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Press centre


A Peace and Security Agenda for Children


New York, 12 February 1999

Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Mr. Sommaruga, Mr. Otunnu:

The actions pursued by the Security Council on the related themes of conflicts in Africa, promoting peace and humanitarian action have set the stage for today’s discussion on protecting civilians. UNICEF appreciates the significance of the Council’s attention to this issue – and we are grateful for the opportunity to speak to it as it relates to children and women.

Mr. President, in the space of just four years, the scope of UNICEF’s humanitarian activities has almost quadrupled – from 15 countries convulsed by conflict to some 55.

Our work in these places is closely coordinated with allied agencies and partners, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Programme, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, OCHA and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict – as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross and numerous other non-governmental organisations.

UNICEF is operational before, during and after armed conflicts. And so we have seen how the same children that we have helped nurture, immunise and educate are now being systematically targeted and brutalised – many of them recruited as killers, or pressed into service as porters and sexual slaves. Others end up maimed or psychologically traumatised.

Mr. President, this horrific abrogation of child rights is intolerable.

Yet simply saying so is not enough.

That is why the Security Council’s recent Presidential Statement on children and armed conflict is so important, for it has helped greatly elevate the relevance of these concerns to international peace and security – and opened new opportunities for improving standards for child protection while strengthening humanitarian assistance.

In this connection, Mr. President, I would like to suggest a series of elements that would make up A Peace and Security Agenda for Children:

1. We must end the use of children as soldiers.

Mr. President, over 300,000 children, girls as well as boys, have participated as combatants in the 30 most recent conflicts. Many are recruited – others abducted. Some join simply to survive. And many of these children, some less than 10 years old, have witnessed or taken part in acts of unspeakable violence, often against their own families or communities.

In establishing 18 as a minimum age for participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations, the UN set an important precedent, one aimed at ensuring the highest standards for the Organisation. The UN further recommended that this policy serve as an example for police and military forces worldwide.

UNICEF wholeheartedly supports this position.

We are mindful, Mr. President, of the sensitivities within the Council concerning the recruitment issue. But we would be derelict if we did not reiterate, in the strongest possible terms, that until the minimum age of recruitment is universally set at 18, the ruthless exploitation of children as soldiers will continue.

At the same time, Mr. President, it must be acknowledged that the reasons that give rise to children’s participation in armed conflict are often the very causes of the conflicts themselves: poverty, discrimination, displacement and marginalization. Yet these reasons do not justify inaction.

Mr. President, preventing the recruitment of children is as important as demobilisation. Both objectives require a long-term commitment to education, to vocational training, attention to psycho-social needs – and to reunifying children with their families. Without these elements, children are easily re-mobilised.

At the same time, peace agreements and peacekeeping operations must include full-fledged demobilisation programmes specifically designed for child soldiers. These must be aimed not only at reclaiming and destroying weaponry, but with providing former child soldiers with material benefits and vocational alternatives.

We have already made a start. Through birth-registration campaigns, family reunification, dialogue with non-state parties, and psycho-social support, UNICEF programmes in 10 countries are helping to heal children who have participated in conflicts.

Mr. President, education is an extremely important tool in these efforts. In Tanzania’s refugee camps, for example, where children from Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo attend “schools under trees,” we have found reaffirmation that education helps re-establish stability in the midst of chaos – not only for children but for families.

2. We must protect humanitarian assistance and humanitarian personnel.

Mr. President, UNICEF and its partners on the ground struggle daily with the task of gaining humanitarian access to endangered civilian populations – a struggle made all the more difficult as the issue of access becomes politicised.

That is why we need to vigorously promote political solutions while finding innovative ways to reach civilians in risk, of whom children and women make up the vast majority.

Of the nearly 25 million refugees and internally displaced people, 80 per cent are women and children. Many of them are trapped in the highly militarised environments found in camps for refugees and the displaced, where children and women are especially vulnerable to violence and sexual assault, and boys to forced recruitment.

We have already reached tens of thousands of children and women using “corridors of peace” and “days of tranquillity” in regions like Central America., South Asia and the Middle East; through the principle of Operation Lifeline Sudan – and through agreements like the recent UN accord to supply humanitarian relief to people in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

UNICEF’s work is informed by the internationally recognised principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality. To ensure that these principles always guide our actions, UNICEF has just launched training programmes in humanitarian principles for staff, agency and NGO partners who provide direct support to children in conflict situations.

Mr. President, we must also take steps to improve the safety and security of humanitarian workers.

In their efforts to protect civilians, our courageous UN staff have been increasingly targeted for violent attack, murder and rape. Their right to use communications systems for their own operations has been denied. UN property has been looted with impunity, with losses exceeding many tens of millions of dollars.

Mr. President, if a peace and security agenda for children is to be effectively implemented, this must stop.

At the same time, all UN staff must be given proper training in how to cope with the lawlessness and violence that awaits them. UNICEF, together with UNHCR, has invested heavily in this area. We are pioneering the development of an incident tracking system that will be made available to Member States and our colleagues throughout the UN, and we have distributed Security Awareness Training programmes to over 200 duty stations.

But these measures are only a beginning – and, by themselves, they cannot begin to meet the security needs of the 30,000 UN staff members in the field.

3. We must support humanitarian mine action.

Repatriation, which is fundamental to any peace process, cannot be conceived of, let alone undertaken, without the requisite resources and commitment to clear mine fields along repatriation routes and in destination areas.

Yet in places like Cambodia, there are twice as many anti-personnel mines as children.

UNICEF welcomes the coordinating role played by the UN Mine Action Service, and we are working closely with other UN partners to ensure mine-awareness education, victim assistance and rehabilitation for children and communities. We currently support such programmes in every region of the world.

Moreover, Mr. President, the Ottawa Treaty has immense potential to bring about dramatic improvements in affected countries. That is why we are so fiercely committed to promoting its widest implementation. We are concerned, however, that many affected countries will require UN assistance to meet their treaty obligations. Political will and donor support in these areas will be critical for a coordinated response.

3. We must protect children from the effects of sanctions.

In the interests of children, sanctions should not be imposed without obligatory, immediate and enforceable humanitarian exemptions, along with mechanisms for monitoring their impact on children and other vulnerable groups.

In all countries under comprehensive economic sanctions, the inadequacy of current provisions has resulted in alarming rates of child malnutrition, and in child and maternal mortality. Mr. President, these inadequacies must be addressed.

We welcome the Security Council’s recent call to monitor the humanitarian impact of sanctions on children and to create more efficient exemption mechanisms. We believe that child-impact assessments are central to this and should be carried out before, during and after sanctions are imposed.

Humanitarian assistance represents less than 5 per cent of all of the goods presented for Sanctions Committee exemption. I would underscore the need, therefore, to develop a list of essential humanitarian goods for exemption – items that must include educational supplies.

5. We must ensure that peace-building specifically includes children.

Mr. President, in concluding peace agreements, we have an opportunity to ensure that peace-building activities are developed in conformity with human rights and humanitarian norms, while promoting respect for these standards by non-state entities.

While respect for child rights is rarely mentioned in peace agreements, it is noteworthy that the peace process in El Salvador and Guatemala reached agreement on human rights and on the need for national and international verification mechanisms.

It is true that much more could have been done to address children’s special needs. But at the same time, important precedents were set that UNICEF strongly supports.

MINUGUA, for example, pursued projects to strengthen child rights institutions that ultimately led to the creation of a special Government office to promote awareness of child rights, to investigate violations, to monitor public institutions providing services for children and to influence legislation to ensure conformity with Guatemala’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We believe that support for such activities should be extended further to other national institutions, including police and judicial systems.

6. We must challenge the impunity of war crimes, especially against children.

Mr. President, children’s recruitment as members of armed forces, their rape and slaughter, and the targeting of their schools and hospitals are recognised by the International Criminal Court statute for what they are: heinous atrocities.

Ratification of the ICC Statute is a major priority for UNICEF, and we will work to ensure the Statute’s effective implementation at the national level, through training and support for legislative reform. The ICC Statute’s entry into force this year would be the most significant commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions as well as the 10th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – and a fitting way to mark the arrival of the new century.

4. We must promote early warning and preventive action for children.

Mr. President, early warning and preventive action can help deter human rights violations as well as defuse situations that may lead to armed conflicts. International field personnel, including military, civilian and humanitarian, are often the first to witness egregious violations against children and women. Yet the procedures and mechanisms to assess, report, monitor, prosecute and remedy them are woefully inadequate.

Mr. President, deploying human rights field monitors and observers in preparatory missions and with field operations should be considered a fundamental aspect of all Security Council efforts to promote peace and resolve conflicts. To be effective, these components should be adequately resourced and staffed to handle child rights and gender-based violations.

To this end, UNICEF has developed a training package on gender and child rights protection in complex emergencies. These are being used by DPKO and several national peacekeeping training institutes. We have made similar material available to the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission. In Mozambique, we work closely with UNDP on child rights, gender and juvenile-justice training for the police.

Most important, we must support the establishment of permanent, independent national institutions that will protect human rights and reinstitute the rule of law in the transition to democratic governance.

* * *

Mr. President, the protection of children in armed conflict must be framed by the standards and norms embodied in international human rights instruments and humanitarian law. And we have that framework in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is not only history’s most universally embraced human rights treaty, but the only one that explicitly incorporates humanitarian law.

In this connection, Mr. President, let me conclude with these urgent recommendations:

· We must ensure that children are always identified as an explicit priority in all efforts to build peace and resolve conflicts, whether as part of demobilisation mandates, observer missions or in concluding peace agreements.

(In current practice, Mr. President, children are officially overlooked. For example, UNOMSIL’s latest human rights assessment of the shocking situation in Freetown focuses almost exclusively on violations against children and women. Yet the Mission’s mandate fails to address their desperate need for special protection. Likewise, the UN Operation in Mozambique made no mention of children in either the demobilization or humanitarian aspects of its mandate. And by the same token, the UN mission in Angola did not include children in the demobilization, disarmament or de-mining aspects of its mandate.)

We must move toward ending the use of child soldiers by continuing to press strongly for an international requirement that raises the age of recruitment to 18.
We must protect children from the effects of sanctions.
We must secure full implementation of the global ban on anti-personnel landmines.
We must achieve a dramatic reduction in the availability of small arms and light weapons, which only serve to sustain war and conflict – and whose portability is a major factor in the ease with which children are transformed into combatants.
We must ensure that there be specialised child-rights training – and codes of conduct – for all military, civilian and peacekeeping personnel, so that they will understand their legal responsibilities to all children – including the need to shield them from egregious violations of their rights.
We must make adequate resources available to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian personnel.
And we must ensure that those who commit war crimes against children are brought to account before a fully empowered International Criminal Court.
Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates: UNICEF stands ready to support the work of the Security Council in any way possible, and to keep you fully informed.

Let me say in closing how much we appreciate the Council’s concern with the issue of civilians in armed conflict, especially the plight of children and women. We are confident that this discussion will help enhance mutual understanding of the issue, and lead to greater and more active cooperation.

Thank you.



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