UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell's remarks at the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict

As delivered

19 July 2022
Gaza. A girl stands next to a damaged building.
UNICEF/UN0464417/El Baba

NEW YORK, 19 July 2022 - "Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Colleagues,

"Thank you for inviting me to join this critical open debate on children and armed conflict. I am honoured to be here.

"The Secretary-General's report leaves little to the imagination. Around the world, as conflicts proliferate, grave violations against children continue. Children – and childhood – are under attack.

"I want to pause and take a moment to reflect on just how appalling the information in the Secretary-General’s report really is.

"The report presents verified evidence of more than 23,000 violations against 19,165 children in 2021.

"Some of these children were killed.  Some were grievously injured.  Some were raped.  Some suffered multiple violations.

"They were abducted from their families. Ripped from their schools.  Forced to take up arms and risk their lives.

"And these are only the violations against children the United Nations has been able to verify. There are many others we couldn’t reach and whose stories may never be known to us.

"The world has failed all of them.

"As SRSG Gamba has said, there is no word strong enough to describe the horrific experiences these children have suffered.

"I recently met a young boy at a camp for displaced people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He had fled there to escape brutal violence in his home village. This young child had seen his best friend beheaded. I have never seen such a sad, haunted child.

"On the same visit, I met a young girl. When the armed men came to her village, she and her sister faced an impossible choice: serve the group or die.

"In truth, it was no choice at all. She and her sister were abducted, raped, and abused.  Her sister died a week after they were abducted. By the time I met her, she had already borne a child shortly after she escaped.

"These are only two children.  There are so many more. 

"And this year we have three new situations added to the report.  Three more conflicts where children are forced to bear the brunt of wars waged by adults. 

"UNICEF calls on all parties to these latest conflicts to take action to protect children now.  The UN is here to support any party to conflict that is willing to take measures to better protect children.

"Excellencies,

"This report paints a grim picture.  But the purpose of the report is not only to point the finger, but also to point the way forward.

"Eight situations of concern have been removed completely from the report over the years because they have succeeded in ending grave violations against children.

"In 2021 alone, at least 12,214 children were released from armed forces and armed groups – bringing the total number of children documented as released since the year 2000 to over 186,000 girls and boys.

"New action plans have been signed in Mali and Yemen -- with 21 action plans currently under implementation. That is progress.

"And crucially, the UN’s monitoring and reporting on grave violations have only grown stronger and more robust.

"The data reflected in the Secretary-General’s report this year is as strong as ever. The UN stands behind this data. I want to take a moment to commend the work of the UN teams who collect and verify this information.

"We are committed to doing this work in accordance with humanitarian principles – humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence. We need Member States to grant us the space to do so.  

"And we remain as committed to this vital Agenda as when it was launched To our collective shame, more than 25 years later, the agenda is still necessary. 

"Excellencies,

"As member states, you have enormous power to drive progress to protect children. Respectfully, but urgently, we call on you today to do more.

"Insist on compliance with international humanitarian law, yes of course – but we also request that you go beyond the requirements of the law. You have the power to issue military orders with zero-tolerance policies on grave violations against children.  Please use that power.

"Endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration to protect children and schools from attack and misuse by parties to conflict. 

"Endorse and implement the Paris Principles to demobilize and reintegrate children who have been used by armed forces and groups.

"We call on you to use your influence to push States and non-state armed groups to prevent and end grave violations against children – and to protect children who have survived grave violations from stigma and revictimization. 

"This includes ending the detention of children who have been forced to serve armed groups, or denying them the right to citizenship, no matter which groups they have been associated with.

"Finally, we are counting on you to support the UN’s efforts to implement the children and armed conflict agenda on the ground – both through resource allocation and through your commitment to work with us to protect this agenda, to strengthen this agenda, and to stand behind this agenda.

"Excellencies,

"Every child has the right to be protected – in times of war and in times of peace.  Fulfilling this right is not an option, it is a sacred obligation, reflecting our most deeply human duty to safeguard the next generation – and to build a more sustainable future for everyone. 

"Dr. Graça Machel famously said that protecting children from the impact of armed conflict is everyone’s responsibility – and must be everyone’s concern. 

"I thank the members of the Security Council for making this responsibility your own -- and I thank you once again for inviting me to speak today."

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