kind;

Parliamentary Caucus for Children in Sierra Leone;

Eminent Persons' Group in Liberia – – composed of elders, educators, business persons, religious and civil society leaders;

Sudanese Women for Peace – – a non-partisan pressure group for peace;

Children as a Zone of Peace in Sri Lanka;

New law in Rwanda allowing girls to inherit property.

Making children a central concern in post-conflict response. Important advocacy work has focused on making the needs of children a central concern in policy making, priority setting, and resource allocation in post-conflict situations. This has started to bear fruit, as can be seen in East Timor, Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Guatemala.

Developing and strengthening international norms to protect CAAC. The first mandate has been marked by the development of several new instruments for children's protection, as well as the incorporation of child rights concerns into broader international instruments. Examples include:

Rome Statute for the ICC, adopted in 1998, which classifies war crimes against children;

African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child – – the first regional treaty establishing age 18 as a minimum age for all recruitment and participation in hostilities – – entered into force in November 1999.

ILO Convention 182, which defines child soldiering as one of the worst forms of child labour and sets 18 as the minimum age for forced or compulsory recruitment. It was adopted in June 1999 and is expected to enter into force in November 2000.

Working to end child soldiering. After six years of difficult negotiations, the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, establishing 18 as the minimum age for participation in hostilities and compulsory recruitment, represents a major victory for CAAC.

I urge all governments to rapidly sign and ratify the Optional Protocol. We must work to ensure that this instrument comes into force by the end of May 2001, which will mark one year after its adoption by the General Assembly.

Now that the optional protocol has been adopted, the international community must turn its energies to curbing child-soldiering on the ground. This requires a three-pronged approach: putting political pressure on offending parties; addressing the political, social and economic factors that facilitate the exploitation of children as soldiers; and mobilizing more resources to enlarge capacities for the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-child soldiers.

Launching an “era of application” for norms. Since the beginning of this mandate, SRSG has advocated launching an “era of application” for the protection of CAAC. In 1999, this proposal was accepted by the Senior Management Group; a Task Force was convened and has prepared a UN system-wide report on this issue.

Promoting traditional values and norms that provide for the protection of children. SRSG has strongly advocated the importance of recognizing and strengthening local societal values and norms that have traditionally provided for the protection of children and women in times of conflict. This advocacy has made this issue an important aspect of international discourse on child protection.

Ending impunity against children. We have begun a campaign to end impunity against children by ensuring that those responsible for grave crimes against children in times of war are held accountable and brought to justice. The General Assembly, the Security Council and the Commission on Human Rights have all echoed this call. And, whenever amnesty provisions are contemplated in transitions from war to peace, we must ensure that grave crimes against children are excluded from such arrangements.

Engaging and collaborating with non-governmental organizations. The Special Representative has made it a priority to engage and collaborate closely with NGOs. The overall progress achieved to date in carrying out the mandate is due in great measure to the contributions of NGOs. NGOs have galvanized awareness and commitment, developed important activities on the ground, helped to strengthen international standards, published important reports that have increased knowledge of war-affected children, formed effective coalitions on various initiatives, and pressured parties in conflict to protect children.

In the period ahead, building on earlier initiatives, SRSG will reach out particularly to women's groups and to communities of faith.

Promoting collaboration within the UN system on children and armed conflict.

SRSG has placed great emphasis on promoting collaboration within the UN system in developing programmes for the protection of CAAC. This has led to a number of collaborative initiatives, particularly with UN partners, UN Country Teams and NGOs. More work remains to be done in this important area if the initiatives and gains achieved through the work of this mandate are to become an embedded component of the UN system's policies and programmes for CAAC.

In developing the activities for the mandate in the years ahead, particular emphasis will be placed on follow-up activities to the progress made in the areas I have described above, in order to consolidate and deepen those gains, and to ensure that emerging trends become fully embedded practices.

In addition, in order to complete the agenda for action, attention will also be given to the following areas of concern:

Monitoring and controlling illicit trade in natural resources that fuel conflicts.

Providing training for peacekeeping personnel. All personnel in peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace-building need training on the rights and protection of children. SRSG is working with DPKO, UNICEF, OHCHR, UNHCR and NGO partners to develop programmes and materials to ensure training and effective oversight of UN peacekeeping personnel.

Developing a research agenda to fill knowledge gaps. A research agenda is being developed to help fill knowledge gaps in the following areas: evolving trends in the conduct of warfare; more reliable data on the impact of armed conflict on children; local value systems that have traditionally protected children in times of conflict; and the assessment of the impact of programme interventions on behalf of CAAC, leading to “best practices” and “lessons learned”.

Reaching out to and involving young people. We must involve young people as an active and integral part of the movement for the protection of CAAC – – as participants and advocates. To this effect, we are developing several initiatives, including “Voice of Children” project – – radio programmes and stations devoted mainly to interests and needs of children; and Children-to-Children network – – aiming to create links among young people in war-affected countries and their counterparts in countries at peace, so that they can learn from each other's experiences, and build solidarity and advocacy.

Addressing areas of special vulnerability. The international community needs to mobilize especially to address the following areas of particular vulnerability for CAAC: the special needs of girls affected by conflict; internally displaced children; the liberation of abducted children; the provision of education for CAAC; the impact of sanctions on children; and the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in the corridors of armed conflict.

Ultimately, what are our collective ambitions – – i.e. governments, UN partners and NGOs – – for the agenda of CAAC? I believe that our collective ambitions should be the following: one, to channel our various actions and initiatives into a critical mass of activities, whose impact can be truly felt on the ground; two, to aim to build a culture of advocacy, of protection and of response for the benefit of CAAC, a culture that should become self- sustaining beyond the life-span of this mandate; three, to embark on an “era of application” on the ground – – the application of international and local norms for the protection of CAAC; and, finally, our collective efforts should give rise to a major social and political movement for the protection of CAAC.

The experience of the last three years has demonstrated that these objectives are not utopian, that when we work together we can move mountains, that concrete and targeted actions can yield tangible results in pushing forward this agenda.

In this enterprise, the Office of Special Representative will continue to play its role: as advocate; as catalyst; as convenor; as facilitator; and as cheer leader for the important work that is being done at various levels of policy and on the ground.