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Statement by Ms. Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Virtual Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict 23 June 2020

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Monsieur le Président,

Mesdames, Messieurs les membres du Conseil de sécurité,

Mme la Directrice exécutive de l’UNICEF,

Chère Mariam,

Excellences et chers collègues,

Au nom du Secrétaire général, je tiens à remercier la France d’avoir organisé ce débat public sur les enfants et les conflits armés. Je salue le rôle important que la France a joué dans la création de ce mandat et son soutien continu à celui-ci.

[English]

Mr. President

Before I turn to the content of this year’s report, I would like to mention three positive developments on the children and armed conflict agenda in 2019.

Firstly, through the direct engagement of the United Nations on the ground, supported by my office, parties to conflict have adopted over 30 action plans, roadmaps, command orders and other measures to better protect children, including in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen; others have recommitted to action plans such as in Somalia and the Sudan. This is the highest number of measures mutually agreed in any one year. At the same time, while accountability continued to be slow, perpetrators in several situations have been prosecuted for violations against children such as in Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.

Secondly, the search for peace during 2019 yielded seven different peace dialogues and processes in children and armed conflict situations, such as the one in the Central African Republic. The Guidelines developed by my office on ways in which to include child protection language in peace processes and presented to this Council in February are now beginning to be applied.

And thirdly, during 2019, following UN advocacy, including within the context of peace agreements, some 13,200 children were released from parties to conflict.

Mr. President,

I am now turning to the report before you under the symbol S/2020/525. The number of grave violations verified by the United Nations, although showing a decrease from the previous year, remains very high. Much more work needs to be done to bring these figures down. I ask Member States and parties to conflict to put child protection at the center of their action. In 2019, actual violations committed against children amounted to 24,422 but our monitoring teams were also able to late verify 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. Country task forces conduct late verifications when access to children has improved, often as a result of enhanced engagement with parties, increased capacity and security improvements.

7, 747 children were verified in 2019 as having been recruited and used, including 668 late verifications, the vast majority attributable to non-State actors. On a positive note, action plans and enhanced engagement led to increased access to verify the presence of children within the ranks of conflict parties, and to the release of those found. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic hundreds of children were released as a direct result of engagement by the United Nations with parties.

In 2019, while a decrease in child casualties was verified, resulting from mitigation measures in the conduct of military operations, action plans put in place and/or peace processes, the erosion of respect for international humanitarian law still led to high numbers of children killed and maimed. 10,173 child casualties were verified during 2019, including 534 late verifications, a decrease of nearly 2,000 casualties as contrasted with previous years. Killing and maiming remains the highest verified violation in the annual report.

Lastly, there also was a decrease in children abducted. Over 1,600 children were verified as having been abducted during 2019 mostly by armed groups, a considerable decrease. My office is preparing a technical guidance note to better assist our country task forces in monitoring and reporting on this violation. I encourage the United Nations system, and international and regional bodies, within their respective mandates, to continue to work to better understand and address this issue.

Mr. President,

While measures put in place, peace dialogues and enhanced engagement by child protection actors have led to decreases in some violations, this has not been the case for all of them, starting with sexual violence, including rape. During 2019, over 730 cases of sexual violence were verified. However, this violation continues to be disturbingly under-reported, including when perpetrated against boys. This is due to 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 violations and seeking justice. More disturbing still, the number of cases attributed to state actors and non-state actors are similar, despite an increasing number of parties having signed commitments with the United Nations to end this violation; and yet numbers seem not to be dropping. Stronger accountability mechanisms and systematic care services for survivors are needed to decisively address this scourge. It is also critical for armed forces to strengthen their training for the prevention of this violation and that, nationally, prevention is adequately reflected in legislation criminalizing sexual violence.

I am equally troubled by the persistent high number of attacks on schools, hospitals and protected personnel. In 2019 monitors were able to verify 930 attacks and verified attributions to State forces doubled. I call on all parties to respect the civilian nature of school and health infrastructures. State armed forces have a specific duty to protect them. I recall in this context the Safe Schools Declaration and encourage States to endorse and implement its Guidelines. When schools are used for military purposes, their sanctity as safe spaces is eroded and teachers and students are at risk of attack. The targeting of schools by armed groups using extreme violence needs to be better understood in order to engage in effective prevention. Equally, we need to explore the linkages between attacks on health facilities and COVID-19 lockdowns, which might be a disturbing new trend.

Mr. President,

In 2019, 4,400 incidents of denial of humanitarian access to children were verified, an increase of over 400% from 2018 and, indeed, previous years. Overwhelmingly, this is the violation showing the greatest increase in 2019, with most denials attributed to non-state actors. Violence against humanitarian workers, assets and facilities included amongst other killings, abduction, assaults and arbitrary detention. I plead for States and armed groups to facilitate the access of humanitarian workers to deliver much needed assistance to children.

Finally, I would like to highlight my serious concern over the detention of more than 2,500 children for their actual or alleged association with armed groups, including those designated as terrorist by the United Nations, and on national-security charges. States must treat these children primarily as victims. Detention should be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible period, with respect for their fundamental rights, due process and international juvenile justice standards.

Mr. President,

With the support of the Security Council, we have achieved much but not nearly as much as we need to. Here I wish to make a special plea to all Member States: The Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism is only as strong as the resources and capacities available for its functioning. Well trained, specialized and dedicated child protection advisers in peace operations, as well as in UNICEF country offices, are essential to ensure that the mandate is effective. If Member States want to assist in better protecting children, resources must be provided to maintain and strengthen child protection capacity on the ground. The Council and the Fifth Committee should ensure when a new peacekeeping or political mission is set up or the budget of existing missions is negotiated that enough child protection capacity is mandated and retained. I further plea for increasing the financial support to UNICEF to be able to conduct their children and armed conflict mandated functions as well as their other child protection work on the ground.

I wish to end my statement by talking about the children. Behind these figures are boys and girls with stolen childhoods and shattered dreams, and there are families and communities torn apart by violence and suffering. The only thing children and communities have in common today is their hope for peace, a better life and a better future. We must rise to meet that expectation. We can do this by engaging all parties to ensure a better protection for conflict affected children, by pleading for their immediate release and by assisting them in their reinsertion back to normal life. Here, the efforts of all Groups of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict can make a real difference.

Another way to assist is through supporting effective reintegration programmes as called for in resolution 2427 (2018) and the Paris Principles and Guidelines on children associated with armed forces and armed groups. Reintegration programmes must be long-term and sustainable, must be gender- and age-sensitive, and must provide children with access to health care, mental health, psycho-social support, education and vocational training, civil registry and access to justice. I call on States to endorse and implement the Paris Principles and Guidelines to make reintegration a reality for children and I encourage them to join our advocacy for adequate and sustainable child reintegration, including through the Global Coalition for the Reintegration of Child Soldiers which I launched in 2018, together with UNICEF and other key actors, some of whom are here today including your country, Mr. President, who is co-chair of the Group of Friends of Reintegration.

I further ask your assistance to roll out the campaign “Act to Protect Children Affected by Armed Conflict”, which was launched last year, and I look forward to working with all of you to find opportunities to roll out this campaign.

Mr. President,

We find ourselves looking back at another year of challenges in the quest for better protecting children in conflict. We need to deliver concrete results and I count on all of you to support this work. We must advocate for children, like Mariam, who will speak to you today through the good offices of Save the Children, we must support our child protection experts and advisors; we must strive for dialogue and peace; and we must support UNICEF and its civil society partners in reintegration efforts so that children can move away from conflicts that they neither started nor chose.

Let us give children a real chance at childhood. Let us give children the ability to dream again.

I thank you.