‘Children Simply Have No Role in Conflict’, Secretary-General Tells Security Council, Launching New Protection Guidelines for Mediators, Negotiators
The Security Council reiterated its strong condemnation of all illegal recruitment and use of children by parties to armed conflict, as well as their re-recruitment, killing, rape and abduction, as the Secretary-General today launched a set of guidelines and the 15-member organ marked the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers.
In presidential statement S/PRST/2020/3, issued by Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve (Belgium), Council president for February, Council members stressed the importance of adopting a broad conflict prevention strategy that addresses the causes of conflict in order to enhance the protection of children.
“A strong focus is needed on combatting poverty, deprivation and inequality to prevent and protect children from all violations and abuses, in particular in the context of armed conflict,” the Council recognized.
Renewing its call on Member States, the Peacebuilding Commission and other parties to integrate child protection provisions into all peace negotiations, ceasefire and peace agreements, and those for ceasefire monitoring, the Council likewise renewed its call on them to ensure that the protection and empowerment of children affected by armed conflict are prioritized in all post-conflict recovery and reconstruction planning, programmes and strategies.
The Council also reiterated its call on States and the United Nations to mainstream child protection into all conflict prevention activities and encouraged them — along with regional and subregional organizations — to strengthen cooperation in promoting the integration of child protection issues into peace processes.
Secretary-General António Guterres, after launching the new guidelines for mediators and negotiators, said “children simply have no role in conflict”. However, while child protection measures in peace agreements can play an effective role in building sustainable peace, as can be seen in Colombia and other countries, following guidelines are not enough amid the current grim landscape. Some 250 million children live in conflict-affected countries, and in 2018, more than 12,000 children were killed or maimed, and more than 24,000 violations were documented and verified, compared with 21,000 in 2017. “It is our fundamental duty as leaders to do everything in our power to protect children, our future, from the chaos and madness of wars that have nothing to do with them,” he declared. “Together, we are beginning to make progress. I urge you to continue on that path.”
Smaїl Chergui, African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, cited a range of peace accords that include such protection provisions, from the Central African Republic to South Sudan. As there had been no framework to do so in the past, he commended the new guidance as an invaluable tool not only for African Union mediators and special envoys, but also for States engaged in peace processes.
Jo Becker of Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict recalled that an analysis of agreements dating to 1999 revealed that of 445 documents, fewer than 18 per cent, included child protection provisions. “This simply is not good enough,” she said, urging the Council to, among other things, request that all conflict analyses include an assessment of the impact of conflict on children; ensure that country-specific statements and resolutions on peace processes emphasize the need for explicit protection provisions; and urge mediators and parties to conflict to ensure children’s participation in peace processes.
Philippe, King of the Belgians, stated that “this is how we can break the cycle of violence”. Recalling that in 1999, the Security Council adopted its first resolution on children in armed conflict, he underlined the urgency of protecting children, emphasizing that many face mutilation, exploitation, murder or recruitment by armed groups. Breaking this cycle is imperative, he said, pointing out that warring parties are often more willing to engage in the issue of child protection than any other topic. Indeed, agreements related to children can serve as a catalyst for more comprehensive peace accords.
Viet Nam’s representative said the guidelines should be a living document reflecting reality on the ground in conflict situations. Estonia’s delegate agreed about its flexibility, also pointing out the need to allocate sufficient resources for United Nations child protection activities.
Some members highlighted examples to follow going forward, including France’s representative, who recalled that the 2007 Paris Principles recognize the inclusion of child rights in peace and ceasefire agreements, and noted progress made in this regard in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and the Sahel region.
The Russian Federation’s representative said Member States can make a big difference by paying close attention to rehabilitation through cooperation with civil society and international organizations. For its part, Moscow has ensured the return of more than 150 Russian children from Iraq and Syria since 2018.
China’s delegate recommended a focus on conflict prevention, also urging the Council to facilitate the political resolution of conflict through mediation.
Also speaking today were representatives of Indonesia, United Kingdom, Dominican Republic, South Africa (speaking also for Niger and Tunisia), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Germany and the United States.
The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and ended at 11:51 a.m.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, noting that 12 February is the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, provided an overview of the practical guidance for mediators to protect them in situations of armed conflict, to be launched today. “Children simply have no role in conflict,” he said, adding that some 250 million children live in conflict-affected countries. In 2018, more than 12,000 children were killed or maimed in conflict, the highest recorded figures since 1996, when the General Assembly created the mandate of his Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. More than 24,000 violations were documented and verified, compared with 21,000 in 2017.
Outlining a bleak landscape, he said attacks on hospitals and schools deny children education, health care and life-saving assistance. They face horrible abuses in war zones, causing lasting damage and feeding grievances that lead to extremism. Thanking the Security Council for its systematic engagement on this issue over the last 21 years, he cited progress, including raising awareness of violations. This is partly due to the 15-member organ’s establishment of a monitoring and reporting mechanism, which has painted a damning picture of responsibility and compliance.
In addition, he said, his Special Representative is working on efforts in the Central African Republic, Myanmar and Yemen. Meanwhile, South Sudan remains a living example of how child protection can bring parties to conflict together and build confidence and peace. As an example, he said 12 parties have been removed from the list of violators after complying with commitments under an action plan. Similar gains can be seen in Afghanistan, where child protection units have been established in every province.
However, grave violations continue, he said, adding that: “We must all do more.” Elaborating on the launch of the practical guidance, including specific actions for stakeholders, he said its provisions are based on principles that outlaw discrimination and put children’s interests first, providing the means to conduct analysis for mediators and negotiators and involving children in the process.
By integrating specific measures to protect children into peace processes, concrete results are imminent, he said. The peace process in Colombia advanced when the People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force (FARC) ended its recruitment of children. But this practical guidance is not enough, he said, encouraging Member States and other actors should take actions at national, regional and global levels in addition to using the guidelines.
Recalling a sombre event held at Headquarters in 2019, when the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) laid out 3,758 backpacks, each representing a child killed in conflict during 2018, he said standing in that “cemetery of dreams” was devastating. “It is our fundamental duty as leaders to do everything in our power to protect children, our future, from the chaos and madness of wars that have nothing to do with them,” he declared. “Together, we are beginning to make progress. I urge you to continue on that path.”
SMAЇL CHERGUI, African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, via videoconference from Addis Ababa, said war disproportionately affects children, as victims or forced participants, making it imperative to sustainable peace that violations against their rights are prevented and addressed, during and after conflicts. Failing to do so only perpetuates a culture of impunity, injustice and lawlessness that could give rise to the conflict in the first place. If guns are to be sustainably silenced in Africa, fundamental rights and liberties must be protected through the rule of law, which is one of the principles underpinning the African Peace and Security Architecture and the African Union’s efforts in preventing, managing and resolving conflicts on the continent.
Given the devastating impact of violent conflict on children, he said, all actors must engage in mediation and peace processes that incorporate protection language and provisions in peace agreements. Citing examples of the time and resources made by the African Union and the regional economic communities and mechanisms in this regard, he said such provisions are included in peace agreements in Burundi (2000), Sudan (2005), South Sudan (2015) and the Central African Republic (2019). While the African Union has this rich experience integrating child rights into peace processes, there has been no standard framework for doing so until the new practical guidance.
Noting the African Union participation with the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and the Government of Belgium in drafting the guidelines, he said the continent already has a zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse in peace operations. The new guidance will be an invaluable tool not only for African Union mediators and special envoys, but also for its member States engaged in peace processes.
JO BECKER, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, recalled that in 1996, when Graça Machel presented her seminal study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, she deplored that no peace treaty had formally recognized the existence of child combatants. Since then, the Council has repeatedly called for the inclusion of child protection in peace processes. In reality, however, agreements that address child protection are still rare. An analysis of agreements dating to 1999 revealed that of 445 documents, fewer than 18 per cent included child protection provisions, and that many simply called for the protection of women, children and other vulnerable groups. “This simply is not good enough,” she insisted.
“When children are excluded from peace agreements, their needs and rights become invisible,” she said, resulting in a lack of critical programming. Peace agreements often fail to address justice for child soldiers as victims or accountability for the leaders who recruited them. Provisions on children associated with armed forces or groups are often too narrow, failing to include girls, for example, and despite years of attention to the issue, some accords — notably the 2015 Bamako agreement for Mali — still fail to address child soldiers at all.
In addition, she said peace processes often fail to include channels for child participation, such as in Libya, where special consultations were held in 2018 for women, university students and the displaced — but none that included children. Institution-building similarly ignores their needs, as in Guatemala’s peace agreement, which included provisions to strengthen the justice system for adults, but never considered such systems for children. On the other hand, one of the first peace agreements to address children was the 1999 Lomé Peace Agreement for Sierra Leone, which called for attention to child soldiers — including the resources for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, which paved the way for formal demobilization of nearly 7,000 children. Later studies found that the response was “far more effective and integrated” than in many other conflicts.
Citing peace agreements in Colombia and Sri Lanka as other good examples, she described a checklist, developed in 2016, of provisions related to children and armed conflict in ceasefire and peace agreements, which inspired the United Nations to develop more detailed guidance being launched today. The checklist calls for prioritizing child protection in the agenda of peace talks from the beginning; ensuring that all parties explicitly agree to end the six grave violations against children; including provisions for children associated with armed groups; addressing protections for education; ensuring children’s rights are resourced in post-conflict programming; ensuring that transitional justice, accountability and reparations mechanisms specifically address violations against children; and ensuring that monitoring mechanisms for peace accords address all child protection provisions.
With that, she urged the Council to request that all conflict analyses include an assessment of the impact of conflict on children; ensure that country-specific statements and resolutions on peace processes emphasize the need for explicit child protection provisions; urge mediators and parties to conflict to ensure children’s participation in peace processes; ensure child protection capacity in United Nations peace operations and political missions; request the Secretary-General to ensure that all reports on peace processes address child protection; and insist that his annual list of perpetrators of child abuse is accurate and evidence-based.
PHILIPPE, King of Belgium, Security Council President for February, speaking in his national capacity, recalled that King Baudouin 30 years ago addressed Heads of State and Government in New York on the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Since then, the United Nations has made tremendous progress in championing the needs of children in armed conflict, a cause that Belgium has made an overarching priority of its foreign policy. “This is an issue that remains acutely urgent,” he said, at a time when geopolitical tensions are the highest since the turn of the century. Stressing that one in five children endures the adverse consequences of armed conflict, he said “this figure cannot leave us unmoved”, as it represents girls and boys who have been mutilated, exploited, murdered or recruited by armed groups — millions of them wounded in body and spirit. Saving children requires steadfast political will and efforts for prevention and remediation, as well as mobilization of human and financial resources. It is a collective duty to help these children rekindle their hope — listening to them, acknowledging their suffering and helping reintegrate them into society.
“This is how we can break the cycle of violence,” he assured, recalling that the Security Council in 1999 adopted its first resolution on children in armed conflict, and since that time, has repeatedly called for the inclusion of child protection provisions in peace processes from the very beginning. Yet, far too often, the fate of children is still overlooked, and the international community must do more. Experience shows that belligerents are more willing to reach agreement on child protection measures than on other issues — a focus that can help to foster trust. Noting that agreements geared towards children can serve as catalysts for more comprehensive accords, he said incorporation of the guidelines into peace talks helps to improve the circumstances of child conflict victims. “Every child has a right to grow up in a safe environment, with access to education and high-quality instruction,” he asserted. Each time a child is extricated from war, helped to recover and returns to school, “these are dreams that once again become possible” and possibly a new conflict that the Council helps to prevent. “This is our shared responsibility.”
MAHENDRA SIREGAR, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, outlined how best to build pathways for child protection measures, saying that “we do not start from zero.” First, there are already normative foundations, such as the Convention on the Rights of Children and the optional protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, as well as Council resolution 2427 (2018), he said, stressing the need to act on these commitments. Second, child protection must be addressed at all phases of conflicts by preventing six grave violations against children, breaking the cycle of child soldiers and reintegrating them in society. Third, international cooperation and sharing of the best practices in this area are necessary, he emphasized, welcoming the launch of Practical Guidance for Mediators.
MÄRT VOLMER, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Estonia, said the Council has repeatedly condemned violations committed against children in armed conflict, and increasingly recognized that child protection must be integrated into all peace processes — an objective his country strongly supports. However, child protection continues to be addressed on an ad hoc basis, with their rights and needs insufficiently addressed. The integration of child protections into peace processes must be gender-sensitive and given the array of parties involved in peace processes, he said, welcoming that guidance can be adjusted and drawn upon by various actors. It is equally important that it is widely disseminated. He called for ensuring accountability for all violations against children in armed conflict, urging States to exercise their criminal jurisdiction over the perpetrators of these crimes and work to bolster national and international accountability mechanisms. He also reiterated the need to allocate sufficient resources for United Nations child protection activities.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom), highlighting several case studies on the impact of war on children, said that in Syria, more than 2.5 million have displaced and, in places controlled by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), they have been forced to act as combatants. The Commission of Inquiry’s report also found that children will suffer from these and other violations of their rights long into the future. Turning to Mali, she said children are often the direct targets of attacks and more than 900 schools have closed due to violence. The scale of the impact is clear, but when it comes to peace, their inclusion is often overlooked. The Council has taken action on changing that, as noted in the new guidelines, by ensuring that the needs of children are embedded in peace processes and in post-conflict situations. In this vein, she urged all mediators, facilitators and negotiators to use the guidelines in their work.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic), noting that child protection provisions can improve the possibility of ensuring sustainable peace, also encouraged all actors to use the guidelines. The growing number of children affected by armed conflict is terrifying, with short- and long-term consequences raising grave concerns. While the guidance is easy to use, he said mediation teams should include an expert, either locally or from UNICEF or another relevant organization. Noting that the peace process in Colombia began with the starting point of discussing child protection, he said not enough peace agreements contain this provision. The Council, through numerous resolutions, has requested all parties to take action in this regard, he said, adding that his delegation has signed the Vancouver Principles and supports the Act to Protect campaign.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa), speaking also for Niger and Tunisia, welcomed the development of Practical Guide for Mediators, emphasizing that ending and preventing conflict-related violations against children in armed conflict is not only a moral imperative but contributes to building sustainable peace. His delegation observed that not all resolutions on this issue include the perspectives of parents and their role as primary caregivers, he said, urging the Council to consider including this concept in its future outcomes. The inclusion of child protection provisions in political and peace agreements, such as in the case of the Central African Republic, is a significant development, he said, quoting the words of former South Africa President Nelson Mandela: “Our children are the greatest treasure. They are our future. Those who abuse them tear at the fabric of our society and weaken our nation.”
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) recalled that the 2007 Paris Principles encourage the inclusion of provisions related to children in peace and ceasefire agreements. While progress has been made, the situations in Syria, Yemen, “Burma” the Sahel and Afghanistan recall that more must be done. Welcoming that the guidance is flexible and adaptable, giving mediators tools for integrating children into their actions, he said that child protection offers a long-term approach and that all actors should use it as the principles are known but not systematically disseminated. Child protection needs mainstreaming. He proposed that the Special Representatives be made aware of the guidance before taking up their duties. In addition, they should present their activities to the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict to ensure that child protection is considered throughout their mandate. Child protection likewise should be included in the Council’s cooperation with the African Union. He urged that the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism on Grave Violations against Children in Situations of Armed Conflict be given full effect, noting that the Working Group has the power to adopt its conclusions on Yemen and the Central African Republic that were negotiated months ago.
DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam) said that successful stories in many countries as shared in Practical Guidance for Mediators will inspire many more to come, encouraging the continued compilation of lessons learned to further improve the document. His delegation hopes that the guidance could be customized to fit each nation’s context and brought into full play at the national level. Regional organizations are reliable United Nations partners in the maintenance of international peace and security, particularly in child protection. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) made great contributions to facilitating the implementation of action plans to end and prevent violations against children. During wartime in Viet Nam, classes were held anyplace, nurturing a pure love for peace and a fervent hope for a better future. When it comes to reintegration, education is the best way to break obsessions of the past.
HALIMAH DESHONG (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) said that mediation provides a space in which parties to a conflict assume ownership and responsibility for the final resolution, increasing the likelihood of a lasting peace. But this can be compromised in the absence of child protection-focused analyses, she said, welcoming the development of the Practical Guidance for Mediators — an important document that can assist with mainstreaming child protection-focused action in confidence-building measures, security arrangements, governance and transitional justice systems in peacebuilding processes. “Children represent more than 20 per cent of the world population, but 100 per cent of our future,” she said.
GENNADY V. KUZMIN (Russian Federation) said today’s issue is of paramount importance, particularly as terrorists are not shying away from using even the youngest children. The international community must not countenance this situation, he said, stressing that children’s rehabilitation is of utmost importance. “This is specifically where there can be successful and effective complementary cooperation between Government bodies, civil society and international organizations,” he added. Since 2018, the Government has spared no effort to ensure the return and rehabilitation of Russian children from Iraq and Syria. More than 150 Russian children have been evacuated from Iraq and Syria, he assured, noting that the Russian Federation Ombudsman recently brought 26 children out from al-Hol refugee camp, while nine more will be returned soon. States require international support through dialogue and full respect for the principle of sovereignty. The guidance should undergird the United Nations reintegration efforts and address children in both conflict and post-conflict recovery.
ZHANG JUN (China) said armed conflict and terrorist activities continue to deny many children a carefree childhood. More attention should be devoted to conflict prevention, with children’s needs considered and their right to education safeguarded. Urging the Council to facilitate the political resolution of conflict through mediation, he said countries in conflict must assume primary responsibility for protecting children, with all parties refraining from recruiting children and the international community maintaining close communication with the countries concerned. Since 2018, China has provided financial and technical support to help Somalia, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo improve their capacity to protect children. He called on the United Nations to support the demobilization and reintegration of former child soldiers into society.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) said minimizing the impact of conflict on children requires undivided attention, noting that 420 million children are affected by conflict and that Germany is one of the largest donors to UNICEF. Describing the immense challenges ahead, he expressed deep concern over the persistence of sexual and gender-based violence in countries on the Council’s agenda. While acknowledging underreporting on the issue, he said the official figures nonetheless remain appalling and require a response. Multisectoral assistance must be provided to all child survivors of sexual violence and children born of rape. It is shocking that resolution 1882 (2009) was adopted more than a decade ago, with no end in sight for the killing and maiming of children, especially in Syria and Yemen. Condemning all attacks on civilian objects, he said Germany works to ensure that international humanitarian law is implemented. As resolution 2427 (2018) requires parties to armed conflict to adhere to child protection provisions, he stressed the need for accountability for all such violations. “Child protection requires the efforts of the entire international community,” he insisted.
CHERITH NORMAN-CHALET (United States) recalled that the Council in August reiterated that those suffering most in war are often children and expressed hope that the frequency of Working Group meetings will increase. “We should see the Council’s unity on this issue as an opportunity to better protect children from armed conflict,” she said, noting that the United Nations, African Union and European Union can all create new opportunities for peace. Conflict around the world saddles children with burdens that no young person should need to carry. In South Sudan, for example, most children have never known peace. While a pause in violence has created an opportunity for peace, the best protection for children will come from a willingness by the leaders to talk and she, therefore, called on leaders in South Sudan to prioritize the hopes of their nation’s children. In Colombia, she expressed dismay over violations against children. Amid the regional fallout from the situation in Venezuela, she applauded Colombia’s President for granting citizenship to those children born in his country. In the Central African Republic, engagement by the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) with armed groups offers similar roads for change. Expressing deep concern that 600,000 children in English-speaking regions of Cameroon have not been able to safely attend school for three years, she said “the Council has a duty to speak out on behalf of children”.