The annual report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict highlights progress made in 2012 to protect children living in countries affected by conflict, but also documents how the evolving character and tactics of war are creating unprecedented threats for them.
“In 2012, boys and girls from several countries had better protection from the effects of conflict, but new and ongoing crises in Mali, Central African Republic and Syria for example had –and continue to have– a devastating effect on children,” declared Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.
Terror tactics making children more vulnerable during conflict
The evolving nature and tactics of conflict are creating unprecedented threats for children, United Nations officials told the Security Council today, stressing that despite progress in protecting youngsters during war, dangerous new trends are making them even more vulnerable.
“As new conflicts emerged or deepened in the course of the past 18 months, children continued to pay a heavy toll, perhaps the heaviest,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui said in her presentation to the Council of the Secretary-General’s 12th annual report on the subject.
“The absence of clear frontlines and identifiable opponents and the increasing use of terror tactics have made children more vulnerable.”
Ms. Zerrougui added that, as in previous years, the majority of parties recruiting children are non-State actors, and stressed the importance of finding innovative ways to address this issue.
The report reviews situations in 21 countries, as well as the regional conflict involving the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) whose activities impact children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan.
The report also “names and shames” parties that engage in the recruitment and use of children, sexual violence against children, the killing and maiming of children in contravention of international law, recurrent attacks on schools and/or hospitals or recurrent attacks or threats of attack against protected personnel.
Mali was included for the first time in the report, as children were recruited by all armed groups active in the country’s North, where fighting broke out in January 2012 between Government forces and Tuareg rebels, and which was later occupied by radical Islamists. The country is now in a transition and stabilization phase.
Ms. Zerrougui said that her Office had received reports that children were also being recruited by pro-Government militias to perform various tasks, including participating in combat. “It is crucial to ensure that no children are integrated in the regular armed forces or forgotten in the reintegration process and that measure to prevent the recruitment of children be put in place,” she said. “I call upon the Malian authorities to treat these children in line with international standards.”
The CAR and Syria were also highlighted in the report as countries where conflict is having a disproportionate amount of impact.
The Special Representative underlined new areas of concern that need to be urgently addressed, including “the military use of schools, detention of children for alleged association with armed groups and the impact of drones on children.”
In spite of new challenges, progress has continued, Ms. Zerrougui said, pointing that all armed forces listed in the report for recruitment and use of children have entered into an action plan process with the UN to end violations against children. She added that her Office will be launching a campaign to galvanize efforts to end children’s association with States armed forces in armed conflict by 2016.
Also addressing the Security Council, the Deputy Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Yoka Brandt emphasized the physical and psychological effect of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas on children, adding that these attacks also destroy vital infrastructure for their development.
“They deprive children from accessing essential basic services, like schools and hospitals. And in the absence of immediate medical care, injuries can turn into life-long disabilities,” she said, adding that the use of schools in military operations is of particular concern.
For his part, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, said it is critically important for peacekeeping operations to deploy a dedicated and specialized capacity of Child Protection Adviser (CPA).
“The report…is a stark reminder that the situation of children in conflicts remains dire and that our sustained engagement – at both the political and operational levels – is vital,” he said, stressing that child protection will continue to be actively addressed across mission mandates, including in political strategies and operational plans.
In Mali, for example, a CPA will be deployed for the first phase of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) to help the mission identify key child protection issues as well as the approaches and resources needed to address them.
Mr. Ladsous also noted that peacekeeping missions contribute both to the negotiation and implementation of action plans to end recruitment of children in armed forces. In addition, peacekeepers are receiving training on child protection and field operations to be able to respond appropriately to any child protection concerns they encounter in the field.
In a presidential statement adopted as an outcome to the meeting, the Security Council echoed many of these issues. While welcoming progress made in preventing and responding to violations and abuses committed against children, the 15-nation body said it remains “strongly concerned” about the continued high number of perpetrators who persist in committing such abuses in conflict situation “in open disregard of [the Council’s] resolutions on the matter”.
In that light, the Council stressed its commitment to effectively deal with persistent perpetrators and welcomes the ongoing consideration by its Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict of options “for increasing pressure on persistent perpetrators of violations and abuses committed against children in situations of armed conflict.”
UN Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict
Thousands of children have been separated from armed forces and armed groups in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Myanmar, Sudan and South Sudan.
The annual report covers 22 situations taking place in 21 countries where children are victims of violence. Mali is included in the annual report for the first time.
This year, the list of shame of the Secretary-General includes 55 armed forces and groups from 14 countries, including 11 new parties in Mali, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria.
In 2012, five new action plans were signed in South Sudan, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia (2 action plans). Action plans act as roadmaps to end violations and prevent the recruitment and use of children as soldiers. They include measures such as allowing access to military barracks and bases for UN monitoring teams, issuing military orders banning the recruitment and use of children, as well as training for military personnel and developing programmes to reintegrate former child soldiers and prevent future recruitment.
New and ongoing crises
The absence of clear frontlines, identifiable opponents, as well as the increasing use of terror tactics by some armed groups make children more vulnerable. We have seen boys and girls used as suicide bombers or human shields. Children captured during military operations have been detained, sometimes without due process. In certain cases, they have been mistreated or tortured. Children have also been affected by the use of drones in military operations.
Throughout 2012, the office of the Special Representative has received and continues to get verified reports that Syrian children are killed or injured in indiscriminate bombings, shot by snipers, used as human shields or victims of terror tactics. Children as young as 10 years of age have been recruited by armed groups to work as combatants, porters, messengers and to perform other support tasks. They are detained and mistreated. Their schools are under attack, they are displaced and access to lifesaving humanitarian assistance has been limited at best.
“Everyone involved in the conflict needs to take urgent measures to protect children,” said Ms. Zerrougui. “Allowing access for lifesaving humanitarian assistance is essential. We cannot allow innocent children to continue to die because they can’t see a doctor, or because they can’t fulfill their basic needs.”
The Special Representative calls on all parties in Syria to work towards a political solution to end the violence.
In Mali, the conflict has made children extremely vulnerable and we have confirmed that violations against them have been, and continue to be, committed by all armed groups operating in Northern Mali.
“I am working to make sure that the deployment of a peacekeeping mission, in conjunction with the work of UN agencies and partners already on the ground, will allow us to improve our collective response to children’s needs,” declared Ms. Zerrougui.
In the Central African Republic, the wave of violence that begun in December 2012 erased all progress made earlier in the year. Children are the main victims of this conflict. Reports indicate that there is ongoing recruitment of child soldiers and other violations. Half of the country’s schools are closed and access to humanitarian assistance is extremely limited. More than 2 million children do not currently have access to basic services.
Cooperation with regional organizations
As regional and sub-regional organizations take on a larger role in mediation, peacekeeping operations and peace building missions, the Special Representative is developing partnerships between the United Nations and these organizations to promote adequate protection for children affected by conflict.
Ending impunity for grave violations against children is crucial. Bosco Ntaganda’s transfer to the International Criminal Court sent a clear signal that recruiting child soldiers is a war crime and that perpetrators will be held accountable.
“International justice must step in when national courts lack the capacity or willingness to bring alleged perpetrators to justice,” said Ms. Zerrougui. “But it’s essential that we support Governments to reduce the accountability gap.”
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