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Press Conference on Children and Armed Conflict

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

16 June 2010

Despite many successes over the past year in protecting children in situations of armed conflict, many challenges remained, senior United Nations officials in that field said at a Headquarters press conference today.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said one of those challenges was gaining access to non-State actors with whom her Office could negotiate action plans for the release of children recruited as combatants by armed groups. She was briefing on today’s Security Council’s open debate on children and armed conflict. (See Press Release SC/9956)

Accompanied by Hilde Johnson, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), she said non-State actors were sometimes reluctant to meet, while at other times, Governments opposed such meetings. “But how can we de-list them unless we can enter into some action plans with them?” she asked in reference to the process of “naming and shaming” child-rights violators by listing them on an annex to the Secretary-General’s annual report on the subject.

She said another challenge — and an area of utmost concern to her Office — was the growing frequency of attacks on schools and educational institutions around the world, especially those for girls. While some of the issues posed by such attacks could be dealt with by working with local communities, she called for a common strategy to effectively tackle such challenges.

She said she had told the Council that there had been some successes over the last year, the first of which had been the adoption of resolution 1882 (2009). (See Press Release SC/9722) That text had added to the “triggers” for naming and shaming parties that committed grave violations against children. Thus, in addition to the recruitment and use of children, the additional triggers were the killing and maiming of children, and sexual violence against children, both important parts of her Office’s work as well as that of UNICEF.

Ms. Coomaraswamy said she had initiated contacts to work closely with Margot Wallström, Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, and Patricia Sellers, former Prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and secure their help in putting in place the methodologies and structures to set the additional triggers in motion.

She said another success concerned the action plans themselves, among them the Nepalese Action Plan signed in February, and the Action Plan on Sudan. Only yesterday, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and several other groups in the country had agreed to commit to such action plans. Similarly, success had also been recorded in the Philippines with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, she said, adding that she looked forward to receiving donor funding for the purpose of reintegrating the children emerging from that process.

Expressing concern about the changing nature of warfare, she cited the phenomenon of child suicide bombers and how the international community dealt with that, as well as the denial of humanitarian access in certain areas, saying that humanitarian actors on the ground and at Headquarters were still trying to find answers. She was also concerned about aerial bombardments, which had resulted in deaths and casualties among children in Afghanistan. General Stanley McChrystal, Commander of United States and international forces in that country, had assured her that the protection of civilians was a central part of the military strategy, she recalled, observing, however, that while many positive changes had been made to give expression to that strategy, children continued to be killed, a great concerned for her Office.

Ms. Johnson agreed that the adoption of resolution 1882 (2009) had marked a breakthrough, noting that there was now a strong mandate under the Security Council for three triggers, whereby action plans must be developed. UNICEF, together with United Nations country teams and peacekeeping missions where such existed, had the main responsibility for overseeing the monitoring and reporting mechanism on child protection, without which no action could be taken.

“We have seen a lot of progress on paper and a lot of progress in terms of resolutions and mandates. Now we need to turn those mandates into action,” she said. “For that that to happen, the monitoring and reporting mechanism needs to be robust and strong enough to report adequately and with quality on those violations as well.” It was UNICEF’s ambition to scale up and strengthen across the board its capacity to respond to the two other triggers: killing and maiming; and sexual violence.

An additional area of concern to UNICEF was the increase in child recruitment in some countries, she said, painting a bleak picture of Somalia, the only country in the world where an entire generation had known only violence and conflict. It was a country where children born at the time of the Child Rights Convention’s entry into force had experienced nothing but armed conflict. “That illustrates the challenge that we have, and we’re still not seeing progress in Somalia,” she said. “We have tools and we need to make them work for every child, everywhere.”

In response to several questions, the two officials acknowledged that the issue of child soldiers and the use of children as suicide bombers was a difficult one because the recruiters targeted those not in a position either to refuse what they were directed to do or to understand fully the implications of their actions. That was why it was important to encourage both State and non-State actors to commit to the action plans and not involve children in wars or actions that endangered their lives due to ignorance or immaturity.

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For information media • not an official record

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