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Press Conference by Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict

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

12 October 2010

Recent releases of thousands of child soldiers showed that that attention to the plight of children in armed conflict had made an impact, but stronger action was needed to deal with persistent violators, sexual violence and reintegration, the top United Nations official on the issue said this afternoon.

Ahead of her presentation to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) tomorrow, Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said that the Security Council’s listing of armed groups that abused children, had borne fruit, but measures must be taken to deal with those that had been listed year after year.

“Unless the Security Council shows its teeth, the great purpose of the listing actions will be left behind,” she said, urging that targeted sanctions be considered to deal with persistent perpetrators in order to end impunity, particularly in cases where groups had been listed for five years or more.

In order to deal with all such challenges, she said she would also appeal for those States that had not yet done so to sign the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, one of two optional texts that strengthen the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

She said the report she was presenting to the Third Committee tomorrow outlined some of the successes of the past year, in particular the release of some 3,000 children from Maoist cantonments in Nepal, and agreements reached with groups in the Sudan and the Philippines.

In Burundi, she said, children connected with the National Liberation Front had been released, and all of them had been reintegrated into civilian life. In addition, for the first time, listings of child-rights violators in the annex of Security Council reports included parties that abused, killed and maimed children.

Sexual violence still remained a brutal reality that severely affected children, she said. At the Third Committee, she would support action to address impunity and stress that, for action to be sustainable, it must be nationally owned. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it was particularly important to work with the Government to ensure accountability and to respond to the needs of survivors.

She planned to appeal to the Assembly for Member States to facilitate contact with non-State actors involved in conflicts to discuss the plight of children. She would also appeal for resources to allow the long-term reintegration of children who had been involved in armed groups, which required at least two years of programmes, and without which they could be recruited again or join street gangs, she warned.

Other concerns addressed in the annual report on the work of her office included the increasing attacks on schools around the world, including attacks on women and girl teachers and students, and the increasingly blurred line between civilians and combatants, for which it was important to refine rules of engagement, at least for official armed forces, to limit heavy artillery, protect schools and hospitals, and take all precautions possible before air assaults, among other measures.

Noting that children in conflict could be brought before courts as both victims and perpetrators of crimes, she said that the issue of children and justice was emerging as another major concern. It was important that the Beijing rules of juvenile justice be applied, and that detention of juveniles was oriented more towards rehabilitation than punishment.

Further concerns included the lack of education of children in conflict areas, where fully one third of children missing primary school were found, she said, adding that she would appeal for priority funding for that issue. In addition, she would put forward a working paper on internally displaced children in the coming year, in the effort to get all partners on the ground to assure their rights, including the right to education, in the camps.

In response to questions, she said that the Democratic Republic of the Congo had facilitated access to non-State actors on its territory. There were problems, however, with Colombia and Myanmar, although recent discussions with the former country gave hope of some movement forward there.

Further, she was planning to visit Somalia, in part to raise the issue of the large number of children involved in piracy, which is of particular concern as justice mechanisms for piracy suspects were discussed. She strongly supported setting up such mechanisms, but commented that they must be in line with Beijing principles.

She said that talks in Yemen were making progress since the peace with some of the rebel groups and that means of reintegration of children was being discussed, although some armed groups continued to recruit children.

Regarding camps for internally displaced persons, she said the aim was to ensure a set of rights, but there was no “cookie-cutter” method of ensuring them. Asked about the children in Sri Lankan camps, she said that the focus had been on getting them released back to their families, some of which were in the camps. The situation was a serious concern and would be continue to be monitored. The United Nations would continue to support the children, but eventually must insist they be sent home.

She said there was hope that reintegration of ex-child soldiers in Nepal would be reintegrated smoothly, but the parties that had entered into action plans and released children should be recognized as having met certain international requirements. She added that the United Nations was advocating for bringing criminal cases against individuals accused of committing crimes against children there.

Asked about the case of Bosco Ntaganda, a former rebel commander charged with using child soldiers and war crimes by the International Criminal Court, she said that she had strongly advocated for his arrest and trial. The United Nations as a whole had the same policy, but had not able to arrest anyone anywhere in the world. She would not comment on photographs that allegedly showed him with peacekeepers.

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For information media • not an official record

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