July 2006 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 June 2006
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THEMATIC ISSUES

Children and Armed Conflict

Expected Council Action
In July the Council is expected to have an open debate on children and armed conflict, chaired by the French foreign minister.  It will consider a report from the chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict and be briefed by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on the issue and a representative from UNICEF. The World Bank, UNDP and some regional organisations are likely to be invited to join in the discussion. A presidential statement is likely.

Key Facts
Children and Armed Conflict took on a high profile in the General Assembly after the World Summit for Children in 1990.  In 1993 the Assembly asked the Secretary-General to undertake a study on the impact of armed conflict on children. He appointed Graça Machel, formerly Minister of Education in Mozambique.  Her 1996 report, Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, laid the foundation for a comprehensive international agenda for action.

The Machel report led in September 1997 to the appointment of Olara Otunnu as Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict.  In 1998 he was invited to informally brief the Council for the first time.  Concerned about the risk to peace and security posed by the growing problem of children and armed conflict, the Council held its first open debate and issued a presidential statement in June 1998 putting this issue on the international security agenda. 

Since 1999 there have been six resolutions and regular open debates on the issue.  The first two resolutions, 1261 of 1999 and 1314 of 2000, identified areas of concern such as the protection of children from sexual abuse, the linkage between small-arms proliferation and armed conflict, and the inclusion of children in disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programmes and peace agreements. At this early stage the resolutions contained generic statements, and they had little impact on groups recruiting and using children in armed conflict.

Starting in 2001, the resolutions began to include more concrete requests.  One of the most groundbreaking and controversial was the request in resolution 1379 of November 2001 for the Secretary-General to attach to his report a “list of parties to armed conflict that recruit or use children in violation of international obligations in situations” which were already on the Council’s agenda or could be brought to its attention as a matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security, in accordance with article 99 of the Charter.

But there continued to be a lack of real progress in getting armed groups using children in armed conflict to comply with international norms.  As a result, resolution 1460 in 2003 endorsed the Secretary-General’s call to move the issue into an “era of application.”  The Secretary-General was asked to report on the progress made by parties in stopping the recruitment or use of children in armed conflict and to develop specific proposals for monitoring and reporting on the application of international norms on children and armed conflict. He was also asked to include the protection of children in armed conflict in all his country-specific reports.

In 2004, resolution 1539 requested the Secretary-General to “devise urgently” an action plan for a comprehensive monitoring and reporting mechanism that could provide accurate and timely information on grave violations against children in situations of armed conflict. The resolution asked for parties listed in the Secretary-General’s reports to prepare concrete plans to stop the recruitment and use of children. 

Most recently, resolution 1612 of 22 July 2005 created a formal monitoring and reporting mechanism and a Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. The monitoring and reporting mechanism is a process for the systematic collection of information on violations against children in armed conflict and on progress made by parties in complying with international norms on children and armed conflict.   The information is then channelled through various UN bodies and committees to the Working Group.  Resolution 1612 also asked for an independent review of the monitoring and reporting mechanism by 31 July 2006.

The Working Group, chaired by France, has held four meetings and adopted its terms of reference and a work programme.  At its last meeting, on 26 June, the group considered the country report of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and an informal document listing the range of possible measures, referred to as a tool-kit, to be used against parties that continue to recruit child soldiers and commit crimes against children. The Working Group will consider Sudan and Sri Lanka in August; Côte d’Ivoire and Burundi in October; Somalia and possibly Nepal in December.  At each meeting, the Working Group will also consider an overview of other situations involving parties that recruit or use children in armed conflict.
 
Two months after consideration of a country report, the Working Group will issue its recommendations on possible action to be taken against groups involved in using children in armed conflict in that particular country.  The understanding is that the recommendations will be taken to the Council for formal approval by the chairman of the Working Group.

Key Issues
The main issue before the Council in 2006 is the question of what can be added at this stage to the work already being done on children and armed conflict.  The review, called for in resolution 1612, of the monitoring and reporting mechanism needs to be undertaken. However, it is perhaps too early to assess the monitoring and reporting mechanism or the Working Group effectively.  Delays both in the establishment of the Working Group and in appointing the current Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict meant that the process did not become fully operational until 2006.

An emerging issue is whether other actors like the World Bank can be persuaded to join forces and work closely with the monitoring and reporting process.

A practical issue that may need to be addressed relates to the procedures of the Working Group and how it will make concrete recommendations to the Council, particularly in cases involving countries contained in Annex II of the Secretary-General’s 2005 report, that are not involved in situations with which the Council is seized.

Council Dynamics
While there is broad consensus that the UN should focus on the impact of children’s involvement in armed conflict, some members like Russia, China and the United States feel that this is largely a human rights issue that does not need to be regularly on the Council’s agenda.   Russia and China have also made it clear that they are uncomfortable with Annex II, which was attached to the last three reports of the Secretary-General and lists parties to armed conflict that recruit or use children in armed conflict from countries not on the Council’s agenda.   (Russia and China may see this as a possible back door that could lead to these situations being put on the Council’s formal agenda.)

In the past, Russia and the United Kingdom had national reasons for being displeased with Annex II.  Chechnya and Northern Ireland were listed in 2003 and 2004. They were excluded from the 2005 list after the United Kingdom and Russia successfully argued that these were not situations of armed conflict.  Countries still on the list and some other members of the Council were unhappy as they felt that the lists had become politicised. 

France, with the strong support of European countries like Denmark and African members like Benin (on the Council until the end of 2005), has been the driving force behind this issue. These countries see children and armed conflict as an important thematic issue with peace and security implications that fully deserves the Council’s attention.

Japan has taken a cautious position.  Together with the United States, it maintains that results are needed before moving to the next stage and remains wary of potential budgetary implications. It has also been sensitive to the concerns of Asian countries on the list.  In the past, South American countries like Argentina and Brazil were reluctant to support initiatives involving situations not on the Council’s agenda. (Colombia is regularly listed in Annex II). However, Argentina and Peru now appear more open to considering all situations where children are affected by armed conflict.

Options
The most likely option is that the Council will issue a presidential statement that would reinforce its commitment to improving the situation of children caught in armed conflict, highlight developments since the last debate, and reschedule the review called for in resolution 1612.  The presidential statement may also refer to the need for partnerships with other international actors that are interested in working with the UN on this issue.

Other possible options include:

  • Attaching as an annex to the presidential statement a list of possible measures to be used against groups that have shown no progress in stopping the use of children in armed conflict. (But this remains highly unlikely as neither the Working Group nor the Council have come to an agreement on the measures that could be used.)
  • Deciding to draft a resolution for adoption later in the year. (This is unlikely as the general feeling is that it is too early for another resolution.)
  • Initiating regular briefings from the chairman of the Working Group so that the group’s recommendations can be considered by the Council.  

Underlying Problems
Despite the progress made, there are deep divisions among members.  China, Russia and to some extent Japan and the United States are reluctant to have the Council become deeply involved in this issue.  On the other hand, France, Denmark and possibly now the United Kingdom would like to see more action-oriented initiatives. 

Further down the track, measures like targeted sanctions and restrictions on military assistance are likely to be identified as the kinds of tools the Council may need to apply to bring about real change in the attitudes of the groups involved in using children in armed conflict.  But this will be a contentious area.

Another problem is that for the monitoring and reporting mechanism to be effective there must be confidence in the accuracy and objectivity of the information collected and presented to the Working Group.  The process is still at an early stage. The UN country teams and NGOs on the ground are often operating in difficult conditions in which it is not always possible to verify information. 

A problem that could arise in the future is the need for greater resources if the monitoring and reporting mechanism is to be fully implemented.  It currently uses existing resources that may not be sufficient to properly monitor some situations and is likely to stretch the capacity of the UN country teams involved in monitoring.

UN Documents

 Security Council Resolutions
  • S/RES/1612 (26 July 2005) requested the Secretary-General to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism and set up the Council’s Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.
  • S/RES1539 (22 April 2004) asked for an action plan for a systematic and comprehensive monitoring and reporting mechanism.
  • S/RES/1460 (30 January 2003) requested specific proposals to ensure more efficient and effective monitoring and reporting. It also requested the Secretary-General to include the issue in country-specific reports.
  • S/RES/1379 (20 November 2001) requested the Secretary-General to attach to his report a list of parties to armed conflict that recruit or use children.
  • S/RES/1314 (11 August 2000) urged member states to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.
  • S/RES/1261 (30 August 1999) condemned targeting of children in situations of armed conflict, urged parties to armed conflict to take into consideration protection of children and urged states to facilitate DDR.
 Selected Presidential Statements
  • S/PRST/2005/8 (23 February 2005) reiterated the Security Council’s intention to complete the process of setting up a monitoring and reporting mechanism and indicated that the Council had started work on a new resolution.
  • S/PRST/1998/18 (29 June 1998) was the first presidential statement on the issue. It condemned targeting of children in armed conflict and expressed its intention to pay serious attention to children affected by armed conflict.
 Secretary-General’s Reports
  • S/2006/389 (13 June 2006) was the first country specific report on children and armed conflict in the DRC. 
  • S/2005/72 (9 February 2005) was the latest report.
 Selected Security Council Debates
 Selected General Assembly Documents
  • A/51/306 (6 September 1998) Graça Machel’s report on children and armed conflict.
  • A/RES/48/157 (20 December 1993) recommended that the Secretary-General undertake a study on the impact of armed conflict on children.

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