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Annual report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (A/HRC/37/47) [EN/AR]

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Note by the Secretariat

The Secretariat has the honour to transmit to the Human Rights Council the report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba. In the report, which covers the period from December 2016 to December 2017, the Special Representative outlines the activities undertaken in discharging her mandate and the progress achieved in addressing grave violations against children. The Special Representative also explores the challenges in strengthening the protection of children affected by armed conflict, including by addressing the impact of trafficking and the sale of children in situations of armed conflict, the emerging and recurrent challenges related to the denial of humanitarian access to children and progress in ending grave violations against children, in particular through direct engagement with parties to conflict. Lastly, the Special Representative sets out recommendations addressed to the Human Rights Council and Member States to further the protection of children’s rights.

I. Introduction

  1. The present report covers the period from December 2016 to December 2017 and is submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 71/177, in which the Assembly requested the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict to submit a report to the Human Rights Council on the activities undertaken in fulfilment of her mandate, including information on her field visits, on the progress achieved and the challenges remaining on the children and armed conflict agenda.

II. A vision going forward following 20 years of the children and armed conflict mandate

  1. Since the inception of the mandate, the Special Representative and the Office of the Special Representative have played a central role in strengthening the protection of the rights of children affected by armed conflict, including through raising awareness and ensuring that the issue is prioritized on the international agenda. The appointment of the new Special Representative, Virginia Gamba, in early May 2017, therefore presented a timely opportunity to look forward and analyse how efforts could be elevated to end and prevent grave violations affecting children in conflict. To that end, the new Special Representative is aiming to enhance her mandated activities, both in terms of raising public awareness to mobilize global action and garnering lessons learned, and developing best practices to aid practitioners and Member States. Geneva-based mechanisms and entities will be a key part of that vision moving forward.

  2. In the two decades since the establishment of the mandate, the United Nations has developed innovative methods to engage with both Governments and armed groups for the benefit of children most affected by war. As a result, 29 action plans have been signed with parties to conflict to end violations against children and establish mechanisms to prevent them. Where the context was conducive and political will was strong, steady progress was achieved, which led to the full implementation of action plans and the subsequent delisting of 11 parties to conflict from the annexes to the annual report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict. That represents a significant impact on the protection of the rights of children during armed conflict.

  3. The public awareness campaign, entitled “Children, Not Soldiers”, launched jointly with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2014, catalysed further progress to protect children affected by armed conflict. The campaign, which focused on one of the six grave violations, namely ending and preventing the recruitment and use of children, led to tangible results. With greater awareness of the issue, the Special Representative, together with UNICEF, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Political Affairs, was able to expedite progress, and child protection advisers on the ground played a critical role in operationalizing action plans and further strengthening the overall child protection architecture. Concrete advances included the criminalization of the recruitment and use of children, the issuance of military command orders, the systematic screening of troops, the adoption of age-assessment guidelines, the development of handover protocols and the release and reintegration of children formerly associated with armed forces.

  4. A range of other initiatives by the Special Representative and her Office have also had an impact, such as supporting the development of national legislation to protect children; accountability initiatives; advocating for the ratification of international instruments; and leveraging peace processes to engage with parties to conflict on children affected by violations, notably in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Nevertheless, the complexity of the current contexts of armed conflict has contributed to an increase in the number of children at risk in situations where human rights violations are occurring. The mandate is therefore at a critical juncture and both the international community and civil society will need to reflect on how to renew their commitment to build on past achievements and work towards the goal of providing the best possible protection for children affected by war. This juncture corresponds with the opportunities provided by the Sustainable Development Goals to endeavour to reach those who are the furthest behind, by working in partnership to ensure that children affected by armed conflict are protected from recruitment and use, provided with education and given the ability to live their lives in a heathy and peaceful manner.

  5. To this end, as mandated by the General Assembly, the Special Representative plans to establish the capacity to enhance synergies among different United Nations agencies, regional and subregional organizations, international and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society to raise further awareness of the six grave violations against children. In coordination with Geneva-based entities, the Special Representative considers it vital to commence exercises on lessons learned to identify best practices through research, analysis, assessment and working partnerships that can shed further light on the past 20 years of the collective work of the Organization on children and armed conflict, and identify difficulties encountered in strengthening the protection of children and ongoing trends and dynamics to inform future action.

  6. It is essential to engage additional actors in pursuit of greater protection of children’s rights and enhance engagement with actors where partnerships are already in place. In that regard, the Human Rights Council has reaffirmed that regional arrangements play an important role in promoting and protecting human rights. 1 The Special Representative therefore considers that partnerships with regional and subregional organizations can be developed or further advanced to secure politically or legally binding instruments to strengthen the prevention of violations in situations of armed conflict and facilitate programmatic responses when violations do occur. Among the regional organizations with which the Special Representative envisions enhancing engagement are the African Union, the League of Arab States and the European Union. Similarly, the Special Representative hopes to continue and strengthen the existing collaboration with such organizations as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the pursuit of best practices and with the aim of supporting the development of additional operational procedures that adequately take into account child protection concerns.

  7. Engagement will also be pursued with subregional organizations, including the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Economic Community of Central African States and the Andean Community. Such engagement has historical roots in the work of the Office of the Special Representative; focusing on subregional organizations has the potential to be a multiplier for further progress. For instance, in the early 2000s, ECOWAS progressively integrated child protection into its policies and institutions, including through the adoption of the Accra Declaration and Plan of Action on War-Affected Children, at the Conference on War-Affected Children in West Africa, held in Ghana on 27 and 28 April 2000; established a child protection unit in its secretariat; and endorsed an agenda for action for war-affected children in West Africa at the ECOWAS summit in 2003. The Special Representative plans to contribute to further progress by supporting the re-establishment of such instruments and mechanisms and creating new partnerships to leverage the tools of a broad range of subregional organizations.

  8. The additional focus on advocacy and lessons learned will feed into the overarching goal of the mandate, namely strengthening the protection of the rights of children affected by armed conflict. It is envisioned that lessons learned and raising public awareness will aid interactions with parties to conflict when violations against children occur. Best practices can be used to assist parties to conflict who demonstrate a willingness to better protect children by ensuring that the conduct of hostilities complies with international standards. When a party to conflict is open to entering into dialogue, the plethora of best practices that have been developed over the past 20 years can guide technical discussions on protecting children’s rights. However, to draw on the full potential of those best practices, it will be important to compile, capture and make them available to Governments, protection actors and other relevant entities. Awareness-raising, on the other hand, can be used to put pressure on belligerents who do not demonstrate the same willingness to improve their conduct. By using the different avenues of public awareness, political advocacy and direct engagement, parties may display greater receptiveness to improving their conduct and reducing violations against children. Those prevention efforts are at the heart of the Special Representative’s goals of protecting the rights of children.