Children and Armed Conflict
Expected Council Action
In June the Security Council will hold its second open debate this year on children and armed conflict. The debate, which will be chaired by Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Dato’ Sri Anifah Aman, is expected to focus on the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict. (Malaysia is the chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui, as well as representatives from the UN Children’s Fund and civil society, are expected to speak.
A resolution, possibly adding abductions as an additional violation to trigger inclusion of a party in the Secretary-General’s annexes, is a likely outcome of the debate. Malaysia is planning to circulate a concept note ahead of the debate that will focus on abduction of children and suggest that members during the debate provide their views on how to address and prevent abductions.
Key Recent Developments
The Secretary-General’s annual report is expected to cover global trends and provide updates on the implementation of relevant Council resolutions. Members will be particularly interested in whether any parties will be added or removed from the report’s annexes for grave violations against children. (Last year’s annexes listed 51 armed groups and eight armed forces in 15 country situations.) There is particular interest about whether Israel will be added to the Secretary-General’s annexes for violations against children related to attacks on schools and hospitals during the Gaza war last summer. This year’s report is expected to be released just before the debate, which is later than usual.
On 27 March, the Council held an open debate on children and armed conflict focused on child victims of non-state armed groups. There were briefings by the Secretary-General, Zerrougui, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF Yoka Brandt and the child protection advisor from Save the Children in the Central African Republic (CAR), Julie Bodin. Junior Nzita Nsuami, a former child soldier from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and president of the NGO Paix pour l’enfance shared his experiences as a child soldier.
Both the Secretary-General and Zerrougui covered the growth of violent extremist groups, abductions and the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign in their briefings. (The campaign is aimed at ending the recruitment and use of children by armed forces by 2016.) Zerrougui also covered attacks on schools and hospitals by non-state armed groups, girl victims and reintegration of children from armed groups, as well as mediation and peace processes as an entry point for securing commitments from non-state armed groups. A number of member states focused on the issue of abductions, citing the recent abduction of schoolgirls by Boko Haram in Nigeria and of Kurdish boys in Syria and Yazidi children in Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), as well as abductions by groups in the CAR, DRC and Yemen.
Several states, including Council members Angola, Chad, France, Lithuania, Malaysia, Spain and the UK, supported adding abductions as an additional trigger for listing of groups in the Secretary-General’s annexes. Following the debate, France circulated a non-paper in its national capacity containing a summary of the different proposals and ideas expressed by participants during the debate. The aim of the non-paper was to facilitate a follow-up on some of the issues during the June debate on children and armed conflict.
On 8 May, Zerrougui and Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura briefed members of the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee. This briefing was a follow-up to resolution 2206, which applied financial and travel measures to individuals and entities involved in violations against children and requested the Special Representatives to share information with the Committee.
The briefing by the two Special Representatives to the Sanctions Committee is timely, as the situation for children in South Sudan has worsened since the start of the conflict in December 2013. There had been some progress between South Sudan’s independence in 2011 and the end of 2013 in protecting children, but since the outbreak of hostilities in December 2013, violations against children, particularly recruitment, have increased. The Secretary-General’s 2014 annual report listed several parties in South Sudan, including the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and several opposition groups.
The government signed an action plan in 2011 to end recruitment and use of children in the armed forces, to which it recommitted itself during Zerrougui’s visit to South Sudan in June 2014. However, UNICEF estimates that parties involved in the conflict have recruited up to 12,000 underage combatants since the start of the conflict in December 2013. In February, UNICEF reported the abduction of up to 89 children in Upper Nile State, where thousands of people have been internally displaced. On a more positive note, a peace deal between the South Sudan Democratic Army/Movement-Cobra faction and the government has led to the release of 1,752 children since January. Furthermore, on 4 May, South Sudan ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Developments in the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict
On 6 February, the Special Representative introduced the first report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in South Sudan. The Working Group adopted conclusions on the report on 8 May. However, it was not able to start working on another report, as the next report on the programme of work, on Afghanistan, was not ready. At press time, no new Secretary-General’s reports on children and armed conflict had been published in 2015, although reports on Afghanistan, Chad, Iraq, and possibly the CAR, Somalia and Sudan are planned for this year.
In negotiating a draft resolution that adds abductions as a new trigger, a key issue will be how best to define abductions within the framework of international law. (While abductions, as such, are not addressed explicitly under international law, there are violations of international law that occur as a consequence of abduction, including hostage-taking, forcible transfer of children and enforced disappearance.) If the draft resolution contains language on detention, this is likely to be a contentious issue for some members.
There is now a four to five-year gap between Secretary-General’s reports on children and armed conflict in country-specific situations, making it difficult to follow up on conclusions and put pressure on parties in the Secretary-General’s annexes.
While having abductions as one of the trigger violations may be useful as a political signal, an issue is how to put pressure on groups like Boko Haram and ISIS, as well as other non-state armed groups, that are unlikely to respond to exhortations to sign an action plan.
The Council’s ability to act with respect to the impact on children when a new crisis emerges or a situation deteriorates continues to be an issue.
The most likely option for the Council at the open debate is to adopt a resolution adding abductions as one of the violations that would result in a party being listed in the Secretary-General’s annexes.
Members may consider an independent review of the children and armed conflict architecture to mark the tenth anniversary of the adoption of resolution 1612, which set up the Working Group and monitoring and reporting mechanism.
In line with this, an option is to hold a retreat of the Working Group to discuss ways that it can better respond to fast-changing situations and build more flexibility into its work. The effectiveness of the Working Group is limited by the rigidity of its work programme and working methods that do not allow it to act rapidly in changing situations.
Options for the Council to integrate children and armed conflict concerns into its country-specific work include briefings to the Working Group from the Office of the Special Representative, UNICEF and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations ahead of mandate renewals, and having the Working Group chair work with the experts drafting resolutions on country-specific situations so that appropriate language on children and armed conflict is included in the initial draft.
Following several years when the composition of the Council made it difficult to advance the children and armed conflict agenda, the current mix of members has the potential to broaden the agenda by adding to the violations that could trigger a listing. There are also signs that this greater openness could prompt some members to push for improvements in the working methods of the Working Group. However, it may be difficult to move away from established practices.
While the adoption of the South Sudan conclusions was relatively smooth, the upcoming negotiations on the draft resolution may be a more accurate gauge of members’ positions on some of the more sensitive issues.
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|25 March 2015 S/PV.7414||The Security Council held an open debate on children and armed conflict focused on child victims of non-state groups.|
|Security Council Letter|
|6 March 2015 S/2015/168||This was a concept note circulated by France for the open debate on children and armed conflict focused on child victims of non-state armed groups.|
|Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict Document|
|12 May 2015 S/AC.51/2015/1||These were the conclusions of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict on South Sudan.|