World

Speech by SRSG CAAC Ms. Virginia Gamba at 25th anniversary of CAAC mandate

Thank you, Madam Minister, for your words and support to the Children and Armed conflict mandate.

Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen,

Last week, 8 children were killed in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan when an explosive remnant of war detonated near a school. In the same week in Myanmar, as the conflict escalates, at least 4 children were killed, and many others injured. In every one of the situations covered in the CAAC docket, children are suffering: they are killed and maimed by explosive remnants of war and active shooting, they are abducted on the way to school, they are raped while fetching wood and water, they are forced to join militias, armed groups and armed forces to feed and sustain conflict, or are pushed into volunteering to fight because they have no options due to the socioeconomic difficulties faced by their communities, their lack of education, and their own lack of choices. Even as I speak, I know that hundreds of children will be deprived of humanitarian assistance today, and thousands more will not have a school to go to or a health clinic to tend to their wounds. Today, many more children will be used and abused for, in, and by parties to armed conflict. These are the children that I represent today. These are the ones I bring to witness to this meeting.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This tragedy for children has been playing in slow motion, for dozens of years. We, as the international community, have acknowledged their plight. Twenty-five years ago, the world decided to take an important step acting together in attempting to protect children from the dreadful impact of hostilities, as the General Assembly, through Resolution 51/77, created the mandate of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict in December 1996, a position that I now occupy.

Recognizing the problem and putting in place diverse measures to understand the dynamics of this tragedy has raised awareness and assisted in mitigating and reducing threats to children. Practical engagement resulting from the past 25 years of this mandate has produced results for children: Over 170,000 children have been released from armed groups and armed forces; hundreds of commitments have been made by parties to conflict to end violations, including 37 Action Plans with the United Nations, of which 20 are currently under implementation; the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict by 172 States parties has become a demonstration that the international community does not believe that children belong in armed conflict; and, furthermore, member states have coalesced around a series of initiatives to act as preventive tools benefiting children, such as the Paris Principles, the Vancouver Principles and the Safe Schools Declaration.

Today, we need to continue to reflect on the needs of children and we need to acknowledge what was achieved and what still needs to be done to better protect children in these dire circumstances. For this reason, we accompany this event with the publication of the first study on the United Nations Children and Armed Conflict mandate since its inception in 1996, looking at challenges, gaps, successes, and opportunities while also recognizing the obstacles children will continue to face in the short and medium term as a result of conflict. I want to thank all the partners who helped us with this study: Member States, United Nations entities and civil society organizations. Most importantly, I want to thank those at the heart of the mandate -children- for their invaluable contribution to this study by allowing their voices to be heard.

Looking ahead, the study also charts a way forward to further strengthen the protection of children affected by armed conflict and galvanize international, national, and local support for the mandate’s goals. It is my wish that this event and this study will help us to pledge again our commitment to end and prevent violations against children in situations of armed conflict.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Ahead of us is an ambitious road map based on protection and prevention, collaboration, and reintegration. The centrality of protection and prevention in the work of the United Nations in recent years has enabled my mandate to increase its engagement with parties to conflict, bringing sustainable solutions and tangible results to better protect children. The CAAC mandate requires us to be proactive, and not solely reactive, to break the cycles of violence that continue to harm children daily. It obliges us to also work towards preventing these violations before they occur. The combination of a protection and prevention approach provides hope: in recent years, a record number of action plans, joint commitments and command orders have been either signed, issued, or updated with governments and armed groups—many provisions dealing with prevention and not just after-the-fact protection measures. This includes children’s rights and protection in conflict prevention and post-conflict recovery activities, as well as vital peacebuilding planning and strategies, in line with the Security Council’s calls for the mandate to additionally incorporate prevention in its work.

The interconnected nature of our world has become ever more visible over the last two years with the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrating that we need to work together to solve major problems. The CAAC mandate was always meant to be one of collaboration. Member States, international and regional organizations, the United Nations entities, and civil society organizations, working with communities and children affected by conflict, all have a critical role to play in both preventing and addressing child rights violations and in responding to the needs of survivors. Such continuous, proactive, and collaborative work brings results. We have seen the proof of that in many conflict situations such as in the Central African Republic, the Philippines. the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Colombia, to name a few. The opportunity is there to do more, and we must seize the momentum we have, for the future of conflict-affected children also depends on our capacity to work together effectively.

Securing not only the release of children from armed forces and groups, but also their sustainable reintegration back into their communities should be everyone’s priority. Not only is reintegration a humanitarian and human rights imperative, it also is a strategic investment in sustainable peace and in the development of our societies. Through the Global Coalition for Reintegration of Child Soldiers, co-chaired by my office and UNICEF, we have striven to shed light on the importance of a long-term and sustainable reintegration approach, including adequate resourcing, while listening to children’s voices and unique needs.

Lastly, it is our responsibility to ensure that reliable and verified information continues to be collected and reported upon, and for this we need to support and strengthen our child protection experts within our country task forces for monitoring and reporting. We also need to remain vigilant and responsive to changing situations, such as the cross-border nature of armed conflict and the gender dimensions in the grave violations we report on. I call today on the international community to continue to support our child protection capacity on the ground through supporting our partners from UNICEF, DPO and DPPA – all her today – and to support us in improving our data collection and analysis so that engagement can be rapid and focused, to better prevent and end violations against children.

Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen,

Allow me to conclude by addressing those at the heart of the CAAC mandate. To Aisha, who will speak in a few minutes, to Mohamed, Kaba, Junior, Maryem, Grace, Peter, Jenny, and all the other children who have addressed our fora in the past, and to the millions of other conflict-affected children who perhaps do not know of our existence. We stand by you. We all believe in you. We might have failed you in the past but give us the opportunity to assist you today and in the future. We have come a long way in ensuring that you and all children affected by conflict are better protected from the ravages of war, but we know we must do more and do better. We owe it to you. For this reason, today I recommit my office to Act to protect you. The international community is with you. I promise you that through collaboration, engagement, and persistence, we will continue to work to fulfill the promise made 25 years ago and ensure that you, and all children, are better protected from armed conflict. You deserve no less.

Thank you.