|Former child soldier Ishmael Beah holds up the Paris Commitments at the end of the historic ‘Free Children from War’ conference in Paris.|
By Dan Thomas
PARIS, France, 6 February 2007 – Fifty-eight countries represented at a high-level conference in Paris today committed themselves to stopping the unlawful recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts.
Concluding the two-day ‘Free Children from War’ conference, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy and UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah congratulated delegates on taking this historic step to protect boys and girls from getting caught up in adult wars.
“We commit ourselves to spare no effort to end the unlawful recruitment and use of children by armed forces or groups in all regions of the world,” Mr. Douste-Blazy told a packed final session. He also expressed deep concern on behalf of all delegates that girls continue to be overlooked in efforts to protect children, and he committed to help redress the imbalance.
|UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah said she was concerned about the future of children used in war.|
‘A long road ahead’
The Paris Commitments, as they are now known, lay out detailed guidelines for protecting children from recruitment and for providing assistance to those already involved with armed groups or forces. They will complement the political and legal mechanisms already in place at the UN Security Council, the International Criminal Court and other bodies trying to protect children from exploitation and violence.
“Fifty-eight countries, 70 inter-governmental organizations and 30 non-governmental organizations – experts and grassroots actors – we are all concerned,” said Ms. Salah in her concluding remarks. “Concerned by the shame of seeing children used for war. Concerned about the future of these children who are too often forgotten – these boys and girls considered by their recruiters to be expendable.”
Later Ms. Salah added: “We are very excited to see so much political commitment to tackling this issue. We know it is a long road ahead of us and it will require long-term commitment and support, but we truly hope this marks the beginning of the end for the use of children in warfare.”
Preventing child recruitment
The conference, which was jointly organized by the French Government and UNICEF, attracted dozens of government ministers, donors, the heads of several UN agencies – including UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman – and many non-governmental organizations.
|French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy announcing the Paris Commitments at the conclusion of the ‘Free Children from War’ conference.|
Earlier today, UNICEF UK Ambassador for Humanitarian Emergencies Martin Bell chaired a discussion on strategies to prevent the recruitment or use of children by armed forces.
Speakers included Burundian Minister Francoise Ngendahayo; Luxembourg’s Deputy Prime Minister, Jean Asselborn; the Manager of the World Bank’s Conflict Prevention and Reconstruction Unit, Ian Bannon; the President of Terre Des Hommes, Lysiane Andre; and Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo from the International Criminal Court.
French children’s petition
At a reception at the French Foreign Ministry on Monday night, children and UNICEF France President Jacques Hintzy presented Mr. Douste-Blazy with a petition that included more than 235,000 signatures collected by children and UNICEF volunteers across France. The petition calls for the liberation of child soldiers and more financial support for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes for children caught in conflict.
The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, promised to take some of the signatures back to the United Nations.
“This petition is very symbolic,” she said, “because it is not only government that is making a pledge but at the grassroots the people in France feel very strongly about this issue, and they want the government and the international community to take note and take action.”
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