Children and Armed Conflict
Expected Council Action
In August, the Council is expected to hold an open debate to discuss the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict and its addendum. Malaysia, the chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict and this month’s president, has circulated a concept note for the meeting noting the achievements over the last 20 years and highlighting key developments in the children and armed conflict agenda in 2015 and 2016.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, as well as the Executive Director for the UN Children’s Fund, Anthony Lake, and a civil society representative, are expected to speak.
Key Recent Developments
The Secretary-General’s annual report, which Council members received informally around 20 April, the date on the report, but which was only made public in early June, covers recent global trends in the impact of armed conflict on children in 2015 and provides updates on grave violations committed against children. The report included several new listings in its annexes for grave violations against children, including for the first time abductions, following the adoption of resolution 2225. The Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen was listed for the killing and maiming of children and attacks on schools and hospitals, marking the first listing of an international coalition. However, in an unusual turn of events, on 6 June, the Secretary-General decided to temporarily remove the coalition. It was reported that Saudi Arabia had suggested that it might cut its funding to UN entities, and the Secretary-General stated publicly that “it is unacceptable for member states to exert undue pressure”. While the Secretary-General’s spokesman said that the coalition had been removed pending conclusions of a joint review, the Saudi Arabia ambassador told the UN media that the coalition’s removal was “irreversible and unconditional”. On 8 June, the Saudi-led coalition sent a letter to the Secretary-General requesting an overview of the methodology used to create the numbers in the report as well as information regarding the UN’s sources and invited the UN to Riyadh to discuss the report.
On 14 July, the Secretary-General discussed the protection of children in relation to Yemen’s armed conflict report during a meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in New York. A UN press release following this meeting said that the Secretary-General welcomed the coalition’s readiness to take concrete measures to end and prevent violations against children, and hoped that the coalition would be able to “provide information on the concrete actions they have taken”.
In other developments, on 27 March, Sudan became the last of the seven government armed forces listed in the Secretary-General’s annexes to sign an action plan with the UN to end recruitment and use of children by security forces by the end of 2016. The Children, Not Soldiers campaign was launched in 2014 by the Special Representative and UNICEF to end the recruitment and use of children by national security forces by the end of 2016.
The report of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping (C34), which met from 16 February to 11 March, included a section on children and peacekeeping that covered the role of child protection advisers in peacekeeping missions. It requested a written briefing on the impact of consolidating protection functions on the implementation of mandated protection functions before the next session of the C34. The consolidation of protection functions was rolled out in three missions earlier this year.
Zerrougui briefed the South Sudan 2206 Sanctions Committee on 14 March on the increase in grave violations against children as the situation in South Sudan deteriorated. She cited perpetrators, including the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the SPLA In Opposition, and called on the Committee to continue to investigate individuals and to pay attention to command responsibility in the context of grave violations against children. In addition, Zerrougui expressed support for the recommendations of the AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan for the establishment of accountability mechanisms.
Developments in the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict
So far in 2016, the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict has only adopted conclusions on the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict in Afghanistan. The conclusions on the report, which was published in May 2015, were adopted on 11 May. The Working Group had several rounds of negotiations on the conclusions to the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict in the Central African Republic, but at press time there was no date for the adoption.
A key issue is how to ensure that the open debate generates constructive suggestions for progress in the children and armed conflict agenda.
An issue in light of the removal of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition is the credibility of the protection of children and armed conflict mandate, particularly in relation to the listing of parties in the Secretary-General’s annexes. There were already concerns about the integrity of the listing mechanism when the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas were originally listed in the draft report in 2015, for violations against children during the conflict in Gaza in 2014, but were removed before it was published.
A related issue is what can be done to refine the children and armed conflict mechanism so that it can better address some of today’s conflict situations. When the monitoring and reporting mechanism was created ten years ago, violations against children in armed conflict situations were largely attributable to either government forces or non-state actors operating within the country, with a small number such as Al Shabaab and the Lord’s Resistance Army requiring a regional approach. Neither the wide-reaching impact on children of armed groups espousing violent extremism, nor conflicts involving a coalition of state parties such as Yemen, were factors when the monitoring and reporting mechanism was set up.
A number of issues highlighted in the Secretary-General’s report need further consideration by the Council, including the impact on children of displacement as a result of prolonged armed conflict in several regions and the sexual exploitation and abuse of children by uniformed and non-uniformed personnel in peace operations.
Difficulty in getting parties to implement action plans and to sign up to some of the newer triggers, such as attacks on schools and hospitals and abductions, is an ongoing issue.
The Working Group’s productivity continues to be an issue. In 2015, it adopted only one set of conclusions (South Sudan), and so far this year it has only adopted conclusions on Afghanistan.
The effect of the consolidation of protection functions in UN missions on the ability of child protection advisers to implement the children and armed conflict mandate is a possible future issue.
An option for a more constructive open debate is to recommend that members focus on concrete suggestions for how to strengthen the children and armed conflict architecture, particularly in light of recent challenges.
Developing a more clearly defined process of working with parties that are close to being listed is an option to prevent the type of controversial removal of parties seen in the last two years. One possibility may be to offer these parties the opportunity to commit to actions that show they have taken steps to end violations. This would possibly lead to a decrease in violations against children as well as make it clear to parties that they are being seriously considered as candidates for listing.
In relation to the monitoring and reporting mechanism, an option is to request the Secretary-General to prepare a lessons-learned study of the mechanism’s operation during the last ten years, with recommendations that might improve its functioning.
An option related to the consolidation of protection functions is to request the Secretariat to provide a briefing to the Working Group early next year on the impact of the consolidation.
Council and Wider Dynamics
The overall dynamic in the Council has been generally constructive over the last year. This has not necessarily led to greater productivity because of delays in the drafting of conclusions and in the publication of the Secretary-General’s reports. There has been a lack of strong leadership and new ideas from any of the members, making more innovative development difficult. Instead, the approach has been very much business-as-usual even in the face of possible threats to the children and armed conflict mandate, such as the removal of the Saudi-led coalition, which was not taken up by the Working Group. Members might have been uncomfortable discussing the issue as two members of the coalition, Egypt and Senegal, are currently on the Council, and a number of other members have close ties to Saudi Arabia. However, some, for example Uruguay and Venezuela, have voiced their concern over the removal of the coalition from the annexes.
UN Documents on Children and Armed Conflict
|Security Council Resolution|
|18 June 2015 S/RES/2225||This was a resolution which added abductions as an additional violation to trigger inclusion of a party in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|18 June 2015 S/PV.7466||This was an open debate focused on the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict and the issue of abduction of children.|
|20 April 2016 S/2016/360||This was the report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict. On 6 June, the Secretary-General removed the Saudi Arabia-led coalition from the listing in Annex 1 of the report, where it had been included for the first time. The removal is considered “pending” until the conclusion of a joint review of the report’s findings with coalition members.|
|24 June 2016 S/2016/360/Add.1||This was an Addendum to the annual report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict that removed the Saudi Arabia-led coalition from the section on parties in Yemen of Annex 1 to the report pending review.|
|Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict Documents|
|11 May 2016 S/AC.51/2016/1||This was the Working Group’s conclusions on Afghanistan.|
|12 May 2015 S/AC.51/2015/1||This was the Working Group’s conclusions on South Sudan.|