New York, NY, 12 February 2008
Mr. President, Honorable Ministers, distinguished delegates, good morning. I am very pleased to join you today as the Security Council turns its attention once again to the situation of children affected by armed conflict. UNICEF welcomes the Security Council’s ongoing concern with the grave violations against children in situations of armed conflict.
I commend my colleague, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, for her work in helping to draw global attention to the impact on children in situations of armed conflict.
It is fitting that we gather today on the sixth anniversary of the entry into force of the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. States which have not done so should be urged to sign, ratify and fully implement the Optional Protocol.
The Secretary-General’s report helps highlight the harsh reality of what children undergo in countries affected by armed conflict. Children continue to suffer from the horrors of war. Children often cope with trauma, violence, the loss of family, homes and community, and many have been killed or maimed even long after conflict has come to an end.
As highlighted in the Secretary-General’s report, children are all too often victims of indiscriminate weapons, such as cluster munitions. Children must be protected from the effects of these and other indiscriminate weapons.
Children also suffer from the indirect impact of war through a resurgence in preventable diseases such as malaria, measles, diarrhea and respiratory infections. Recent data shows that conflict and post conflict countries have some of the highest rates of under-five mortality.
Conflict and strife often break down public health services and contribute to food insecurity, population displacement and continued insecurity. Rehabilitation of key services and infrastructure requires security and political stability.
An essential part of re-establishing normalcy for children affected by conflict is to ensure that they have access to schools. When entire communities are in a state of upheaval, schools can provide a safe haven and a sense of normalcy. It is therefore vital that their sanctity be protected.
In Afghanistan, as noted in the report, schools have been deliberately targeted in the ongoing hostilities. The misuse, occupation or attacks against schools are some of the worst violations against children in situations of armed conflict. It is also a violation of one of the most basic principles of the laws of war – that civilian sites must be protected.
Mr. President, UNICEF has a long history in advocating and assisting in the release and reintegration of children used by armed forces and groups. We know from experience that it is possible to reintegrate these children, especially when they are provided with assistance and skills needed to become positive and productive members of society.
Yet reintegration is a difficult and long-term process, requiring patience and long-term commitment. Throughout the past several years, UNICEF country offices have worked with States and Non-State Actors who have recruited and used children, in order to bring an end to this abhorrent practice.
The Secretary-General’s report references UNICEF’s engagement in Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire and Sudan. The 2007 Paris Commitments help reinforce international consensus on the unlawful recruitment and use of children in armed conflict. These commitments also reiterate measures States can take to protect children involved in hostilities, and help reintegrate them with their families and communities. States should be urged to endorse the Paris Commitments.
Girls and women in conflict situations are extremely vulnerable because of sexual violence perpetrated by armed forces and groups, and at times even from the very people entrusted with providing protection. Sexual violence is often used as a weapon of war and there must be greater focus and attention on this issue.
Allow me to share with you one story as told by a 14-year-old girl in Liberia. She said, quote: “The attackers tied me up and raped me because I was fighting. About five of them did the same thing to me until one of their commanders who knew my father came and stopped them, but also took me to make me his wife. I just accepted him because of fear.”
We need to put an end to the abuse, the rapes and the sexual violence.
UNICEF welcomes the efforts of the Security Council’s Working Group on children and armed conflict. In a relatively short period of time, the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism has produced positive results for children on the ground by focusing on grave violations in six categories: abductions of children; recruitment for combat; sexual violence; attacks on schools and hospitals; killing and maiming of children; and denial of humanitarian access.
More must be done to better monitor, prevent and respond to these violations. It is critical that the “best interest of the child” be the guiding principle of the monitoring and reporting mechanism, rising above all other considerations. The purpose of the mechanism is to monitor, report and respond to the situation of child victims of conflict in order to reduce the occurrence of grave violations against children, enhance accountability of perpetrators and prevent further grave violations in situations of armed conflict.
Children continue to bear the brunt of conflict. But they also demonstrate resilience and capacity to overcome the violence around them. Their energy and strong desire to end conflict can be a catalyst for peace building within their communities.
We have heard some of these young voices in a compilation of stories and recommendations from conflict zones titled “Will you listen.” The compilation was launched last year on October 17 as a supplement to the 10-year Graça Machel Strategic review, which was submitted to the General Assembly. Many of these children and youth spoke of the important role they play in providing change, and of the need to act swiftly.
As a young woman from Colombia said:
“We ARE the future and people should be aware of that. Right now, we are inheriting a very unstable world.”
Mr. President, Your Excellencies, let us keep these words in mind as we move forward with a shared sense of urgency in helping to build a better and safer world for our children.
Thank you very much.