M. le Président,
Mesdames et Messieurs,
C’est un privilège pour moi d’être parmi vous aujourd’hui pour vous présenter le rapport de mon prédécesseur, Mme Radhika Coomaraswamy. Et c’est un honneur de m’adresser à la troisième commission pour la première fois en ma capacité de Représentante Spéciale pour les enfants et les conflits armés. J’ai bon espoir que ce jour marquera le début d’une relation fructueuse et collaborative avec l’Assemblée générale et que, ensemble, nous pourrons continuer à renforcer la protection et la prise en charge de ces enfants dont les vies ont été brisées par les conflits.
Before turning to the three themes in the report, allow me to highlight two landmark developments which have set new parametres in the protection of children. I am referring to the verdicts by the International Criminal Court, and Special Court for Sierra Leone, on the cases of Thomas Lubanga and Charles Taylor. These two cases send a powerful deterrent message to military commanders and political leaders responsible for the recruitment and use of children. But perhaps more significantly, these cases set important jurisprudence which national courts could build on.
Allow me to elaborate on three major areas highlighted in the report before you.
The first is the prevention of recruitment and use of children. This is a vast and complex topic. Many factors lead to children’s association with armed forces and groups, including poverty, social exclusion, displacement, the breakdown of State institutions, and socio-cultural factors. But I would like to focus on two areas in which Governments, as well as the United Nations, can make a difference.
The most sustainable way to prevent the child soldier phenomenon is through the enactment and enforcement of the rule of law. This was recognised by the General Assembly during its High Level meeting on the rule of law last month. Outlawing the recruitment and use of children is the starting point for prevention, and is reinforced by awareness-raising on applicable laws, and the enforcement of these laws. These are the critical steps that Governments can take to prevent the recruitment and use of children.
In practice, however, we know that this is easier said than done. In war-torn countries, the rule of law is often a work-in-progress, rather than a fact. In such cases, the United Nations may play an important role in support of the State’s efforts to prevent violations. I have seen this myself in the DRC, where the UN Mission, in partnership with the UN Country Team, protected children from the threat of recruitment, through the creation, implementation and consolidation of a comprehensive package of protection related tools, such as joint planning of military operations, Joint Protection Teams, Community Liaison Assistants and an alert network amongst communities in conflict-prone areas. In these contexts the strengthening of the judiciary and the penitentiary systems are critical to ensure that the law is upheld. Tools that have been useful include the Joint Investigation Teams, the Joint Prosecution Cells and the use of mobile courts to back up national judicial services and hold trials in remote areas.
Successive conflicts have shown with stark clarity the terrible impact that explosive weapons have on children. Weapons with wide area impact, such as air-dropped bombs, missiles (including those fired from drones), mortar shells, mines and improvised explosive devices can kill, maim and injure children when used in populated areas. Because the effect of such weapons cannot be accurately predicted, and because they have a broad blast and fragmentation zone, explosive weapons tend to have an inherently indiscriminate impact, and are therefore deeply problematic.
The effects of explosive weapons go beyond immediate casualties. The threat of their use is an important cause of displacement, and is a significant cause of anxiety and trauma amongst civilians, including children. In addition, the frequent targeting of civilian installations with these weapons mean that in many cases children are impeded from receiving medical treatment or going to school. A recent study, for example, has found that explosive weapons caused more deaths, injuries and damage than any other weapon in attacks on healthcare facilities. I would also note that from a strategic point of view, tactics that result in civilian casualties fuel further animosity and grievances.
For these reasons, I would urge Member States to take measures to reduce the impact of explosive weapons on children, and ensure that military operations uphold the principles of distinction, proportionality, and precaution. Member States could consider reviewing military protocols and procedures with a view to limiting the potential for civilian casualties through use of these weapons. Member States could also consider reviewing the use of new technologies, such as drones, which act as vehicles for explosive weapons.
Allow me to turn to my Office’s collaboration with regional organisations, which will be a key priority for me. Already, as a result of collaborative efforts with my Office, the European Union has developed guidelines on children and armed conflict, applicable to EU staff in the field and in Brussels.
Going forward, I would like to extend the Office’s collaboration with the African Union, and other regional and sub-regional organisations. I have already held preliminary discussions with the AU, and would like to centre our collaboration on capacity-building, guidelines and training for AU peacekeepers on child protection.
My Office’s partnerships are not limited to regional organisations. Working collaboratively with UN peers – including those sitting beside me today – is central to the success of my mandate. Indeed, I know from my field experience that no single UN actor alone can accomplish the difficult task of protecting children. In the Congo, it was clear to all of us working on the rule of law, human rights and protection that there were times when we needed to assist partners, or ask them to cover gaps. I also found that faced with the very real, often life-and-death challenges in the field, collaboration amongst UN actors was a natural response in order to maximise our impact and make a difference. The richness and complementarity of the UN’s mandates enabled us to have a multidimensional approach to child protection.
I know that my predecessor placed great importance on collaboration with key UN and non-UN partners. It will be no different under my tenure. My colleagues beside me and I have already discussed, and agreed, that we must support and empower each other in each of our mandates. Collaboration ranges from technical guidance and training on monitoring and reporting, to joint advocacy campaigns. I will ensure that my Office continues to address the needs of conflict-affected children, so that we address gaps with no overlap together with our partners.
Allow me to conclude with a few words on the way forward. In addition to working with regional organisations, it is my intention to focus on three broad areas.
Firstly, I would like to re-energise the cross-regional support for children and armed conflict, which was the initial motor that created the mandate. For this, I will reach out to member states that have concerns over the implementation of the mandate, to ensure not only that we are fair and balanced, but that we are also seen as fair and balanced. It is also my plan to meet with the regional groups both in New York and Geneva.
Secondly, I believe that we must now focus on consolidating the gains made by the mandate. The legislative bodies have given us a heavy workload. Now, we must focus on implementing the tasks given to us by these bodies as best as possible, especially on monitoring and reporting, dialogue and Action Plan implementation.
Thirdly, I would like to emphasise that accountability will remain central to my Office’s activities. In partnership with member states, I will explore ways of supporting the establishment of national accountability mechanisms to address violations against children, and new approaches to tackle the challenge of persistent perpetrators.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
The children and armed conflict mandate is only as strong as the support it receives. For this, maintaining consensus on the urgency and importance of action to protect children is critical. Breaking consensus and support for this work will embolden perpetrators, and send the wrong signal to child victims who count on the international community to stand together to protect them. It is my sincere hope that I will receive your support as I undertake this challenging and complex mandate.
Thank you very much.