17 Oct 2007 – General Assembly

Statement to the General Assembly Third Committee Agenda item 68 (a)byRadhika CoomaraswamySpecial Representative of the Secretary-Generalfor Children and Armed Conflict17 October 2007

Mr. Chairman, Mme Veneman, Mr. Beah, Distinguished Delegates,

I am happy to present my report (A/62/228) to you as mandated by General Assembly Resolution A/RES/61/146.

In 1996 Madame Graça Machel sat at this podium and detailed for the General Assembly the horrors that are being visited on children in the context of war. Her rallying call was clear and compelling:

“We cannot waste our precious children. Not another one, not another day. It is long past time for us to act on their behalf — the impact of conflict on children is everyone's responsibility and it must be everyone's concern. Children are both our reason to struggle to eliminate the worst aspects of warfare, and our best hope for succeeding at it.”

In the intervening ten years, important strides have been taken to meet the challenges laid down by Mrs. Machel. The collective efforts of my Office, UNICEF and other key United Nations partners and entities, as well as Member States, regional organizations, NGOs and other civil society groups, have yielded progress on multiple fronts. This includes strengthening of international norms and standards; focus and prioritization of this issue by the General Assembly; systematic engagement by the Security Council; and increased global awareness of the most effective strategies and programmes for children affected by armed conflict. To date 118 countries have ratified the optional protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict and I urge those Governments that have not already done so, to ratify. Most recently, a number of governments have also committed themselves to the “Paris Principles” and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups – another encouraging development.

Indeed, it is the bringing of partners together to agree on a course of action and the complementarity of these collective efforts that is essential to achieving better protection for children affected by armed conflict. Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates, I wish to underscore the role of complementary and collective efforts this year because, as you will see as part of my report before you today, I present a special 10 year strategic review of Mrs. Machel's 1996 Study – significantly today on Ms. Machel's birthday. As you have just heard from the UNICEF Executive Director, over the last few months we have together co-convened this strategic review with an inter-agency advisory group of 15 UN entities, the ICRC, and NGO representatives as well as consultations and inputs from Member States, experts and children themselves. We co-convened this strategic review in recognition that while we have much progress to commend in the last decade, so much more remains to be done. The reality for so many children on the ground is as dire as ever. Again, as Mrs. Machel said here 10 years ago, “the impact of conflict on children is everyone's responsibility and it must be everyone's concern.”

Before I focus my remarks on our 10 year strategic review and in particular part II of my report, I would like to highlight one area of activity that I have also concentrated my efforts on over the last year and which are highlighted in my report to you.

Country visits

Mr. Chairman, country visits to observe first hand the situation on the ground constitute a central element of my advocacy strategy for increased international cooperation and action. It is also important to stress that my visits are carried out on invitation and in close consultation, at every phase, with the governments concerned. These visits serve to highlight national efforts, to raise the level of awareness globally on the work of operational partners and their needs, to help to further open the space for dialogue, and where appropriate to assist operational partners to unblock political impasses to further advance child rights concerns. It is also important to point out that I have engaged in dialogue, as in independent moral voice for children, for the explicit purpose of child protection with all parties, both state and non-state, whose actions have a significant impact on children.

In 2007, I have visited seven situations of concern: Sudan (January 2007), the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi (March 2007), Lebanon and Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories (April 2007), Myanmar (June 2007) and most recently Cote d'Ivoire (September 2007). I also engaged a Special Adviser, supported by my Office, to visit Sri Lanka (November 2006).

During the course of my visits, parties to conflict have made numerous commitments some of which I detail in my report. I am also pleased to report that we are increasingly witnessing the implementation of key commitments, and this in turn is beginning to yield concrete results in terms of protection for children on the ground. Since 2006, for instance, progress on action plans to end the recruitment of children by armed forces and groups has been made in the Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire, Myanmar, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Uganda and Chad. This has required all actors concerned to develop new and improved modalities for collaboration, and this type of practical mechanism must continue to be nurtured and strengthened. At the same time, momentum related to the implementation of action plans needs to be supported with the necessary programmes for the successful reintegration of released children.

Machel Study 10 year strategic review

Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates.

Also before you today, as the second part of my report, are the initial findings of a critical review exercise that is being undertaken to mark the decade since Graça Machel's groundbreaking study on the impact of armed conflict on children. As I noted in my introduction, we have emphasized the importance of complementary roles and I present the initial findings of our Strategic Review on behalf of my office and UNICEF as co-conveners and on behalf of the multi-stakeholder partnership engaged in this initiative. Over the coming years, the recommendations of the review will require our close and collective examination, as a basis for continued global efforts for war-affected children.

As the 10 year Strategic Review is a multi-stakeholder initiative, I wish to underscore the importance of our presenting our initial findings to you, the General Assembly. Our attention in the last decade has often focused on particular thematic issues. A central point of the Strategic Review is to recall the full breadth of the impact of armed conflict on children as presented by Mrs. Machel. Again as Mrs. Machel herself presented 10 years ago, “war violates every right of the child”. We must expand our attention to the full scope of issues and address ALL impacts, on ALL children, in ALL situations affected by conflict.

In this regard, the Strategic Review presents sobering analysis on the changing nature of conflict and attendant increased threats to children. While the number of “major armed conflicts” decreased in the last decade, when intra-state and lower-intensity conflicts are taken into account, the number of global conflicts has actually risen. In addition, such analysis discounts civilian casualties and omits indirect consequences such as where child deaths result from increases in malnutrition and disease. An estimated 15 of 20 countries with the highest under-five mortality rate are experiencing complex emergencies in at least a part of the country. Such statistics expand further when we add post-conflict situations and those where conflict prevention is required.

To achieve the protection of children affected by war, we need to expand our recognition of the changing characteristics of conflict. War economies that commercialize and prolong conflict must be better understood and effective action taken to stop abuse and exploitation of children in these conflicts. Today there are “grey zones” of conflict blurring traditional lines between armed conflict and criminal violence, often involving trans-national crime, non-traditional warfare and trafficking. Terrorism and counter-terrorism pose their own special problems. In the face of these realities we must all the more stress the responsibilities of all States, all actors, and all stakeholders.

I would like to highlight a few points and recommendations in three areas from the Machel Review:

  • What needs to be done to end impunity
  • What needs to be done in terms of programmatic responses to care and protect children, and,
  • What needs to be done to strengthen capacity and partnership?
  • To end impunity it can not be over-stated that we need to translate the past decade of advances in political engagement, legal instruments and standards into expanded action at the field level. Indeed the Strategic Review commends the significant progress of not only legal standards, but also advances in policy and programmatic guidelines. But things must change on the ground. You are all well familiar with, and engaged with, the call for an “era of implementation”, but we must repeat that call. As one boy said in the adolescent focus groups for our Machel Strategic Review, “These documents are for diplomatic people, they are just ink on paper”. Let us take it as a challenge to show that they are more than ink, they can be implemented.

    The Machel Review recommends accelerated national legislative reforms, systematic monitoring, timely investigation and prosecution of crimes against children, targeted measures and punitive action against individuals and parties. Such actions not only hold individuals who have committed heinous crimes accountable, but also deter others from engaging in grave violations against children. Justice mechanisms must take into account the special needs and rights of children. The Review also recommends greater investment in national capacities to ensure that international standards, norms and guidelines on juvenile justice are upheld. Vital progress on child participation in justice processes has been made in the last decade, both internationally and in national transitional justice processes. Children become involved in a myriad of justice and reconciliation processes as witnesses and victims; they need special, child-friendly procedures to ensure their protection, assistance and legal aid.

    To meet the needs of children and armed conflict we must go beyond holding perpetrators accountable. We need to respond to the survivors of such violence. Reintegrating children and rebuilding families is an essential part of the future. Just as lessons learned emphasize that successful reintegration requires longer term, community based strategies inclusive of all conflict-affected children, the Machel Review recommends that our interventions must ensure integrated basic services. Interventions in health and nutrition need more consistent support and an intensified emphasis must be given to providing education to the generation of children to whom conflict has denied schooling. The Review further recommends that our programming include youth-oriented education and livelihood strategies, with particular attention to girls and their need for confidential access as part of mitigating stigmatization. Successful reintegration will strengthen social integration and help heal the wounds of conflict.

    We must also place an emphasis on supporting protection systems for children. Schools much be designated as zones of peace and there must be efforts made to ensure awareness and training on the rights of children at the local level. Children should not be dealt with lone individuals but as a vital part of families and communities.

    UNICEF, our office and child protection partners have also felt that youth participation must be an important part of any programme. The Machel Review includes a youth report compiled by focus groups in all parts of the world involving child participation. Some of them are with us today. Ishmael Beah, who qualifies as a youth, will also make a presentation and in his traditional way, speak truth and power. Their voices remind us of the original intentions that first gave rise to the Machel report and to the creation of my mandate.

    I have learned from my field visits that children are resilient and a source of hope. Indeed we often focus on the potential security threat of adolescents whose lives have been filled with violence and anger. We must find means to subvert the violence and comfort that anger. We must also invest in a positive role for children and youth in building peace. As one girl said in the adolescent focus groups for the Strategic Review, “We are the future and people should be aware of that. Right now we are inheriting a very unstable world.” It is our responsibility, as adults, as governments, as key actors in the international community, to change this environment of children from one of armed conflict to one of protection and opportunities.

    I would like to end, like Ms. Veneman, by bringing a story from my field visits to your attention. We learn so much from children. During my trip to the Middle East I met with Palestinian and Israeli children. A Palestinian boy living in a refugee camp whose father had been killed, whose brothers had been jailed and whose house had been bulldozed told me of throwing stones at Israeli patrols. I spoke to him of Mahatma Gandhi who had said that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. He replied, “Madame, not here, here it is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth until justice is done to the one who started it”. Another boy from a different background, however, was part of a group that was trying to fight against violence. After the discussion he playfully nudged me and said “Madame under Secretary-General, why does the UN talk so much and do so little?” I hope his words will haunt all of us as we try and implement the recommendations of the Machel review.

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