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Speech by Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director, at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict

New York, 19 September 2012

"More than ever, under the leadership of this Council, the Secretary General, you, Mr. President, and so many others, the issue of children and armed conflict is getting more of the focus, attention and action it deserves, as you have just heard. But it deserves still more.

In a child’s eyes, you’ll find the light of hope…of promise for the future. 

But look into the eyes of former child soldiers ― or the eyes of children who have suffered from terrible abuses ― or even the eyes of those who have simply witnessed the horrors of war. That light is shadowed still by fear… pain…and knowledge of humanity at its worst. These children have seen too much, too soon.

An orphan boy from a small village recruited at gunpoint to become a soldier ― handed a gun of his own to recruit others…blinded by prejudice and hate…trained to kill without emotion. A girl living through the horror of rape. A boy robbed of his legs after stepping on a landmine planted outside his school. A sick, bedridden child waiting for medicine that will never arrive in her village because soldiers stand in the way.

The world is making progress in holding perpetrators of such acts accountable. The recent verdicts against Thomas Lubanga by the ICC and against Charles Taylor by the Sierra Leone Special Court, and prosecutions in Colombia and Myanmar, for example, demonstrate global progress against impunity and for justice.

But accountability runs in many directions. Just as perpetrators need to be held accountable for the fate of children in conflict zones, so do governments ― and so do we.

The nine resolutions passed by your Council since 1999 represent a clear commitment to accountability and action on behalf of children trapped in the horror of conflict. That includes last year’s ground-breaking resolution to make attacks on schools and hospitals an automatic “trigger” for listing parties in the Secretary General’s report.   

The UN Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism ― or MRM ― is also built around accountability and a commitment to end grave abuses of children’s rights. The information on violations collected by UN task forces around the world is helping us to shape timely and appropriate responses in regions blighted by conflict and to meet our goal of protecting children.

UNICEF is working closely with governments and communities to protect and rehabilitate children affected by conflict. In addition to monitoring and reporting violations, we are offering a range of responses, including mine-risk education, psychosocial support, vocational training, assistance to survivors of sexual violence and help for children who are being re-integrated into society after their association with armed forces and groups.

We must recognize that the future of these children hangs in the balance. We cannot leave them to fend for themselves. This is our commitment and our accountability.

The responsibility of governments to their citizens, and of citizens to each other, is most fully measured by their accountability to the most vulnerable in their societies. They must support efforts to monitor, report and respond to grave violations against children and their rights. Governments and others must allow UN involvement to help them establish national systems to prevent and sanction violations and deliver the right response services to those who need them, without delay.

These actions cannot take place in isolation. They can only be effective through the active engagement of all involved ― governments, communities…and the engagement even of those responsible for perpetrating violations against children.

This work includes negotiations with armed forces and groups to secure the release of children who have been recruited ― sometimes abducted ― and forced into combat.

In Mali, for instance, UNICEF and our partners have engaged with community leaders who are in active contact with armed parties to the conflict to advocate for children’s rights and end child recruitment. In Central African Republic, we are working with three armed groups with whom we’ve signed action plans to release children from their ranks. Similar efforts are underway in Afghanistan, Chad, Myanmar, Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan and elsewhere. 

This work is enormously complex, especially in situations involving cross-border conflicts and refugee flows into neighbouring countries. For the UN, it demands that we leave room for negotiation and walk a fine line ― between our hunger for justice and our thirst for peace…between our work on prevention and our work to rehabilitate the victims…and between our outrage at the perpetrators and our need to persuade them.

In short, there is a natural tension at the heart of UNICEF’s efforts to deliver impartial humanitarian assistance while protecting ― and advocating for ― children’s rights.

This work, of course, is not only inherently intense, it is also resource intensive ― especially as we establish the MRM in new situations and implement various action plans with parties to conflict.

As we accept these necessary costs, and ask for help in managing them, we will always keep our eyes on our ultimate goals ― protecting… rehabilitating…and upholding the rights of children trapped in conflict zones.

When you meet one of these children face-to-face, as many of us have, you notice something extraordinary. A few kind words…a welcoming ear of an adult who is not there to take advantage of them or cast judgment…an offer of food, water or medicine...these simple gestures can bring her or his guard down, even for just a moment. Despite the horrors endured, there is a resilience there…a glimmer of gritty hope.

These children are not beyond our reach. Our message to them must be that we will not turn away. That our resolve to bring perpetrators to justice will not falter. That we do accept the burden of accountability ― all of us."




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