Following a special meeting that they held in Dakar on Monday 21 July 2003 on the deteriorating situation in Liberia with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, Mr. Ould Abdallah, and the Executive Secretary of ECOWAS, Mr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Mr. Olara Otunnu, and UNICEF's Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Ms. Rima Salah, have issued the following joint statement:
DAKAR, MONROVIA, Tuesday, 22 July 2003. "We urgently appeal to the leaders of all parties involved in the conflict in Liberia to stop all hostilities immediately. We are deeply concerned by the dramatic deterioration of the situation in Monrovia and by the unacceptable mobilisation of children and women, in violation of all agreed international norms and standards. Some of the actions against children and women constitute crimes of war under the Statute of the International Criminal Court.
"All parties must apply fully and respect the international instruments concerning the protection of war-affected children, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols, the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and UN Security Council Resolutions 1261 (1991), 1314 (2000), 1379 (2001) and 1460 (2003). Children must be protected against all harm.
" Unless the fighting stops immediately, we risk a major human catastrophe in Liberia. The human suffering and desperation of the Liberian population calls for immediate action.
"We strongly appeal to the international community to proceed without any further delay with the deployment of the stabilisation force. We welcome the decision by ECOWAS to deploy West African troops to Liberia. We have agreed to work with ECOWAS to strengthen the capacity of their Child Protection Unit, including by seconding child protection advisers to work with the stabilisation mission proposed for Liberia.
"We cannot afford to wait one more day. The humanitarian community must obtain immediately unrestricted access to all parts of the country, 70 percent of which has been cut off from humanitarian assistance for several months. Negotiations are underway for humanitarian corridors and for cross border operations to allow us to reach the affected population throughout the Liberian territory.
"A key priority is the release of abductees, including forcibly recruited child soldiers. It is estimated that one out of every ten Liberian children may have been recruited at some time into the war effort both in Liberia and in neighbouring countries, contributing to the culture of violence that we are witnessing in the region.
"Besides forced recruitment into the armed groups, Liberian children and youth have suffered all forms of atrocities, sexual violence, disruption of schooling and forced displacement. Impunity for violations of children's rights must stop and children must be afforded protection, as is their legitimate right under international norms and standards.
"In the context of the Liberian peace negotiations underway in Accra, we appeal to the parties to ensure that the protection and rehabilitation of children is given priority in the talks and in the Accords.
For further information, please contact:
Margherita Amodeo, UNICEF Media, Dakar, Senegal
+221 869 58 42 or +221 569 19 26
Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Media, Geneva, Tel (+41) 22 909 5517
Gordon Weiss, UNICEF Media, New York, Tel (212) 326-7426
Jean Victor Nkolo, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
New York, Tel.: +1-212-9639879; Mob: +1-917-3788464