Children and Armed Conflict
Expected Council Action
In late March the Council will hold an open debate on children and armed conflict. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, will brief, along with representatives from UNICEF and the NGO community. Other actors from the field, including possibly a child victim of a non-state armed group, may also participate.
The open debate is expected to focus on child victims of non-state armed groups. A concept note will be circulated by France, which as president of the Council in March has chosen to highlight this issue. The concept paper is expected to outline the tools available to the Council and the types of pressure that could be exerted on different non-state armed groups.
At press time, no formal outcome was expected but a summary of the main points of the debate may be circulated and used in preparing another debate expected in June during Malaysia’s presidency. (Malaysia is the chair of the Working Group for Children and Armed Conflict.)
Key Recent Developments
The last debate on children and armed conflict was held on 8 September 2014. The report of the Secretary-General was presented by Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui with briefings by Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF Yoka Brandt and Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous. Forest Whitaker, UNESCO’s Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation, and Sandra Uwiringiyimana, a victim of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, also spoke. In presenting the Secretary-General’s 2014 report on children and armed conflict, Zerrougui highlighted the impact of activities of groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Iraq and Boko Haram in Nigeria on children, as well as the toll on children as a result of the conflict in Gaza. Many member states also focused on emergent threats, such as ISIS and Boko Haram and the situations in Syria and Gaza.
A joint initiative—Children, Not Soldiers—was launched in March 2014 by the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and UNICEF and aimed to end and prevent recruitment and use of children by government armed forces in conflicts by 2016. At the start of the campaign, six of the eight situations listed in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s 2014 report for violations against children in situations of armed conflict had signed action plans to end recruitment of children. In May 2014, Yemen signed an action plan while the UN continues to be in active dialogue with South Sudan. There have been some signs of progress in the implementation of the action plans since the start of the campaign. The Chadian armed forces were delisted from the Secretary-General’s 2014 report annexes. In early August the Afghan government endorsed a road map towards compliance with its action plan. In Myanmar, government forces released 91 children and the government promised to review its action plan and develop a work plan. The government of South Sudan recommitted to implementing its action plan and endorsed a work plan for ending grave violations against children.
The 2014 Secretary-General’s report listed 59 parties in the Secretary-General’s annexes, 51 of which were non-state armed groups. Over the years eleven non-state armed groups have signed action plans, leading to six being delisted following implementation of the action plans. However, no action plans have been signed with non-state armed groups since 2009.
Developments in the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict
Members of the Working Group travelled to the Democratic Republic of Congo from 30 November to 4 December 2014, where they visited Kinshasa and Goma. The delegation was led by Luxembourg, the then-chair of the Working Group, and included eight other member states. The aim of the visit was to acknowledge progress made in protecting children affected by conflict in the DRC, get a better understanding of the situation on the ground and reinforce the Working Group’s recommendations to the DRC government and other parties contained in its 18 September 2014 conclusions on the situation of children and armed conflict in the DRC. In meetings with the government, the members of the delegation welcomed progress in relation to recruitment of children but more progress was needed to stop sexual violence. In 2014, the Working Group also adopted conclusions on the situation of armed conflict in Syria on 26 November following complex negotiations, as well as conclusions on Mali in July and the Philippines in January. In February, the Working Group began discussing the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict in South Sudan.
Human Rights-Related Developments
The Human Rights Council will consider Zerrougui’s annual report, during its 28th session in March (A/HRC/28/54). It is also scheduled to hold an interactive dialogue with Zerrougui and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, Marta Santos Pais. This coincides with the Human Rights Council’s annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child.
A key issue is engaging with non-state armed groups victimising children. A related issue is being able to exert pressure on such groups to stop violations against children.
A closely connected issue is the reluctance of governments to allow contact between non-state armed groups and the UN and how to overcome this. Focusing on groups that are part of an ongoing peace process like in the Central African Republic and Mali may be a possible avenue.
An emerging issue is how to deal with extremist groups such as Boko Haram and ISIS, which do not operate in just one country, are difficult to approach and are unlikely to respond to the usual forms of pressure. A related issue is how to ensure that military strikes against extremist groups take into account protection of children.
A related issue is ensuring child protection is mainstreamed into the Council’s thematic work on counter-terrorism and country-specific situations where these terrorist groups operate.
Also an issue is the increasing difficulty in monitoring and reporting in situations in the Secretary-General’s annexes that have deteriorated rapidly in the last year such as Iraq, Libya and Yemen. This may be a problem for future reports on these situations.
A continuing issue is the reluctance of some members to use sanctions to pressure persistent perpetrators, i.e., groups that have been in the Secretary-General’s annexes for more than five years. A connected issue is ensuring all relevant sanctions committees include all four violations that could trigger a listing in the Secretary-General’s annexes (recruitment of children, killing and maiming, sexual violence and attacks on and use of schools and hospitals).
Also an issue is how to ensure inclusion of more substantive references to attacks on and military use of schools and hospitals in relevant documents on country-specific issues on the Council’s agenda. (This is the most recently added violation that could trigger a listing in the Secretary-General’s annexes.) A related issue is encouraging the parties on the list for this violation to sign action plans.
A continuing issue is ensuring that armed forces listed in the Secretary-General’s annexes wanting to serve as peacekeepers, are properly screened and go through the appropriate UN due-diligence process.
Finally, an issue is how to take forward any concrete recommendations from this debate to the June debate.
An option is to request a report from the Secretary-General identifying non-state armed groups that might be more amenable to complying with international law related to children and armed conflict, for example non-state armed groups seeking political legitimacy. Given the complexity of the non-state armed groups, a better understanding of these groups is needed to develop appropriate strategies for persuading them to stop violations against children in situations of armed conflict.
One option is to create, together with the relevant governments, incentives to persuade non-state armed groups that potentially could be listed in the Secretary-General’s annexes to stop violations in order to not get listed.
An option in dealing with terrorist non-state armed groups is to request the UN missions in countries where these groups are operating to pay particular attention to the conditions that may allow for violations against children and to work with the relevant governments to provide a safer environment for children.
Despite the difficulties in the past, sanctions continue to be a tool for putting pressure on armed groups that are sensitive to arms, financial or travel restrictions. Options related to listing parties for situations not on the Council’s agenda (Colombia, Philippines and Nigeria), as well as situations with no sanctions committee, include creating a general sanctions committee or having the Working Group act as a sanctions committee.
The issue of non-state armed groups has been a controversial one for Council members, particularly in relation to how to approach them. A fundamental shift in some members’ positions would be needed in order to see much movement on this issue. However, given the number of non-state armed groups listed in the Secretary-General’s annexes and lack of progress in getting them to sign an action plan, some members see this as an issue worth focusing on again.
Some members may see this debate as an opportunity to tackle the highly relevant emerging threat of violent extremism and its impact on children. Malaysia might be keen to ensure that there are some concrete proposals that could be taken up during their proposed debate in June. Keeping in mind the possibility of adding abductions as a violation that could lead to listing during that debate, some members may want to more fully explore the issue of non-state armed groups who have been abducting children.
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|8 September 2014 S/PV.7259||This was an open debate on children and armed conflict.|
|7 March 2014 S/2014/339||This was on children and armed conflict, covering the period 1 January 2013 to 31 December 2013.|
|Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict Documents|
|26 November 2014 S/AC.51/2014/4||This was the Working Group’s conclusions on children and armed conflict in Syria.|
|27 February 2015 S/AC.51/2014/3||This was the Working Group’s conclusions on children and armed conflict in the DRC.|