Children and Armed Conflict
Expected Council Action
In July, the Council will hold a high-level open debate on children and armed conflict with the theme, “Protecting Children Today Prevents Conflict Tomorrow”. Sweden, the chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, has chosen to focus on how protecting children affected by armed conflict can contribute to conflict prevention and sustaining peace. The meeting will be chaired by Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba will present the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict circulated on 27 June. Other speakers include the executive director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, and Yenny Londoño, a civil society representative from Colombia. A resolution is expected to be adopted during the debate.
Key Recent Developments
The Secretary-General’s annual report documents a large increase in violations against children in 2017, largely brought about as a result of deterioration in several situations, including the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen. There were over 21,000 grave violations of children’s rights verified by the UN from January through December 2017, a 31 percent increase over 2016. Regarding the annexes listing parties that had committed violations against children, there were new listings of non-state armed groups in the DRC, Mali and Yemen. Parties that had been previously listed had additional violations added, including the Myanmar security forces; Al-Shabaab in Somalia; and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in South Sudan. Two parties were delisted: the FARC-EP in Colombia and the Sudan government security forces, which had both been listed for recruitment and use of children. The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has been delisted for attacks against schools and hospitals although it remains on the annex for killing and maiming. For the last three years, these listings have been particularly controversial, with strong reactions from member states and civil society regarding parties that had been omitted or credited with more progress than appeared meritted. Following the release of the latest report, there has been strong criticism from civil society organisations that have raised concerns about double standards.
The last children and armed conflict debate was held on 31 October 2017. Seventy-three delegations spoke at the meeting with many highlighting issues around better reporting and monitoring on the ground, a credible listing of perpetrators of violations, more effective implementation of action plans and greater accountability. A presidential statement was adopted, expressing concern at the scale and severity of violations in 2016, welcoming the enhanced engagement of the Secretary-General with parties, and reiterating that the protection of children should be part of a comprehensive strategy to resolve conflict and sustain peace.
On 7 May, an Arria-formula meeting was held on “Ending and Preventing Grave Violations Against Children Through Action Plans: Best Practices from African States”. Co-sponsored by Poland, Côte d’Ivoire, France and Sweden, it included representatives from Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan, who shared their experiences of implementing action plans.
On 6 June, the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict held an event on “Reintegration of children formerly associated with armed groups and armed forces”, co-sponsored by Poland, Belgium, France, Germany, Sierra Leone, Sweden, Switzerland, Liberia, and UNICEF. Representatives from Sierra Leone and Liberia shared their experiences in implementing reintegration programmes and how the programmes supported peacebuilding efforts.
The Special Representative has initiated a lessons-learnt exercise meant to be used to prevent violations at national and regional levels, and stressed closer cooperation with regional and sub-regional organisations and civil society to raise awareness of violations against children.
From 25 February to 1 March, Gamba visited Sudan, where she discussed the Sudan Government Security Forces’ implementation of the action plan to prevent the recruitment and use of children, signed in 2016. Upon her return, Gamba briefed the Council in consultations as well as the Sudan sanctions committee. From 27 to 29 May, Gamba visited Yangon and Naypitaw, where she discussed the implementation of the action plan to stop recruitment of children by the national army, which has made some progress. She raised the issue of access to Rakhine state for those monitoring and reporting on violations against children; there have been reports of killing, maiming and sexual violence in the state.
In the Central African Republic, the UN and the Mouvement Patriotique pour la Centrafrique (MPC), part of the ex-Séléka coalition, signed an action plan on 17 March to end and prevent grave violations against children. The action plan covers all four violations for which the group is listed in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report: recruitment and use, killing and maiming, sexual violence, and attacks on schools and hospitals.
Developments in the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict
The working group visited Sudan from 26 to 29 November 2017. The delegation, led by Ambassador Olof Skoog (Sweden), visited Khartoum and an IDP gathering site in Sortony. The main objectives of the visit were to follow up on the working group’s conclusions adopted on 31 July 2017 and assess progress in the action plans signed by parties to the conflict in Sudan. The delegation was also able to gain a better understanding of the challenges faced in monitoring and reporting on violations against children and impact of the conflict on children. Following the visit Skoog issued a statement on the mission.
The Working Group adopted five conclusions in 2017 (on Colombia, Somalia, the Philippines, Sudan and Nigeria). For the first time, the Working Group has been able to consistently maintain the two-month time frame for adopting conclusions envisaged when it was set up in 2006.
In 2018, the Working Group has so far considered two reports and adopted one set of conclusions. The Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict in Myanmar, which was published on 22 December 2017 and covered the period from 1 February 2013 to 30 June 2017, was formally presented to the working group on 22 January. Although the working group discussed the report, it did not issue conclusions, as it was decided that a follow-up report was needed, covering the period after the attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on 25 August 2017, and that one set of conclusions would be issued on the two reports.
On 12 March, the Secretary-General’s report on Mali was presented to the working group. Following two rounds of negotiations, the working group adopted conclusions on the Mali report on 4 May.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue is how to recalibrate the Council’s approach to the issue of children and armed conflict. There is a growing awareness that protection of children needs to be better connected to conflict prevention and sustaining peace efforts. An option for the Council is a resolution which clearly connects the protection of children to conflict prevention and sustaining peace efforts while retaining the monitoring and reporting core of the children and armed conflict mandate. Related to this is how to use the children and armed conflict monitoring and reporting mechanism within a conflict prevention framework, along with the Secretary-General’s annexes as tools for engagement with parties that could potentially find themselves listed there.
Having better reintegration of children in post-conflict situations understood as part of the work to prevent conflict from recurring is also an issue. Connected to this is the need for long-term funding for more effective reintegration. The Council could encourage support for the Office of the Special Representative’s efforts in setting up a global fund in cooperation with the World Bank.
An ongoing issue is how to encourage the integration of child protection issues in peace processes. Council members could make it a habit to ask about commitments to child protection in ongoing peace negotiations during relevant country-specific briefings.
Continuing issues include more effective implementation of action plans signed with armed forces and groups included in the annexes to the Secretary-General’s annual reports; engaging with non-state actors; and greater accountability for perpetrators of violations against children.
Issues may arise around the accuracy and credibility of the list of perpetrators in the annexes of the report. More detailed reporting of measures taken by parties on the list may help address questions around impartiality.
Sweden has been an active and effective chair of the working group since January 2017. Its open and collaborative style has allowed for the smooth adoption of all the conclusions within a two-month period. Several members of the working group appear engaged and open to ways of improving the group’s working methods. France, which has been a strong supporter over the years, has continued to be active, together with other members such as Poland, which has initiated meetings outside the Council to highlight particular aspects of the children and armed conflict agenda. While members generally agree that there is no need to change the core of the mandate, there is awareness that with the changing nature of conflict and the overlap with other issues in the Council, some refinements are needed. The negotiations on a draft resolution, which at press time had just begun, may reveal some divisions on specific aspects of the agenda.
UN DOCUMENTS ON CHILDREN AND ARMED CONFLICT
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|31 October 2017 S/PRST/2017/21||This was a presidential statement reiterating that the protection of children should be part of a comprehensive strategy to resolve conflict and sustain peace.|
|16 May 2018 S/2018/465||This was the Secretary-General’s latest annual report on children and armed conflict.|
|21 February 2018 S/2018/136||This was the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict in Mali.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|31 October 2017 S/PV.8082||This was an open debate on children and armed conflict.|
|21 June 2018 S/2018/625||This was the concept note for the Security Council open debate on children and armed conflict prepared by Sweden.|
|4 May 2018 S/AC.51/2018/1||This was the conclusions on children and armed conflict in Mali adopted by the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.|