29 April 2009 • New York, NYMadame President, Mr. Secretary General, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen, good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to join you today as the Security Council discusses the situation of children affected by armed conflict.
UNICEF appreciates the engagement and dedication of the Security Council to the matter of Children affected by Armed Conflict and of the Secretary-General for his continuous, and personal, interest and commitment to the issue of children affected by conflict.
The Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, has been unrelenting and very effective in her work on behalf of children affected by armed conflict. A special appreciation also for the leadership of the Government of Mexico on the issue of children in armed conflict. This collective engagement, at the highest possible level, is making a real difference in the lives of children by serving as a strong platform for advocacy and responses for boys and girls in conflict situations.
Millions of children around the world continue to be impacted by armed conflict.
In fact, for many, conflict is all they know. Too often, children see their childhoods drift into turmoil, their family and friends killed, and their lives, health and well-being at risk.
Sadly this is the situation for many children in Sri Lanka. It comes as no surprise that under 5 mortality rates are among the highest in conflict affected countries.
Children are not only the unintended victims of war, they are in some cases directly targeted.
The Secretary General’s reports produced by the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism established by the Security Council bear witness to this. Each of the incidents reported represent a personal tragedy. I have met girls who have been brutally raped by soldiers, and scarred for life, some of whom have contracted HIV and children who were recruited by armed groups and used as soldiers or sex slaves.
In places such as Afghanistan, schools have been attacked and teachers and particularly girl students have been targeted by horrendous acts.
When I visited Gaza earlier this year, I saw schools damaged or destroyed and children suffering from the trauma of violence and the loss of loved ones.
Sadly, as the report illustrates, disrespect for the sanctity of schools continues to be the situation in far too many countries.
Children remain the victims of the wars of adults. But there are also glimmers of hope. Just a few weeks ago, 342 children in Burundi were released after a year of joint advocacy by child protection partners. And since January 2009, around 1,200 children in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, have been released by armed groups and forces.
Dialogue on children’s issues with parties to conflict is an important element and has resulted in concrete commitments and Action Plans to prevent and end grave violations against children. The Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism has become a key component of UNICEF’s overall child protection strategy of enhancing the protective environment for children in situations of armed conflict.
Monitoring and reporting are also important tools in triggering effective responses and prevention activities.
UNICEF’s responses to children who are victims of grave violations include support for national child protection systems and survivors of sexual violence, along with rights training for armed forces personnel and reintegration of children used by armed forces.
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Geneva Conventions and the 20th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Just last December, UNICEF welcomed the adoption of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
Around 40 percent of all civilians killed or injured by cluster munitions are children.
Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and the first Security Council resolution on Children and Armed Conflict, namely, resolution 1261. These milestones have contributed to a stronger protection framework for children in armed conflict, and we must build on this momentum to do even more.
UNICEF welcomes the 8th Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict and we support its recommendations. I note in particular the recommendation to expand the triggers to be listed in the Annexes of the report, to parties who commit rape and other forms of sexual violence against children, and if possible, other grave violations, such as intentional killing and maiming. This development would be an important step forward, particularly to address sexual violence. It also sends a strong signal from the international community that perpetrators of grave violations, such as rape and sexual violence, must be held accountable for their crimes against children.
Though challenges lay ahead, progress has been made. UNICEF remains committed to working with, and for, children in armed conflict, including through continued efforts to monitor, report and respond to grave violations. Adherence to international humanitarian law and respect for children’s rights must be strengthened, and those who commit violations against children must be held accountable. Thank you.