Children and Armed Conflict - Security Council Open VTC

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23-Jun-2020 02:01:11
Grave violations against children still unacceptably high despite unprecedented number of action plans for better protection, experts tells Security Council.

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While warring parties agreed to more than 30 action plans, road maps, command orders and other measures to better protect children in 2019 — the highest number in any one year — cases of grave violations committed against minors remain unacceptably high, two United Nations experts on the matter told the Security Council in a 23 June video conference meeting.

Virginia Gamba, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, commended parties in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen for adopting these child protection measures. Other parties, notably in Somalia and Sudan, recommitted to action plans. “This is the highest number of measures mutually agreed in any one year,” she stressed.

While accountability remains slow, she said perpetrators nonetheless have been prosecuted in Myanmar, Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. The search for peace in 2019 also yielded seven peace dialogues in children and armed conflict situations, including in the Central African Republic. Guidelines developed by her Office on how to include child protection language in peace processes — presented to the Council in February — are beginning to be applied. And, following United Nations advocacy, 13,000 children were released from parties to conflict.

Presenting the Secretary-General’s annual report (document A/74/845-S/2020/525), she said the number of grave violations verified by the United Nations, although less than in 2018, remains high. “Much more needs to be done to bring these figures down,” she insisted. Actual violations reached 24,422 in 2019, but the monitoring teams later verified an additional 1,241 committed prior to that date. As a result, the overall verification in 2019 amounted to more than 25,000 grave violations. “This represents 70 grave violations against children per day,” she said.

Also in 2019, 7,747 children were verified as having been recruited and used by parties to conflict, she said, including 668 late verifications, the vast majority of them attributable to non-State actors. Meanwhile, the erosion of respect for international humanitarian law led to high numbers of children killed and maimed. At least 10,173 child casualties were verified in 2019, including 534 late verifications. While this represents a decrease of nearly 2,000 casualties from previous years, killing and maiming remains the highest verified violation in the report. More than 1,600 children were verified as having been abducted, mostly by armed groups, also a considerable decrease. She encouraged countries to work to better understand and address this issue.

While peace dialogues and other measures have led to decreases in some violations, this has not been the case for all, with more than 730 cases of sexual violence, including rape, verified in 2019. “This violation continues to be disturbingly under-reported,” she said, including against boys. She blamed fear of stigma and retaliation, involvement of powerful perpetrators and lack of services for survivors, all of which discourage children and their families from reporting abuse and seeking justice.

More disturbing, she said the number of cases attributed to State and non-State actors are similar — despite an increasing number of parties having signed commitments with the United Nations to end this violation. “Numbers seem not to be dropping.” She called for stronger accountability mechanisms, systematic care services for survivors, better training for armed forces, and the reflection of prevention efforts in legislation that criminalizes sexual violence.

She was equally troubled by the high number of attacks on schools, hospitals and protected personnel, citing 930 verified attacks and a doubling in verified attributions to State forces. There were also 4,400 verified denials of humanitarian access to children — an increase of more than 400 per cent from 2018. Overwhelmingly, this violation shows the greatest increase, with most denials attributed to non-State actors. “I plead for States and armed groups to facilitate the access of humanitarian workers to deliver much-needed assistance to children,” she said.

She said the detention of 2,500 children for their actual or alleged association with armed groups — including those designated as terrorist by the United Nations — is another serious concern. Stressing that the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism is only as strong as the resources available for its functioning, she urged the Council and the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) to ensure that enough child protection capacity is mandated and retained when a new peacekeeping or political mission is set up or the budget of existing missions is being negotiated. “Behind these figures are boys and girls with stolen childhoods and shattered dreams,” she said.

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said there are few children as vulnerable as those living through armed conflict situations. Whether trapped by fighting, on the move, part of the fighting itself or detained because of perceived or actual links to armed groups — these children are victims of circumstances beyond their control. “They are, first and foremost, children,” she pointed out.

She recalled that 15 years ago, resolution 1612 (2005) — and the establishment of the children and armed conflict agenda, with its Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism — represented a milestone in honouring the commitment to protect all children. Since then, tens of thousands of children have been released from armed forces and armed groups. In the past three years alone, UNICEF has helped release nearly 37,000 of them and supported reintegration programming in 19 countries. Through such work, the global community has sent a message that violation of children’s rights is illegal. “The culture of impunity must end,” she emphasized.

Countries now have a number of tools to guide their work, she said. The Convention on the Rights of the Child is joined by the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict — ratified by 170 countries — the Paris Principles on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups, the Vancouver Principles and the Safe Schools Declaration, endorsed by 104 States.

Many countries have brought these commitments to life in their laws, she said, noting that just last week, the Central African Republic adopted the new Child Protection Code, which also criminalizes recruitment and use. In the Philippines, the Children in Situations of Armed Conflict Law criminalizes the six grave violations. And in five countries — among them Denmark, the United Kingdom and New Zealand — military manuals and directives now reflect the Safe Schools Declaration and Guidelines.

Yet, the numbers of verified violations against children remain “appallingly high”. Over the last 15 years, the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism documented a shocking 250,000 grave violations against children in armed conflict, including the recruitment and use of 77,000 children, and the killing and maiming of more than 100,000. Upwards of 15,000 children suffered rape and sexual violence. Some 25,000 minors were abducted, and 17,000 attacks were committed on schools and hospitals. There were also 11,000 incidents of denial of humanitarian access. “And these are just the verified cases,” she said. “The actual numbers are certainly much higher.”

COVID-19 adds urgency to this work, she said. Children are missing out on basic medical care. Water and sanitation systems have been destroyed — making it impossible for children to wash their hands. Some 1.5 billion children are out of school, putting those in conflict at a double disadvantage of missing out on education and at increased risk of violence. Far too often, parties use the pandemic for political advantage. “Children are not pawns or bargaining chips,” she said. “This must stop.”

She pressed the Council to urge the 50 parties to conflict who have not yet signed actions plans to do so. She also called for the immediate release of all children detained for their recruitment and use, or alleged association with parties to conflict, and likewise, on States to bring their nationals home. “These children have a right to access protection,” she stressed, including the thousands of minors stranded in north-east Syria. States must invest in education and vocational training for reintegrated children and take urgent action to protect water and sanitation infrastructure. If the United Nations fails children, “we fail the future”, she warned.

Mariam, a 15-year-old member of the National Children’s Parliament of Mali, told the story of a 10-year-old boy named Mohamed who lived in Mopti. In 2014, he was abducted by an armed group, forced to witness atrocities and fled to safety four years later. “He does not know what the future holds for him, his future in a world where leaders seem deaf to the most poignant evils,” she said. “Dear leaders, make decisions, take actions to prevent other children from finding themselves in the same situation as Mohamed.”

Indeed, the consequences of war and conflicts on children are enormous, she continued. Some have become gangsters and thieves, while others have “capsized” with alcohol and drugs. Thousands are out of school, with 1,251 school closures in Mali alone depriving youngsters of their fundamental right to education. She recounted the stories of some of these children, like Aminata, age 12, who lives in an internally displaced persons camp and described happy past days with classmates before asking how she could pursue her dream of teaching. Bakary, age 14, was on vacation in Mopti in 2017 when an armed group kidnapped him. He remains missing, Mariam said. His mother, because of this, “has gone mad and can no longer take care of Bakary’s little brothers and sisters”. She implored Council members: “What are you doing to have Bakary and other abducted children find and join their families?”

Emphasizing that many girls and boys are victims of rape, she told the Council about Fatou, age 12, who lived in the Gao region when an armed group burst into her home, murdered her father in front of her, then raped her in the presence of her mother, who did not survive. Traumatized and fearful of people, Fatou was supported by neighbours, who helped her to go to a youth reception centre for psychological care. “I speak with a tearful heart because I know that children suffer and that children simply should never suffer,” she said, stressing that thousands of children in Mali lose their enthusiasm for life and their dreams. This demonstrates an urgent need for justice so that victims do not grow into adults wanting to take justice into their own hands.

“Please take actions to protect children even in times of conflict and war,” she said. “I know that no one would want to see their children or loved ones to be victims of conflicts.” Convinced that all children, regardless of race, color, ethnicity or religion, have the right to enjoy their childhoods and their rights, she urged the Council to take the necessary measures to guarantee their futures — especially in times of conflict or war. She quoted a saying in Bambara: “Djamana ka Sini nyè sigi bé a dewn bolo”, which means that the future of a country is in the hands of its children. “We children want to participate in decision-making concerning us because we also have our words and ideas to propose in order to reduce the impact of armed conflict on children,” she told the Council. “Help us improve our living conditions, help us not to be victims of conflicts.”

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