Statement by Virginia Gamba: Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict

Statement by Ms. Virginia Gamba
Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict
“Protecting Children Today Prevents Conflict Tomorrow”

9 July 2018

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Prime Minister Löfven,

Excellencies,
Executive Director Henrietta Fore
Civil society briefer Yenny Londoño
Members of the Security Council
Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the Secretary-General who is currently attending the African Union-United Nations Annual Conference in Addis Ababa, I would like to thank Sweden, and the Prime Minister, H.E. Mr Stefan Löfven, for taking the initiative of holding this debate.

In my own capacity, allow me to also thank Sweden for its exceptional role as Chair of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed conflict and their dedicated support to the children and armed conflict mandate. I also want to thank my close partners in particular, UNICEF, DKPO, DPA and civil society.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is the second time I have the honor to address the Security Council in the Chamber on the situation of children affected by armed conflict. Over the course of these past 13 months, I have had the opportunity to follow the outstanding work undertaken by child protection actors on the ground first hand. These dedicated men and women are at the forefront of documenting, addressing and preventing grave violations against children in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable. I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude for their commitment.

Notwithstanding their efforts, I am profoundly shocked by the appalling number of grave violations perpetrated against children last year. Over 21,000 violations were documented by the United Nations, representing a significant increase compared to last year. Each and every one of them led to unspeakable suffering for children, families and entire communities.

The majority of these despicable acts were perpetrated by armed groups although Government forces and unknown armed actors played an important part.

A sharp rise in the number of abductions coinciding with increased levels of recruitment and use of both girls and boys was of particular concern. In Somalia, Al-Shabaab abducted over 1,600 children by threatening entire communities or targeting schools as places for recruitment.

Surges in violence also resulted in elevated numbers of children killed and injured, including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq and Myanmar, while Boko Haram in Nigeria and in neighboring countries continued to attack both military and civilian targets by using children to perpetrate suicide attacks.

Schools and hospitals continued to be directly targeted or were damaged as a result of indiscriminate attacks in densely populated areas, denying tens of thousands of children access to education and healthcare. Similarly, broad-based denials of humanitarian access as well as attacks on humanitarian convoys and personnel cut off children from essential aid, further increasing their vulnerability.

I am also concerned that children allegedly associated with armed groups, particularly those using tactics of extreme violence, continued to be detained in harsh conditions, often without charge, and for extended periods of time. While those responsible for grave violations must be held to account, we also must not forget that children that have been recruited should be treated primarily as victims and that detention should be used only as a last resort and for the shortest period of time.

I feel strongly that rehabilitation and reintegration – and not retribution – must be the centerpiece of our efforts when engaging with these girls and boys. Urgent action is needed to address these issues if we want to live up to our legal and moral responsibilities.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Recent commitments by parties to conflict are a source of hope in this regard. Action plans have been adopted in the Central African Republic, Mali and Nigeria.

The full implementation of the action plan by the Government of Sudan as well as the advances made in the protection of children attained through the peace process in Colombia are a testament to what we can achieve when political will and international support coincide.

The Government of Iraq has set out to develop an action plan to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children by the Popular Mobilization Forces and the Coalition to restore legitimacy in Yemen established a child protection unit in its headquarters.

The ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict by the Government of the Central African Republic in 2017 has moved us one country closer to universal ratification.

Specific Member State initiatives, such as the ministerial conference organized by France to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Paris Principles and Commitments, the endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration by 15 states last year and the adoption of the Vancouver Principles, continued to shine a spotlight on the protection of children affected by armed conflict and catalyze support for this important agenda.

I firmly believe that we must build on these advances to move to an era of prevention.

Failing to assume this collective responsibility not only puts boys and girls at risk but may also reduce societies’ ability to overcome conflict and to build peace. Preventing violations against children must therefore be an integral part of any strategy to reach peaceful settlements and sustain them.

In this regard, I am happy to announce that following the Presidential Statement (S/PRST/2017/21) issued by this Council at last year’s open debate, my Office commenced a consultative process with United Nations partners to compile good practices and develop practical guidance on the integration of child protection issues in peace processes. I am glad to benefit from the support of the Government of Sweden in this regard, and I would like to thank Prime Minister Löfven for this.

The tools that will be developed as the result of this process will aim at enhancing our ability to mainstream children’s issues in such processes to give early guarantees for the protection and reintegration of children, which may also serve to build confidence between negotiating parties.

I am also encouraged by the process undertaken by the Government of Sudan to develop a broad national strategy to prevent grave violations against children, building on the gains of its action plan. Replicating this initiative with Governments, as well as regional and subregional actors, is a promising strategy to foster a child protection architecture focused on prevention and ensure common approaches and standards.

Finally, the resolution adopted by this council just a few minutes ago provides child protection actors with political space to engage parties to conflict at an early stage and is thus a milestone in our common journey to make violations against children a thing of the past.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Moving towards an era of prevention also requires the provision of adequate resources.

Over 10,000 children were formally released from armed forces or groups last year and over 12,000 children affected by conflict were reached by reintegration support provided by UNICEF and partners. These 12,000 boys and girls have been given an opportunity to overcome their traumatic past and become forces for peace within their communities.

However, many children formerly associated with parties to conflict left through informal pathways. They often live in a state of heightened vulnerability and are in urgent need of support. We must ensure that actors in the field are provided with predictable, sustained and flexible funding enabling them to react to immediate reintegration needs and sustain these efforts. I am currently working together with UNICEF and other child protection actors to further promote this idea.

Equally, there is a need to continue prioritizing child protection capacity to translate resources and opportunities into results, including by requesting adequate capacity in mandates of relevant peace operations.

In this regard, I am encouraged that regional actors, such as the African Union and NATO have strengthened their child protection capacity and look forward to engaging with other regional and subregional organizations over the course of the coming months to strengthen child protection frameworks.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The level and severity of violations which fill the pages of the latest annual report of the Secretary-General serves as a reminder that we must work in unison to change the tide of history. We cannot further jeopardize our most precious resource through inaction, but must increase our efforts to develop preventive tools, utilize reintegration strategically to break cycles of violence and address the cross-border nature of violations through increased cooperation.

I began my speech by painting a grim picture of several situations of conflict and could have mentioned many more. And yet, we must not leave this chamber today in despair. The resolution adopted today is a further step in strengthening the framework of child protection provided by this council, which has given us the tools to engage in ways which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

Our capacity to jointly put these tools to work will decide the fate of thousands of children and ultimately whether we are able to move closer to end the use and abuse of children in, for and by armed conflict, forever.

Thank you.

You can read the annual report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict here