Children and Armed Conflict
Expected Council Action
In June, the Security Council is expected to hold an open debate on children and armed conflict. Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid is expected to chair the meeting, which will be held at ministerial level. A senior Secretariat official is expected to present the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict, which is due in June. Other speakers are likely to include the Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, and a civil society briefer.
Key Recent Developments
In the past year, Council members continued to follow closely the potential effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on violations against children and the UN’s ability to address them. According to a 3 May report by the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict titled “Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on violations against children in situations of armed conflict”, the pandemic severely affected the UN’s ability to monitor and verify grave violations against children and curtailed its efforts to engage with conflict parties to end and prevent such violations.
The monitoring and reporting mechanism (MRM) was particularly affected during the second and third quarter of 2020 because of movement restrictions, which have limited the UN’s ability to undertake fieldwork. While the UN country task forces on monitoring and reporting on grave violations against children (CTFMR) continued their work in that period, the restrictions resulted in a backlog of cases requiring verification. The 3 May report further emphasised that the MRM was able to maintain its high standards of monitoring and verification, notwithstanding the difficulties posed by the pandemic.
The report notes that because of the backlog in verifying reported violations, it might take some time for the full scale of violations against children during 2020 to become evident. Although available data does not allow for definitive conclusions on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on violations against children, the 3 May report suggests that the pandemic and measures implemented by states to mitigate its effects have likely increased children’s vulnerability to recruitment and use, notably because of school closures and loss of family income. In addition, girls are likely to have become more vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence because of reduced mobility and increased isolation.
As in previous years, the Secretary-General’s upcoming annual report is expected to 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).
The Secretary-General’s latest annual report, issued on 9 June 2020, generated criticism from some members of the Security Council and civil society organisations because of the de-listing of the Saudi Arabia-led Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen for the violation of killing and maiming, despite the fact that the annual report showed that it had committed 222 such violations in 2019. Criticism was also aimed at the decision to de-list the Myanmar Armed Forces, known as the Tatmadaw, for the violation of recruitment and use, although they were responsible for eight cases of new recruitment and 197 cases of use in 2019, according to the findings of the annual report. The report emphasised that failure by both parties to further reduce violations will result in an automatic re-listing for the relevant violation in the next annual report.
In a 12 May open letter, 18 civil society organisations called on the Secretary-General to include in the annexes of the upcoming annual report a complete list of perpetrators of grave violations against children that accurately reflects the data collected by the MRM. The letter further notes that the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and the Tatmadaw continued to commit violations in 2020. According to the Secretary-General’s sixth report on children and armed conflict in Myanmar, issued on 17 December 2020, the UN verified that the Tatmadaw recruited and used 302 children during the first half of 2020 alone—more than the total violations it committed in 2019.
In recent months, UN officials and Council members have expressed alarm over developments in several country situations that are not on the Council’s agenda and are not included in the Secretary-General’s annual report. In the Tigray region of Ethiopia, many children are among the approximately one million people who have been displaced by the fighting since November 2020. In a 20 April statement, a UNICEF spokesperson described a “disturbing picture of severe and ongoing child rights violations” in Tigray, noting that UNICEF has received an average of three reports of gender-based violence per day between 1 January and 16 April.
In Mozambique, attacks in the Palma district of Cabo Delgado in late March have displaced at least 46,000 people by 11 May, approximately 40 percent of whom are children. In a 31 March statement, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba and other high-level UN officials expressed concern regarding “the unprecedented levels of violence especially the killings, beheading and kidnapping of civilians, including women and very young children”. They urged Mozambique’s government to “exercise its duty of due diligence to protect girls and boys, women and civilians from atrocities and acts of violence” and to hold perpetrators to account.
Developments in the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict
Norway took over from Belgium as the chair of the working group in January. By the end of May, the group had held five formal meetings in 2021.
On 12 March, the working group adopted conclusions on the Secretary-General’s report on South Sudan. At the time of writing, it was negotiating its conclusions on the Secretary-General’s report on Myanmar and was about to begin negotiations on the Secretary-General’s report on Syria (published on 19 May). It appears that some Council members want the conclusions on Myanmar also to reflect the situation of children since the 1 February takeover of the government by the Tatmadaw, although they are beyond the scope of the 30 June 2020 cut-off date of the Secretary-General’s Myanmar report. As at 6 May, the UN had reported the killing of at least 53 children by security forces and the arbitrary detention of around 1,000 children and young people in Myanmar.
Key Issues and Options
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.
Concerns have been raised that if parties that do not appear to have stopped committing violations against children are nonetheless taken off the annexes, the credibility of the Secretary-General’s report may be called into question. Council members could call for the consistent and transparent application of the criteria for listing and de-listing parties, which were set out in the Secretary-General’s 2010 annual report. That report said that a party would be de-listed if the UN had verified that it “has ceased commission of all the said grave violations” for which it was listed.
Another important issue is facilitating adequate funding for child protection capacities in UN missions. In a 7 May virtual Arria-formula meeting on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on violations against children in situations of armed conflict, Council members heard from representatives of various UN peace operations, who argued that the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the insufficient financing for child protection in UN missions. Council members could seek to integrate relevant language on resourcing for child protections personnel more systematically into mandates of UN peace operations. The working group’s practice of conducting meetings with relevant CTFMRs ahead of mandate renewals can assist in obtaining information on these issues. After relevant language is included in mandate renewal resolutions, members may wish to follow budget discussions in the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee to facilitate the necessary resourcing of these provisions.
Another concern for Council members is how to address the potential effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on violations against children, including on the right to education and the vulnerability faced by girls. Members could request the UN to continue to improve the systematic collection of gender-disaggregated data on grave violations to better tailor gender-sensitive responses. During a September 2020 open debate focusing on attacks on education, the need for more gender-disaggregated information on attacks against schools was highlighted, as women and girls are often deliberately targeted in attacks on education.
Council members may also consider ways to address instances of grave violations against children in country situations that are not on the Council’s agenda or included in the Secretary-General’s annual report. They could ask Gamba to brief the working group on such emerging issues and call on the Secretary-General to include in the narrative of his annual report information that may help to prevent such violations. Council members could also address child protection considerations in their statements during Council meetings on issues such as Tigray, as such situations that are not on the Council’s agenda are sometimes discussed in closed consultations or under “any other business”.
There is strong support overall for the children and armed conflict agenda among Council members. However, political sensitivities in the Council over issues such as Myanmar and Syria have filtered down to the subsidiary body level, resulting in protracted negotiations before consensus can be reached on some conclusions.
Disagreements have also arisen during negotiations on conclusions regarding references to the “UN guiding principles” of humanitarian assistance. Russia has increasingly pushed this formulation in Council products, which is viewed as giving greater weight to state sovereignty and the consent of the country concerned. Other Council members prefer references to the delivery of humanitarian assistance in accordance with the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.
Ambassador Mona Juul (Norway) chairs the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.
UN DOCUMENTS ON CHILDREN AND ARMED CONFLICT
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|10 September 2020S/PRST/2020/8||This was a presidential statement on attacks against schools, which was co-authored by Niger and Belgium. It reaffirmed the right to education , while condemning the significant increase in attacks against schools in recent years.|
|17 December 2020S/2020/1243||This was the Secretary-General’s sixth report on children and armed conflict in Myanmar.|
|9 June 2020S/2020/525||This was the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict.|
|Security Council Letters|
|26 June 2020S/2020/594||This letter contained a record of the statements made at the open debate on children and armed conflict, held on 23 June 2020.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|10 September 2020S/PV.8756||This was an open debate on “Children and Armed Conflict: Attacks against Schools as a Grave Violation of Children’s Rights”, which focused on the Sahel region.|