PRESS CONFERENCE BY SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR CHILDREN AND ARMED CONFLICT
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
8 February 2007
Military camps in the Sudan would be opened to monitors from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and child protection officers from the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS), so as to verify compliance with child recruitment agreements, according to an understanding reached between the United Nations and a wide range of Sudanese military groups, Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.
Resolution 1612 (2005), passed by the Security Council two years ago, established a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the involvement of children in armed conflict, said Ms. Coomaraswamy, who had embarked on a seven-day mission to the Sudan at the end of January, at the Council’s request.
There, the Special Representative, who was accompanied by Rima Salah, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, met with officials in Khartoum and all signatories and non-signatories of the Darfur Peace Agreement -- save the Janjaweed -- during which she had sought their assurance to halt the recruitment of children as soldiers.
She reported that the parties with whom she had made contact expressed a desire to develop an action plan to demobilize child soldiers, which was a prerequisite to their removal from the Security Council’s list of groups that recruit and use child soldiers. A typical action plan would have child soldiers identified, verified and released into United Nations transit centres, and would be produced with the help of UNICEF.
The Special Representative was cautious not to declare her mission an outright success, emphasizing that years of conflict had produced a clear erosion of the social fabric in Juba and Darfur, which could stand in the way of implementation. “Social control …was not present. As a result, there was a lot of impunity and non-accountability,” she said.
According to Ms. Coomaraswamy, communities were also ill-equipped to absorb child soldiers who were demobilized, leading many to return to the armed forces where they seemed to enjoy a clearer sense of status and belonging. As a result of the finding, it had been decided that UNICEF would conduct a study to determine the types of social services needed to ensure that children were better rooted in the community upon leaving the military.
While in Juba, she said she had also noted the burgeoning number of orphans and street children throughout the Sudan, saying it would require programmatic intervention by the United Nations.
Meanwhile, ending sexual violence against children had been the second area of concern for her mission, she said, telling correspondents that task forces at the national and state level had been set up for launching training and awareness-raising campaigns among all military personnel, whether of the Government, rebel groups or the United Nations itself. The task forces would also be responsible for the prosecution of crimes, and Khartoum’s top prosecution team would soon be sent to Jordan for training.
However, Ms. Coomaraswamy acknowledged the inherent problems of holding perpetrators accountable, when a large number of them -- especially rebels -- felt no allegiance to the State apparatus, saying that the actions would be limited to raising awareness and suggesting guidelines for dealing with perpetrators. For instance, as a positive step, assurances had been received from Vice-President Reyak Mashar that, if talks took place with the Lord’s Resistance Army under his mediation, he would keep women and children high on the agenda. A UNICEF staff member would join his technical team to assist with the issue.
Queried by reporters on how many children were affected, Ms. Coomaraswamy said it was difficult to ascertain the exact number, but her visits to the women’s section of the camps in Darfur had made the need for intervention very plain. “There was very much a hostility expressed towards the United Nations, saying ?Why are you not here? Why is nobody protecting us?’” Hopefully, a list of groups that committed acts of sexual violence against children would be established and monitored by the Security Council, similar to that on groups that recruit and use child soldiers.
Though the working group’s initial concerns were on child soldiers and sexual exploitation of female children, the Special Representative said it had become clear during her trip that protection of humanitarian workers in Darfur, resulting from the “huge” security vacuum there, merited great attention, since, without a minimum threshold of security, entire areas would remain out of bounds to international monitors or humanitarian workers.
One nomadic tribe in particular had voiced frustration at their perceived marginalization by humanitarian agencies, and Ms. Coomarswamy said she had gotten a sense of the discrimination and marginalization they felt, at least by humanitarian agencies. Those agencies, of course, could not go into those communities because of the security threat.
Ms. Coomarswamy also said she was happy that many countries had signed on to the Paris Principles during the conference on child soldiers that had taken place from 5 to 6 February. The Principles detailed a set of guidelines for protecting children from recruitment and for providing assistance to those involved with armed groups.
“The whole issue is really one of children displaced and brutalized by conflict, and how you make a better life for them,” Ms. Coomaraswamy said. She is expected to brief the Secretary-General of her findings next week, followed by a briefing to the Security Council’s working group in the spring.
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For information media • not an official record
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