12 Jul 2011 – Open Debate Security Council Statement

Mr. President

Thank you for convening this Open Debate on children and armed conflict.  Your presence signals a commitment at the highest level for the protection of children during war.  I would also like to commend the dedication of Ambassador Peter Wittig and his staff for their effective engagement as Chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.  Their dedication must be truly commended and we look forward to continue working closely with them.

Mr. President

You have before you the 10th Annual Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict. In 15 of the 22 situations covered in the Report, we found evidence of attacks on schools and hospitals.

During my visits to conflict areas I have personally seen the devastation. Schools completely destroyed, bombed or burnt to the ground. I have also seen schools with broken window panes and empty classrooms where children have been recruited as child soldiers. I have met girls whose colleagues stay away from school because, as female students, they may be the victims of acid attacks. These images stay in my mind and remind me of how important it is to ensure that schools are zones of peace for all children.

Half of all the children who do not go to primary school in the world live in conflict areas.  They do not go to school because their schools have become part of the tragedy of conflict.  Schools are increasingly under physical attack resulting in either full or partial destruction, oftentimes in violation of international humanitarian law.  Schools are also closed as a result of threats and intimidation.  Teachers and students are also killed and maimed in targeted attacks.  Military use of schools is also a concern; as such use can put children in clear danger. To deprive children of an education is to destroy their future. A future destroyed, a future without hope will only sow the seeds of further conflict.

Hospitals are also vital for children, especially in war. There are two-fold atrocities. Not only do such attacks kill and wound girls and boys, but they also leave them without access to treatment. Attacks on hospitals and hospital personnel deprive the community of a much needed lifeline.  In fact, protecting hospitals and its personnel was the founding element of modern humanitarian law.

Mr. President,

The Secretary-General has repeatedly called for strengthened attention and focus on the need to protect schools and hospitals from attack. Germany’s initiative to bring today’s resolution forward demonstrates the Council’s resolve to expand the protection of girls and boys.

The resolution provides for the listing of parties who attack schools and hospitals and those who use intimidation to force their closure.  It also reaffirms the need for enhanced monitoring and reporting of incidents where there are violations that deprive children of their right to go to school or be treated in hospitals. This resolution gives concrete impetus for action on the ground to protect these facilities.

Mr. President

The promise of this resolution is very real. I know this because we have achieved so much since resolution 1612. What I would like to highlight today are a few successes we have had and thereby to thank the Council for being steadfast and committed to children.

First, in February this year, the Afghan Government signed an action plan for the prevention of underage recruitment into the Afghan security forces including the police.  The UN Country Task Force on children and armed conflict with access to military and police installations have sent to my Office progress reports about the effective implementation of the plan.  Further, the Ulema Shura, the highest religious body, has proclaimed a fatwa on violations committed against children in conflict.

Second, last year in Nepal, 2973 minors were discharged.  Despite a few concerns on reintegration, the UN Country Team has risen to the challenge offering programmes and following up on the children once they returned to the community.

Third, in the Philippines, in January 2010, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed an action plan with the United Nations with the full support of the Government. Further, MILF issued a supplemental general order warning its commanders of sanctions for recruiting and using children and created child protection units.  Children are now being registered and released and UNICEF and ILO have stepped up their presence to provide these children with education and vocational skills.

Fourth, in the Central African Republic, during the course of 2010, 525 children were separated from the ranks of the APRD following the commitment made by their commander during my visit to CAR a few years ago.

Fifth, in Sri Lanka, 562 children, including 201 identified at the end of the conflict as formerly associated with armed groups were released after one year of rehabilitation. They were reunited with their families through a magistrate’s order. This was done in close co-operation with UNICEF and my Special Envoy.

Sixth, I want to thank the Supreme Court of Sudan for dismissing the death sentences against four minors associated  with the JEM.

Lastly, I also visited Chad in June to witness the action plan signed between the government of Chad and the United Nations for the release of children.  Again they have given the UN access to military installations and have requested our assistance in the reintegration of the children back into the community.

Moving forward I am hopeful that I will be able to witness an Action Plan with the Government of Myanmar, which acknowledges the key role of the Country Task Force, including UNICEF and ILO, in the coming months.

Yet, great challenges remain. Persistent violators of children are on the List of the Secretary-General with little action taken against them. Their impunity remains a blot on justice systems both national and international. In time, the Council must deal with this issue in a comprehensive manner and find ways and means of dealing with perpetrators. As a testimony for this, a list of persistent violators is attached to this statement.

The reintegration of children, often left at the doorstep of UNICEF and their partners also requires the commitment of resources and personnel.

While we work with these issues of accountability, we must also attempt to understand the root causes of violations against children.  Without prevention, without understanding, long-term solutions will not be sustainable.

Mr. President,

In 1999, the Council began a journey of great promise. There have been important landmarks along the way, including this Council’s demand for clear monitoring of violations, the proper implementation of action plans and accountability. Governments and non state actors have begun to respond to your call for action. When I meet them in the field they display great respect for the power and authority of the Security Council.

In addition your commitment has real and positive effects on the live of thousands of children. As you just heard from the Secretary-General, last year only, 10.000 children were released from armed forces and groups and reintegrated to their communities. Today, at this Open Debate, I bring you their message of thanks.

When I was in Chad recently I met with many children in a refugee camp. One girl grabbed my hand, curled her fingers around my wrist and whispered, “Madam, I want to go to school”.  Today with the resolution before you we have acknowledged the importance of schools and education to children all over the world and especially in conflict areas.  We hope it will help usher in an era where children can study, play and learn in an atmosphere of safety and dignity.

Thank you Mr. President.