To the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict
New York - 20 November 2001
Madame President, Distinguished Delegates:
The draft resolution before you today represents another step forward in making the world a safer place for every child.
It is in keeping with past actions by the Council - actions that have greatly elevated the relevance of child rights to the quest for international peace and security - and opened new opportunities for improving standards for child protection while strengthening humanitarian assistance. Statement
As all of us are only too well aware, today's debate on children and armed conflict was to have convened almost exactly two months ago, in the midst of the General Assembly Special Session for Children.
The world is a very different place because of what occurred on September 11th. International relations are marked by a new uncertainty and a heightened sense of vulnerability.
But as the Secretary-General has observed, we can take heart in the international community's strong reaffirmation of collective action in defense of that most basic of human rights - the right of all people to live in peace and security.
Madame President, the goal of a just and peaceful world is rooted in the dignity and worth of the human person - and it begins with children and the realisation of their rights. Each of us has the power to help build that world - and the Council and its members have set an example by working to ensure that the best interests of children are central to peace-making, peacekeeping and peace-building.
The draft Resolution today builds upon the two previous measures on the issue - 1261 and 1314 - as well as the Council's earlier Resolutions on protection of civilians; on women, peace and security; and on the threat of HIV/AIDS.
These measures are a testament to what the UN does best - changing attitudes through incremental developments, establishing standards for what is right and just; and making their implementation obligatory.
The issue of child soldiers is a prime example.
As recently as five years ago, understanding and awareness of the issue was limited. Recruitment of children was usually carried out with little or no notice - and with complete impunity.
Yet the world now has in force an international legal standard - the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which raises the age of recruitment and prohibits the involvement of children under the age of 18 in hostilities.
The recruitment of children is defined as a war crime in the Rome Statute for the establishment of an International Criminal Court, which will challenge impunity, especially where children are victimised.
And under the terms of the draft Resolution before the Council, those who recruit or use children in violation of international obligations will be brought to the attention of the Council by the Secretary-General, who would be called upon to prepare reports as necessary.
Madame President, this is a crucial step in the campaign to end the recruitment of children for armed combat and their use as soldiers. It is a sign of serious and continuing commitment - and it is UNICEF's hope that all members of the Security Council will continue to demonstrate that commitment by urging all States to sign and ratify the new Optional Protocol.
Let me also commend the members of the Council - especially President Durrant - for inviting a young person from Sierra Leone to address us today. Alhaji Sawaneh's presence is a reminder not only of the suffering that children endure in armed conflict - but also of the contribution that they can make by participating in the realisation of their own rights.
Today in Sierra Leone, children are doing just that. Building on the recommendations and guidance of this Council, UNICEF has developed guidelines to promote children's participation and to protect their rights in the truth-seeking and reconciliation process. The same expertise is being used to address similar challenges in East Timor and Burundi.
Despite such hopeful steps, access to children caught up in situations of conflict remains a major problem. Most child fatalities in armed conflict occur not as a direct result of violence, but because children are denied access to such essential services as health care, food security and clean water.
I know that this fact was underlined earlier this year, when Council members visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo and saw evidence to back up a study that showed that of 2.5 million excess civilian deaths in the eastern DRC, one-third were children under the age of five.
Madame President, if UNICEF and its partners on the ground are to continue our efforts to save the lives of children and their families, we must have safe and unobstructed access to them. Resolution 1314 calls for unhindered access to children affected by armed conflict. Today's measure would reiterate that call with renewed urgency - and make explicit reference to internally displaced populations.
We thank the Council for endorsing this imperative in its resolution - and we urge you to keep up the pressure in all country-specific undertakings.
Today's draft Resolution also calls upon parties to armed conflict to collaborate in Days of Immunization and other opportunities for the safe and unhindered delivery of basic necessary services. This year, UNICEF and its partners have been able to carry out successful National Immunisation Days for polio eradication in Angola, Somalia, DRC, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Afghanistan, among others.
In doing so, we have been able to show that, even conflict need not be an obstacle to fundamental development imperatives where political will exists. But let us not forget that these are partial steps toward securing full, safe and unhindered access to children in situations of conflict.
In this connection, Madame President, I want to point out that later today, UNICEF and the International Football Federation (FIFA), joined by the Secretary-General - will launch an initiative to dedicate the 2002 World Cup to children. Part of this effort will be to call upon warring parties around the world to take special measures during the World Cup to ensure humanitarian access to children.
Let me also say how gratifying it is to see the issue of HIV/AIDS addressed so forthrightly in the draft Resolution. The call to ensure that all peacekeeping personnel receive appropriate guidance and training is a vital follow-up to Resolution 1308. And the request that the UN System integrate HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention, care and support into humanitarian programmes is both appropriate and timely.
UNICEF has been working closely with the other Co-Sponsoring Organisations of UNAIDS to advance policies, strategies and action in this important area following last year's International Conference on War-Affected Children in Winnipeg, and in line with the recommendations of Graça Machel's progress report.
Clearly, we have an immense task before us. We know from surveys on the ground, in conflict-affected countries, that levels of awareness of HIV/AIDS - and how to prevent it - are very low.
We know, too, that girls and women in conflict situations are extremely vulnerable because of sexual violence perpetrated by armed forces and rebel groups, camp police, and displaced men and boys. Research has shown that, in conflict areas, men and boys often talk about violence against girls and women as normal and acceptable behaviour.
In line with the draft Resolution, UNICEF will continue to seek to protect children from all forms of sexual violence - and to include HIV/AIDS education as part of all emergency education programmes, with particular attention devoted to the needs of demobilised child soldiers.
Madame President, in Afghanistan, the international community is confronting a crisis in which the survival of millions of children and women hinges on an immediate and coordinated response. UNICEF recently estimated that without an adequate humanitarian response, over 100,000 children could die during the winter - which is why we are urgently seeking short-term assistance in the form of continued funding, access to those in need, and security for humanitarian staff.
But much more is needed if we are to ensure the long-term well-being of the children of Afghanistan and the sustainable protection of their rights.
A major priority, Madame President, is education, with an emphasis on education for girls.
Only education can equip girls with the confidence to make the most of their abilities; provide a forum for changing attitudes about violence while promoting equality; and help put young women on a path to economic empowerment - a position from which they can better protect themselves from gender-based violence.
In post-war situations - and even during conflict - education provides an environment of relative stability and normalcy for children. It offers an alternative to recruitment. And in affording them opportunities to learn, education gives children a chance to gain basic skills that will allow them to work, to contribute to society and, in time, to support their own families.
Other key priorities are child protection in all areas of recovery, with an emphasis on landmine awareness - and the full participation of women in peace-building efforts.
Madame President, with the Afghan crisis at a critical juncture, it is imperative to ensure that children's rights and interests are fully addressed in the political processes that are currently under way. UNICEF's special coordinator for Afghanistan and the sub-region and his staff is working to accomplish this at field level.
Those efforts are being complemented by the collaboration of UNICEF and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, Mr. Olara Otunnu, at the global level - and in particular, through the Integrated Mission Task Force for Afghanistan (IMTF). This is only one example of how UNICEF and the office of the Special Representative work together on a daily basis to advocate for the protection of children in conflict situations.
To reach these goals, we will require assistance from bilateral donors and international financial institutions. At the moment, adequate resources are lacking, especially in post-conflict situations where the transition from humanitarian relief to development has faltered.
We also know that without long-term support - including education and vocational training for children - instability will increase, giving rise to renewed conflict.
The Council's draft Resolution pledges to put children at the centre of recovery and rehabilitation efforts - and whether in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone or the Great Lakes Region, I can assure you that UNICEF and its partners both within and outside the UN System, will do everything to make that a reality.
Madame President, the work of UNICEF is inspired by a vision of a world where leaders use their power and influence to assure that every child grows to adulthood in health, peace and dignity.
It is a goal set out in the draft outcome document for the Special Session on Children, which will convene in May - a document in which you, Madame President, have played a crucial guiding role in your capacity as Chairman of the Preparatory Committee - and for which I want to take this opportunity to extend my heartfelt thanks.
Madame President, Members of the Council: The central message of the draft outcome document is a challenge to all of us to assert leadership for children in every sphere of life - and I believe that, in the Resolution before you today, the Security Council has again risen to that challenge, and in so doing, affirmed that together we can truly change the world with children.
In conclusion, Madame President, it is my pleasure to introduce the next speaker, Alhaji Sawaneh of Sierra Leone. Alhaji, who became a child soldier after being abducted, spent two and a half years with the guerrilla group known as RUF, where he commanded one of several child combat units. He was later cared for by the group Caritas Makeni.
Alhaji, who at 14 is the youngest person ever to address a Security Council meeting, has a very special and important perspective on the issue of children and armed conflict, including the enormous - and largely untapped - contribution that young people themselves can make to the problem.