Children and Armed Conflict
Expected Council Action
As Council president in February and the chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, Belgium is planning a high-level briefing on “Integrating child protection into peace processes to resolve conflict and sustain peace”, to be presided over by the country’s Foreign Minister, Philippe Goffin. Belgian King Philippe and Queen Mathilde are expected to be in attendance, and King Philippe will most likely make a statement. The anticipated briefers are Secretary-General António Guterres, AU Peace and Security Commissioner Smaïl Chergui and Jo Becker, chair of the advisory board of the NGO network Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict. On the same day as the briefing, there will be a related high-level event to launch the practical guidance for mediators to protect children in situations of armed conflict. A presidential statement is a possible outcome.
Background and Recent Developments
Since 1999, Council resolutions and presidential statements have included language on the need for parties to integrate child protection provisions into all peace negotiations, ceasefire and peace agreements, and to take into account children’s views where possible. Of the 12 resolutions adopted on children and armed conflict, ten have included language on integrating child protection provisions during peace negotiations, ceasefire and peace agreements. The most recent resolution, adopted in 2018, highlighted the need to consider child protection issues from the early stages of peace processes.
The Council adopted a presidential statement on 31 October 2017 that encouraged the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, to carry out “lessons learned initiatives in order to compile comprehensive best practices on the children and armed conflict mandate, including practical guidance on the integration of child protection issues in peace processes”. This guidance is expected to be launched ahead of the Council briefing.
On 2 August 2019, the Council held an open debate on children and armed conflict, based on the Secretary-General’s 2019 annual report on children and armed conflict. Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz chaired the meeting. Gamba; Henrietta Fore, the executive director of UNICEF; UNICEF Canada Ambassador, Mariatu Kamara, whose hands were amputated during Sierra Leone’s civil war; and Majok Peter Awan, a former child soldier and currently a UN child protection officer, briefed the Council.
On 26 November 2019, Council members held an Arria-formula meeting co-hosted by Belgium, Peru, Poland and the UK on how to better support children once they have been separated from armed forces and armed groups. The meeting focused on how bridging the “humanitarian-development-peace nexus” can lead to more sustainable and successful reintegration of children associated with armed forces and armed groups. It also looked at how incorporating children’s views can lead to more effective strategies for reintegration and post-conflict recovery.
In October 2019, Gamba visited Somalia. She commended the government of Somalia for its commitment to speeding up the implementation of action plans to end and prevent the recruitment and use, and the killing and maiming of children. She conveyed her concern over the rising levels of grave violations against children. Somalia has the highest number of grave violations against children of all the situations listed in the annexes to the Secretary-General’s annual report.
Gamba visited Myanmar from 15 to 20 January and met with senior Myanmar officials and a range of key stakeholders involved in child protection. Eight parties in Myanmar are listed in the annexes to the Secretary-General’s annual report, including the national army (Tatmadaw), which signed an action plan in 2012. (The annual reports contain annexes listing parties that have committed grave violations against children: one includes parties active in conflict situations on the Council’s agenda, the other, in situations that are not on the list of issues the Council is seized of). During the visit, Gamba highlighted how children have suffered from the hostilities in Myanmar, particularly in Rakhine, Shan and Kachin States, and also acknowledged progress in the implementation of the action plan on recruitment of children. She urged the Tatmadaw to commit to a joint action plan with the UN on ending and preventing killing, maiming and sexual violence, violations for which it is also listed.
Developments in the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict
The Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict visited Mali from 8 to 11 December 2019. The delegation was made up of 11 members of the Security Council, who visited Bamako and Mopti. The objectives of the visit included following up on the May 2018 conclusions on children and armed conflict in Mali, discussing challenges and opportunities to advance the children and armed conflict agenda in Mali, assessing progress in the implementation of the action plan signed by Coordination des mouvements de l’Azawad in March 2017, and engaging with other armed groups. The Working Group delegation met with senior UN and government officials, the UN country task force on monitoring and reporting on grave violations against children, the High Islamic Council, local and international non-governmental organisations, representatives of armed groups, and the local Group of Friends on Children and Armed Conflict. They also met with a representative from the Group of Five for the Sahel.
In 2019, the Working Group held 12 formal meetings and met 27 times in informal consultations. It adopted conclusions on the Secretary-General’s reports on children and armed conflict in Syria and Myanmar. Negotiations are currently ongoing on the reports on Afghanistan, the Central African Republic and Yemen. The report on Colombia was introduced in the Working Group at the end of January.
In 2019, the Working Group also held video teleconferences (VTCs) with the UN country task force on monitoring and reporting on Mali in February, the DRC in May, Nigeria in July, Sudan in October, and the Philippines in November. These briefings provide an opportunity for the Working Group to monitor progress on protection of children issues and to obtain information that can be used in integrating these issues into mandate renewal resolutions in situations where there are peace operations.
A new working method initiated by the chair is a monthly briefing of the Working Group by the incoming president of the Council on the programme of work, which allows working group members to plan ahead for country-specific situations that may be of interest in the context of the children and armed conflict agenda.
Key Issues and Options
The overarching issue is what the Council can do to raise awareness of the importance of incorporating child protection considerations in peace processes. Beyond incorporating appropriate language in its resolutions, the Council could choose to more proactively raise this issue during regular briefings on UN peace operations in order to better understand the challenges faced by mediators and others involved in peace processes. It could also request the Secretary-General to include integration of child protection issues in reporting on peace processes, as a discrete section in the annual report and in his periodic reports on relevant peace operations,
A related issue is the lack of guidance for those involved in peace processes. The Council could address this in a presidential statement encouraging mediators to use the guidance. It could also include a commitment for this issue to be incorporated in resolutions on all relevant peace operations.
Council members are generally supportive of the children and armed conflict agenda. However, the difficult dynamics among Council members have had a direct impact on the Working Group’s ability to agree on conclusions, particularly on the situations that were the first to be addressed by the Working Group last year: Myanmar, Syria and Yemen. Although the Working Group began to negotiate different conclusions in parallel in the latter half of 2019, it was not possible to adopt as many conclusions as had been anticipated.
The Working Group met more times than any other subsidiary body in 2019. Areas covered included the introduction of reports; briefings on the Global Horizontal Note, which provides an update on situations in the Secretary-General’s annexes; and negotiations and adoptions of conclusions. In addition, there were regular VTCs and briefings on the programme of work. Besides the chair, several other Working Group members have shown a dedication to the issue, including in 2019 the Dominican Republic, France, Germany and the UK. However, frequent changes in personnel by the US may suggest a lack of commitment to the issue while China appears to no longer have a dedicated children and armed conflict expert, choosing instead to send its country-specific experts to the meetings. It is too soon to get a sense of the positions of the new members although early indications are that Tunisia is likely to be sensitive to counties in its region in negotiations on the conclusions on the report of children and armed conflict in Yemen and Estonia is expected to be an active participant. Negotiations on the anticipated draft presidential statement are likely to provide a clearer picture of the dynamics among Working Group members going forward.
Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve (Belgium) chairs the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.
UN DOCUMENTS ON CHILDREN AND ARMED CONFLICT
|Security Council Resolutions|
|9 July 2018S/RES/2427||This was a resolution, unanimously adopted, that provided a framework for mainstreaming protection, rights, well-being and empowerment of children throughout the conflict cycle, as well as in sustaining peace efforts.|
|20 June 2019S/2019/509||This was the annual report on children and armed conflict.|
|10 September 2019S/2019/727||This was the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict in Afghanistan.|
|3 June 2019S/2019/453||This was the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict in Yemen.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|2 August 2019S/PV.8591||Meeting records from the Council’s open debate on children and armed conflict on 2 August.|
|20 December 2019S/2019/981||This was the annual report of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.|
|20 August 2019S/AC.51/2019/2||This contained the conclusions on Myanmar adopted by the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.|
|19 July 2019S/AC.51/2019/1||These were the conclusions on Syria adopted by the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.|