UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Omar Abdi's remarks at the UN Security Council Open Debate: How to prevent and respond to grave violations against children in armed conflict
NEW YORK, 5 July 2023 - "Excellencies, distinguished guests, colleagues.
"Today is a difficult day in the history of the children and armed conflict agenda. This year’s report from the Secretary-General includes both the highest number of grave violations ever verified by the United Nations at over 27,000 and the highest ever number of situations of concern at 26.
"UNICEF is gravely concerned by the plight of children in the situations most recently added to the report, including Haiti and Niger this year, and Ethiopia, Mozambique and Ukraine in 2022. However, we should bear in mind that the highest numbers of grave violations against children were verified in longstanding protracted conflicts, including those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Israel and the State of Palestine, and Somalia.
"These three situations have consistently appeared in the Secretary-General’s report since the monitoring and reporting mechanism was established in 2005, meaning that children in these contexts have faced unrelenting grave violations for years, and in some cases like the children in the State of Palestine, for decades. Due to recent escalations, we expect verified violations in at least some of these situations to increase over the coming months.
"And while the eruption of a new conflict in Sudan has occurred outside of the reporting period for this year’s report, UNICEF is also gravely concerned about the impact of the ongoing conflict on the country’s 21 million children. More than one million children have now been displaced by the fighting and the UN has received credible reports, under verification, that hundreds of children have been killed and injured.
"Excellencies, the CAAC agenda is effective – as we discussed at last year’s open debate, there are countless stories of the positive impact that the CAAC agenda has had on children affected by conflict globally.
"At least 180,000 children have been released from the ranks of armed forces and groups since the year 2000. And 39 action plans have been signed since 2005 in 18 different situations of conflict. These Action Plans have succeeded in preventing and ending grave violations against an untold number of children through proactive measures taken by parties to conflict. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, implementation of the 2012 action plan led to a significant reduction in the number of children recruited and used by the FARDC, including the screening and separation of over 1,100 children – leading to the delisting of the FARDC for that violation.
"One of the greatest strengths of the children and armed conflict agenda is the UN’s monitoring and reporting mechanism for grave violations – which serves as the evidence-base for this report. This data is reliable and robust. It measures up to the scrutiny that comes with UN verification. Trained child protection experts meticulously collect this data impartially, independently, and neutrally – in line with fundamental humanitarian principles. We stand behind the veracity of this data and call on Member States to do the same.
"Critically, this data enables the UN and its partners to better target our efforts at preventing grave violations and supporting children who have experienced grave violations. For example, it helps UNICEF target prevention actions and responses to tragic incidents like the one that killed 27 children and injured 53 others last month in southern Somalia after ordnance exploded at a playing field. While UNICEF reached more than 9 million children globally with explosive ordnance risk education in 2022, the perils of widespread weapon contamination require us to do more.
"Similarly, our understanding about where recruitment and use of children is happening allows us to engage with parties to conflict for their release and to provide those children with support. In 2022, UNICEF and partners provided more than 12,460 children with reintegration or protection support.
The UN-verified information reflected in the Secretary-General’s report also serves as the UN’s entry point for engaging with parties to conflict to urge them to take measures to better protect children. Over the past 18 months, several parties have committed to steps for the protection of children because of the UN’s engagement. For example, handover protocols – adopted in Burkina Faso and Nigeria last year – outline steps necessary to protect children encountered, detained or identified in the course of conflict … including their swift transfer to civilian child protection actors responsible for their care and protection.
"We also applaud Member States who made bold commitments to keep children safe during last month's Oslo Conference on Protecting Children in Armed Conflict. These included South Sudan which committed to endorsing the Paris Commitments and Principles and the Vancouver Principles, and incorporating them into national legislation, Somalia which committed to ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on involvement of children in armed conflict, and the government of Norway which committed 1 billion Norwegian Kroner to programmes that prevent and respond to child rights violations in situations of armed conflict.
"These countries should be commended and supported in their commitments to strengthening protections for children. And we encourage others to follow their lead. But these commitments – whether action plans, prevention measures, handover protocols, the endorsement of key instruments, or adoption of legislation – must be implemented and backed by the political will of parties to conflict and their allies to effect meaningful change for children. With over 27,000 violations verified this year, up from 24,000 last year, existing commitments are clearly not enough. UNICEF calls on parties to take meaningful and unambiguous action for children.
"We are disappointed by the lack of progress by the Security Council’s Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict towards adoption of the conclusions from the Secretary-General’s country reports. despite the commendable efforts of Norway and Malta as chairs of the Group. Conclusions are an important tool for senior leaders and practitioners on the ground to strengthen advocacy with parties to conflict, donors, community leaders, and beyond. We call on Members of the Security Council to place the protection of children above other political considerations, including through expediting the adoption of Security Council Working Group conclusions that are robust, meaningful, and swift.
"As the Secretary-General’s report notes, non-state armed groups were responsible for over 50 per cent of grave violations last year. In Burkina Faso, for example, almost 85 per cent of all violations were attributed to armed groups.
"Yet far too often, we encounter State actors who wish to prevent or curtail the UN’s engagement with armed groups or de facto authorities for political reasons. Let me be clear, UN humanitarian engagement does not legitimize these actors. In order to continue making a difference for children in conflict, including through the provision of services and dialogue to end violations, we call on Member States to enable and support the UN’s engagement with armed groups, including with armed groups that may be designated as terrorist.
"As the number of countries on the children and armed conflict agenda grows, so too does the number of children in need of our protection and support. UNICEF co-leads this work in all 26-plus countries that are part of the agenda. As we announced at the Oslo Conference, we are investing limited core resources into the work of monitoring and reporting on grave violations against children to ensure that we can meet needs of affected children.
"But the U.N. depends on the support of donors to sustain our efforts to provide children with the humanitarian services they need and to document grave violations – we call on Member States to scale-up support to the UN’s efforts.
"Excellencies, today there are more children at risk than at any other time in the last 75 years. The reason for this is plain to see, children are suffering and dying because of cruelty and indifference to their plight, because some political leaders and parties to conflict are simply failing to observe the principle of humanity in times of conflict.
"In closing and on behalf of UNICEF, I urge all states and entities to join us in putting children first, and protecting them today so they can grow up to create a more peaceful world for future generations."