Children and Armed Conflict
Expected Council Action
In June, the Council is expected to hold an open videoconference (VTC) debate on the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict, due in June. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba will present the Secretary-General’s report. Other speakers are likely to include the Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, and a civil society briefer.
Key Recent Developments
On 12 February, the Council held a high-level briefing on “Integrating child protection into peace processes to resolve conflict and sustain peace”. Belgian Foreign Minister Philippe Goffin presided, and Belgian King Philippe and Queen Mathilde were in attendance. King Philippe made a statement, and Secretary-General António Guterres; AU Peace and Security Commissioner Smaïl Chergui; and Jo Becker, chair of the advisory board of the NGO Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, briefed the Council.
The high-level briefing was convened ahead of the launch that day of the “Practical guidance for mediators to protect children in situations of armed conflict”, a document developed by the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict with the aim of providing tools for mediators and other parties involved in peace processes to prioritise the protection of children and prevention of violations against them.
At the briefing, Guterres noted the worrying rise in the number of children who are killed or maimed in conflict. In 2018, 12,000 children were killed or maimed—the highest annual number since 1996, when the General Assembly created the post of Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. Guterres said that the guidance for mediators is the next step in the strategy to put children at the heart of protection, peacebuilding and prevention efforts, emphasising that in addition to implementing the guidance, member states needed to take concrete steps to prioritise the protection of children in conflict situations. Becker said that child protection provisions are rarely included in peace agreements, despite the progress that has been made in raising awareness of the issue. Since the Council began engaging with the issue of children and armed conflict in 1999, fewer than 18 percent of the 444 documents in the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs’ peace agreements database, including peace and ceasefire agreements as well as declarations and other communiqués, have included child-protection provisions. She further stressed that meaningful references to the needs of children should be included in peace agreements, such as articulation of long-term frameworks that address the needs of children in post-conflict situations in a sustainable way.
The Council adopted a presidential statement during the high-level briefing that welcomed the development of the UN’s guidance on child protection in peace processes and encouraged the Secretary-General to disseminate it and promote its use in UN peace and mediation processes. It further called on member states to integrate child protection into “all relevant activities in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations”, while stressing the need to ensure accountability for all violations against children.
On 23 March, Guterres appealed for a worldwide ceasefire to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance and focus resources on fighting the global COVID-19 pandemic. Following his call, several countries committed themselves to stopping hostilities, including Cameroon, Sudan and the Philippines. Special Representative Gamba issued a statement calling on parties to include considerations relating to the rights and well-being of children in peace dialogues and to demonstrate their commitment to a ceasefire by putting an end to the recruitment of children and securing the release of children associated with parties to conflict.
A UN policy brief, issued on 15 April, covered the possible impact of the spread of COVID-19 on children in armed conflict situations. It said that while children are generally spared from the primary effect of the virus and are less affected by symptoms of the disease, they are more likely to be affected by secondary consequences, particularly the socio-economic impacts of steps taken to mitigate the disease. In armed conflict situations, where health care systems are already burdened, children have limited access to medical services. In addition, the brief warned that the pandemic, or pandemic response, may increase the recruitment of children. For example, school closures might give children an incentive to join armed groups.
Developments in the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict
Between January and March, the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict held three formal meetings and one informal consultation. Because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Working Group has held three closed VTC meetings since March for briefings, the introduction of country-specific reports on children and armed conflict and a discussion of conclusions adopted by written procedure.
The Working Group adopted conclusions on the Secretary-General’s reports on children and armed conflict in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic and Yemen. At the time of writing, negotiations continue on conclusions on the reports on Colombia and Iraq.
On 22 May, Gamba and Manuel Fontaine, Director of the Office of Emergency Programmes at UNICEF, briefed the Working Group on the impact of COVID-19 on children and provided an initial assessment of the effects of the pandemic on the UN system’s ability to perform tasks related to the children and armed conflict agenda. Gamba stated that while the monitoring and reporting mechanism on children and armed conflict remains operational, lockdown measures that are in effect globally have restricted the UN’s ability to undertake fieldwork. She further discussed mitigating measures that are being carried out to ensure the continuity of monitoring and reporting, such as cooperation with local civil society partners.
Key Issues and Options
An overarching priority for the Council is the prevention of violations against children, given the continuous worsening of hostilities and their impact on them. In that regard, a key issue for the Council is having the Secretary-General’s annual reports serve as an effective tool in supporting the implementation of the children and armed conflict agenda. The annual reports contain annexes listing parties that have committed grave violations against children (their recruitment and use, killing and maiming, abductions, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and attacks on schools and hospitals). Since 2017, the list has been divided into two sections (A and B) for parties that have not enacted measures to improve the protection of children during the reporting period and those that have enacted some such measures, respectively.
In the last few years, controversies have arisen around the accuracy and impartiality of the listing and delisting of certain perpetrators in the annexes of the annual report. Concerns have been raised that if parties that do not appear to have stopped committing violations against children are taken off the annexes, the credibility of the monitoring and reporting mechanism itself will be called into question. Greater transparency about the listing and delisting criteria and the criteria for moving listed parties between sections A and B may help address these concerns. Another option is to consider the establishment of a due diligence process to inquire into possible discrepancies.
The meeting will also mark 15 years since the adoption of resolution 1612, which established the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. As such, it can serve as an opportunity for member states to reflect on the achievements since the establishment of the Working Group, and to look ahead for new ways to promote the fulfilment of the children and armed conflict agenda.
A new issue for the Council is how to address the impact of COVID-19 on children in situations of conflict. A related concern is the ability of the UN system, including the Special Representative’s office and peacekeeping missions, to protect children on the ground because of restrictions on movement. During Council briefings on relevant country-specific situations, members may wish to raise the issue of how the monitoring, reporting and response to violations of children’s rights are being affected. At the time of writing, the Council was negotiating a draft resolution on the COVID-19 pandemic that includes a call for a global ceasefire. The Council may consider adding language about the impact of the pandemic on children in any such product.
There is strong support overall for the children and armed conflict agenda among Council members. For example, the adoption of the February presidential statement was relatively smooth. However, political sensitivities in the Council over issues such as Syria and Myanmar have filtered down to the subsidiary body level, making it hard to achieve consensus on some conclusions.
The advent of remote working has meant that the Working Group has not been able to hold face-to-face negotiations. Over the years, members of the Working Group have developed strong ties because of their regular contact. These relationships have often been useful in reaching agreement on outcomes. It is hard to predict how meeting and negotiating remotely will affect his.
Ambassador Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve (Belgium) chairs the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.
UN DOCUMENTS ON CHILDREN AND ARMED CONFLICT
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|12 February 2020S/PRST/2020/3||This was a presidential statement that stressed the need for a broad conflict prevention strategy that addresses the causes of conflict in order to protect children. It renewed its call on member states and relevant parties to integrate child protection provisions into all peace negotiations and ceasefire and peace agreements.|
|20 June 2019S/2019/509||This was the annual report on children and armed conflict.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|12 February 2020S/PV.8721||This was a high-level briefing on “Integrating child protection into peace processes to resolve conflict and sustain peace” which was presided over by Belgium’s foreign minister, Philippe Goffin. Belgian King Philippe and Queen Mathilde were in attendance.|