Manila, 8 April 2011 - The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have agreed to develop an Action Plan, to be finalized in high level talks with the NDFP leadership which will ensure that no children are among the ranks of the New People’s Army (NPA) or involved in the conflict. The SRSG stressed that this is a humanitarian effort on behalf of children.
“It is the first time that we have been able to reach out to the NDFP and I am hopeful that we will be able to sign an Action Plan as soon as possible,” Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy said.
The NPA, together with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group, are listed in the Secretary-General’s annexes to the report on children and armed conflict for using and recruiting girls and boys. Prior to her meeting with the NDFP, the Government of the Philippines gave its full consent to the United Nations efforts to initiate dialogue with the group.
During her trip to Mindanao, SRSG Coomaraswamy met with the MILF leadership and agreed that the ongoing process of registration of children associated with the armed group will be completed in nine months. The SRSG was pleased to learn that, since the signing of the Action Plan, the MILF has made strides in implementing the plan and taken action to build awareness of the agreement within their ranks and communities. The SRSG called on the MILF leadership to enforce compliance with the Action Plan and suggested that accountability measures as well as complaints procedures will be put in place.
To date, roughly 600 children have been registered by trained community members with the support of UNICEF and now the focus is on ensuring that these children have access to basic services such as education, health and community programmes to prevent recruitment. “In Mindanao, where girls and boys are born into communities where armed elements are a constant feature, we have to get the entire village working on the successful protection of children,” SRSG Coomaraswamy emphasized. She suggested that official ceremonies take place for children to mark the beginning of a new stage in the lives of girls and boys away from conflict.
The Special Representative also met with the Executive Secretary of the President, the Secretary of Defence as well as senior commanders of the Armed Forces, where she expressed concerns with regard to continued reports of children associated with paramilitary units. “I am pleased to see that the Government of the Philippines and its Armed Forces are committed to taking immediate action and to work closely with the United Nations to better protect children from the conflict, prevent violations, and hold accountable those not following the general order of non-recruitment,” Ms. Coomaraswamy said. The United Nations will provide technical assistance to the Armed Forces human rights units including to the human rights focal point. The Special Representative also raised the issue of occupations of schools in some districts.
Ms. Coomaraswamy and UNICEF Representative Vanessa Tobin were encouraged by the proposed law for the protection of children affected by armed conflict that is being debated by members of the Philippines House of Representatives. “This is an important bill, not just to protect girls and boys, but to ensure accountability of those violating the rights of children. UNICEF, and the partners who developed the bill, urge legislators to prioritise this landmark legislation which could be a model for other countries,” Ms. Tobin said.
The Special Representative and United Nations partners in the field are encouraged by the recent initiatives with regard to the peace process in the Philippines. Ms. Coomaraswamy had meetings with the Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, as well as Secretary Deles of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and others. She hopes that child protection concerns will be included in the ongoing peace process. “All parties to the ongoing peace talks can be assured that the United Nations stands ready to assist in what is needed to build zones of peace for children in the Philippines,” Ms. Coomaraswamy said at the conclusion of her five day visit to the country.
Note: Photos of the visit will shortly be available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/childrenandarmedconflict/. For broll, please contact Muriel Gschwend firstname.lastname@example.org.
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