Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, travelled to South Sudan from 22 to 27 June to assess the impact of the crisis on children and to work with authorities and partners to find ways to better protect them.
In Juba, the Special Representative joined forces with UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.
Together, they insisted that schools and the right to education must be protected, even in times of conflict.
The Special Representative also traveled with Forest Whitaker, UNESCO Special Envoy. On Tuesday June 24, during a press conference in Juba, he publicly announced his support for the campaign “Children, Not Soldiers”, launched in March by the Special Representative and UNICEF. The announcement signals the beginning of a collaboration between Mr. Whitaker and the office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. Mr. Whitaker will spread the word about the objectives of the campaign and will act as an advocate for children affected by armed conflict.
Meeting with the President of South Sudan
On Monday, 23 June, Ms. Zerrougui, Bokova, Mr. Whitaker, colleagues from UNESCO and Hilde Johnson, the head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan met with President Salva Kiir Mayardit.
Irina Bokova highlighted that sustainable peace can only come about if the children and youth of South Sudan are respected and have an opportunity to develop.
Mr. Whitaker emphasized the importance of protecting children from the impact of conflict and mentioned the work of his organization, the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative, to engage the country’s youth as peace builders.
“The overall message all of us were bringing was about how to bring peace between the parties so that we could have a peaceful South Sudan,” declared Whitaker to the press after the meeting with the president.
Ms. Zerrougui called on the President’s responsibility to protect children from recruitment and use and other grave violations. She mentioned the importance of accountability for those who committed violations against children and the population in general.
At the end of their meeting, the president agreed to issue a Presidential Decree to criminalize the recruitment and use of children in South Sudan. He also committed to vacating all schools occupied by the SPLA throughout the country. In addition, he accepted to expedite South Sudan’s accession to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Watch Leila Zerrougui’s comments to the press after her meeting with the president.
Visit to the Protection of Civilians site in Juba
On Monday afternoon, the Special Representative, UNESCO’s Director General and Forest Whitaker visited the biggest protection of civilians site in Juba, inside a United Nations compound.
The mission in South Sudan was organized in collaboration with colleagues from UNESCO, UNICEF and UNMISS.