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Protection of Children in Armed Conflict

Imagen del UNICEF

New York, 26 July 2000

Madame President, Distinguished Members of the Security Council:

I am very pleased to join you today as the Council again takes up the issue of children and armed conflict.

This is the second such debate in a year, and the Council's ongoing concern is deeply heartening to the United Nations Children's Fund, and all those who are closely involved in this issue -- including Olara Otunnu, who deserves the highest praise for his work in drawing global attention to the outrages perpetrated against children in armed conflict.

I am also pleased, Madame President, that this debate is occurring during your stewardship of the Council. Your exemplary commitment to child rights is well known, not least through your work as chair of the Bureau for the preparatory process for the General Assembly's Special Session for Children -- and I want to take this opportunity to thank you for everything you have done to make today's debate possible.

Olara Otunnu has already presented the Secretary General's Report on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1261, the recommendations of which UNICEF fully endorses.

Resolution 1261 is an important step forward. And, as the Report notes, real progress has been made.

The adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in conflict is of course a milestone -- and we urge its speedy ratification and entry into force, a process that we hope will be quickened during the forthcoming Millennium Summit.

We have also seen important meetings of the OSCE and ECOWAS, at which groundbreaking commitments were made to ensure the protection of children in conflict.

We also have great hopes for the outcome of September's International Conference on War-Affected Children in Winnipeg, Canada, where UNICEF is working closely with the Canadian Government on final preparations.

On the ground, UNICEF is at work in over 25 war-affected countries, collaborating closely with partners like OCHA, WFP, UNHCR and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights -- as well as numerous NGOs -- to restart schools, provide educational materials, reunite children and families, supply drugs and vaccines, support the traumatized, operate clinics and hospitals, dig wells, campaign against recruitment, and promote demobilization and disarmament.

UNICEF strives, with Olara Otunnu, to promote the values, principles and concrete commitments of Resolution 1261, which reflect the obligations and principles enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other human rights instruments.

This involves advocating the cause of child rights on a daily basis -- with government officials, with insurgents, with commanders, civil society representatives, religious leaders, teachers, health workers, women's leaders -- and with children and youth themselves.

But as our staff in the field regularly note, many of the aspirations set out in the Resolution remain unfulfilled.

We receive daily reports from the field of sickness and malnutrition; of exploitation and rapes; of killings and indiscriminate bombings; of recruitment and abductions. In my own visits this year to East and West Timor and to Burundi, I have seen first-hand the devastating physical and psychological effects of war on children of all ages.

Madame President, there are those who argue that words make little difference -- that the children of Somalia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Colombia and so many other countries of course need much more than words and declarations of intent.

But words do matter -- especially when they represent the commitment of a political body with responsibilities as heavy as those of this Council, charged as it is with the promotion and maintenance of international peace and security.

Distinguished Members of the Council, the staff of UNICEF and other operational agencies, who work day in and day out to assist and protect some of the most vulnerable, exploited and abused children in the world -- all of them need your commitment and support.

They need to know that Member States are actively working to uphold the standards and principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Geneva Conventions.

What UNICEF asks today -- on behalf of the war-affected children whom we serve throughout the world -- is that Council Members do everything in their power to ensure that the words of the Secretary-General's Report, and the words of the Council Resolutions, become deeds -- and that these deeds make a difference to the lives of children.

All those who violate children's rights or collude in such violation -- whether governments or rebel groups, manufacturers of, or dealers in, weapons of war, unscrupulous businessmen -- must be made to feel the power of your words. They must feel the opprobrium and repugnance of civilized people everywhere. They must be shamed, disgraced and held accountable for their actions.

Madame President, the corridors of the United Nations are littered with unfulfilled promises -- promises that were made in good faith to ease suffering and end exploitation -- and to protect children from the loss of the childhood, from rape and mutilation and recruitment as child soldiers.

Yet time and time again -- in such places as Rwanda, in Sierra Leone, in Sudan, in Afghanistan, in Kosovo and East Timor -- cruelty and indifference has prevailed.

Madame President, it is not too late to make good on those promises.

Though it is almost invidious to single out particular recommendations from the Report -- all of which we endorse -- there are a number of critical issues that we hope will be emphasised in your Resolution.

One is the need for education programmes to be restarted as soon as possible, even while conflict still wages. We know from experience in such countries as Somalia and Azerbaijan that education not only establishes hope for the future but provides a "normal" environment for traumatized children while lessening the chances of recruitment.

Moreover, hospitals, schools and other sites where children are most likely to be found must be protected from attacks and violence as set out in international humanitarian law.

We know from Angola and Mozambique that children must have their own demobilization programmes separate from adults and tailored to their special needs. We know from Sudan and Sri Lanka that, on the ground, all parties to the conflict -- insurgents as well as governments -- must be actively engaged in upholding the international standards that protect children.

We know from the Balkans and Sierra Leone that the particular vulnerabilities of girls -- especially to sexual abuse and violence -- must be addressed.

We know from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo that insecurity for humanitarian personnel reduces access to children in need, with drastic consequences on their health and well-being.

We know from Bosnia and Cambodia that landmine-awareness programmes can significantly reduce death and injury from mines and unexploded ordnance.

And we know from these and all our other field programmes that the implementation of the recommendations set out in the Secretary-General's Report require resources that will allow UNICEF and its partners to be present in the field, to be with children in need, to work with them, their families and their communities -- and to implement programmes.

We urge Council Members to use their influence to ensure that we receive the funding required -- and that it is sustained and consistent, so that we can plan not just for the short term, but to ensure that children are supported in their longer-term needs for rehabilitation, reintegration and return to childhood and normality.

Members of the Council, UNICEF has every hope that your latest Resolution will be strong and unambiguous in its commitments -- and that its passage is accompanied by determined and intensive follow-up.

This means that in authorising any peacekeeping mission, in imposing some form of sanction, facilitating a cease-fire, or finding ways to prevent conflict, that you invoke the forthcoming Resolution -- and Resolution 1261 -- to ensure that child rights are addressed in a practical and effective way.

Where warring parties or others violate the provisions of any Resolution, UNICEF urges Council Members to speak out, collectively and individually, to make it clear that violators are overstepping the bounds of decent and acceptable behaviour.

Active steps must be taken to monitor the behaviour of States and of other parties. The Council should demand that all violations, broken promises and unfulfilled commitments be brought to its attention.

Members of the Council, we hope that you will affirm your determination by following up on these issues.

Madame President, I cannot overstate the gravity and the urgency of this issue. We cannot ask war-affected children to wait any longer for their rights to be respected. Developing minds and bodies require attention now. Childhood is finite -- and, once lost, it is irreplaceable.

Distinguished Members of the Council, as the Secretary-General himself said in his Report: "We must do much more to move from words to deeds, from the elaboration of norms to 'an era of application.'"

I urge the Council to heed his exhortation.

UNICEF, once again, thank you for this opportunity to participate in this debate.