Children and Armed Conflict
Expected Council Action
As Council president in February, Malta will convene a briefing on children and armed conflict that will focus on prevention of grave violations against children. (The six grave violations are child recruitment and use; killing and maiming; abductions; rape and other forms of sexual violence; attacks on schools and hospitals; and the denial of humanitarian access.) Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba is expected to brief. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, Dr. Najat Maalla M’jid, and a civil society representative may also brief.
Malta plans to prepare a summary of the briefing as an outcome of the meeting.
Background and Recent Developments
Over the years, the Council has discussed on several occasions the links between the protection of children and conflict prevention, including by considering how conflict prevention strategies can contribute to the prevention of violations against children. A key product in this regard is resolution 2427, adopted unanimously on 9 July 2018, through which the Security Council provided a framework for the prevention of grave violations against children in armed conflict situations.
Resolution 2427—which was initiated by Sweden, the then-Chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict—was adopted during the Council’s 2018 annual open debate on children and armed conflict, held under the theme “Protecting Children Today Prevents Conflict Tomorrow”. It expressed the Security Council’s commitment to consider and use the UN system’s tools to “ensure that early warning of potential conflicts translates into early, concrete preventive action, including towards the goal of protecting children… by or in coordination with the most appropriate United Nations or regional actor”. The resolution recognised the cross-border effects of violations against children and encouraged regional and subregional organisations to develop and expand initiatives to prevent such violations. Among other matters, resolution 2427 emphasised the need for a strong focus on combatting poverty and inequality to prevent and protect children from violations in the context of armed conflict. The resolution cited several elements that are crucial to preventing recruitment of children, such as ensuring access to education and the strengthening of effective age assessment mechanisms to prevent underage recruitment.
This resolution built on language contained in a 31 October 2017 presidential statement authored by Sweden. In this statement, the Council acknowledged that its products (such as resolutions and presidential statements), as well as the conclusions of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, contribute to preventing and responding to violations against children, including through promoting the signing of action plans by parties to armed conflict and encouraging parties to conflict to take necessary steps to be de-listed from the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report. The importance of action plans in preventing violations against children was also highlighted during a 7 May 2018 Arria-formula meeting titled “Ending and Preventing Grave Violations against Children through Action Plans: Best Practices from African States”.
In 2022, as the children and armed conflict mandate marked its 25th anniversary, Gamba highlighted on several occasions the need to continue promoting the mandate’s preventive aspects. Addressing a 7 October 2022 meeting of the General Assembly’s Third Committee, she said: “[n]ow as ever, the best solution to protecting children remains the prevention of violations in the first place”.
An 18 January 2022 study issued by the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict (Office of the SRSG CAAC) to mark the 25th anniversary notes that the adoption of resolution 2427 has increased the office’s opportunities to engage with relevant actors on the prevention of violations. Among the office’s initiatives is the promotion of prevention plans—a strategy or statement adopted at the highest levels of a government, regional, or subregional organisation that addresses specific trends and patterns, such as cross-border violations, and mobilises resources for preventing violations against children. The Office of the SRSG CAAC has been conducting outreach on prevention with regional organisations such as the African Union (AU), the League of Arab States (LAS), and the European Union (EU). In the case of the AU, the office has engaged with the authorities in the Central African Republic (CAR), Mali, and Sudan to promote the signing of prevention plans.
The Council convened for its annual open debate on children and armed conflict on 19 July 2022. Gamba presented the main findings of the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict, dated 23 June 2022. The report recorded 23,982 grave violations against children in 21 country situations and one regional situation (the Lake Chad Basin) and noted an alarming increase in abductions, which increased over 20 percent in 2021, compared to 2020. It added three new situations of concern with immediate effect—Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Ukraine—and called for enhanced monitoring capacity in the Central Sahel region. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 18 July 2022.)
At the debate, several members highlighted the situation of children in specific countries, with many focusing their remarks on Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Ukraine. Some members welcomed the Secretary-General’s decision to add the new situations of concern. In this regard, the UK noted that information gathered by the UN and other organisations operating on the ground attests to the serious protection needs of children in those countries, adding that establishing monitoring and reporting mechanisms could build an even stronger evidence base, which will allow parties to identify actions needed to prevent grave violations against children. Albania highlighted the links between accountability and prevention, arguing that holding perpetrators to account “increases the cost of non-compliance with international law and may deter future violations”. Gabon for its part said that early warning mechanisms in conflict environments can help detect situations in which children are at risk and “prevent opportunistic networks from forming”.
Developments in the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict
On 30 January, Malta assumed the chairmanship of the working group, with Ecuador serving as vice-chair. During Norway’s term as chair (2021-2022), the working group adopted eight sets of conclusions, on the Secretary-General’s reports on the CAR, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Iraq, the Philippines, Sudan, South Sudan, and Yemen. Six sets of conclusions (Afghanistan, Mali, Myanmar, Nigeria, Somalia, and Syria) remain pending, as Council dynamics complicated negotiations on several of these situations over the past two years.
Key Issues and Options
It seems that in convening February’s meeting, Malta aims to facilitate discussion on guidelines for operationalising the preventive provisions of resolution 2427. An option for the Council would be to consider a product outlining steps for the UN system, member states and regional organisations to promote the implementation of resolution 2427 and advance the prevention of violations against children.
A related issue for the Council is how to promote the full use of existing tools—such as the conclusions of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict and the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report—since ensuring accountability for current violations can deter and prevent other violations from occurring. In this regard, the Council needs to have the Secretary-General’s annual reports serve as an effective tool in supporting the implementation of the children and armed conflict agenda. Members have raised concerns that the credibility of the Secretary-General’s reports will diminish if parties that have not stopped committing violations against children are nonetheless taken off the annexes.
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.
Members may also consider other ways of furthering the implementation of resolution 2427. One proposal outlined in the 18 January 2022 study is to enable the children and armed conflict mandate to strengthen “its proactive engagements with parties to conflict”, including by relying on existing data from the UN country task forces on monitoring and reporting on grave violations against children (CTFMR) and early warning systems in situations not on the children and armed conflict agenda. This could facilitate swift addition of new situations of concern to the Secretary-General’s annual report and “allow the agenda to play an early warning role”, according to the study. Another option in this regard is for the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict to request periodic “horizon scanning” briefings from UNICEF and or civil society organisations to receive information about emerging situations of concern.
Members may also wish to reflect on ways to strengthen cooperation with regional and sub-regional organisations to prevent violations against children. Council members can consider requesting briefers at the Council’s periodic meetings on cooperation between the UN and regional organisations to describe steps taken by their respective organisations to prevent violations against children, such as the adoption of prevention plans.
There is strong support overall for the children and armed conflict agenda among Council members. However, there may be some sensitivities in discussing the prevention of violations. The negotiations on resolution 2427 were difficult, in part because of objections raised by China and Russia regarding language on prevention and sustaining peace. These members, which often highlight the importance of respecting member states’ sovereignty, were apparently not convinced that the Council is the most appropriate place for such discussions. It seems that language in resolution 2427 stressing that conflict prevention remains the primary responsibility of states and that UN efforts should support the prevention roles of national government may have helped alleviate these members’ concerns. In this vein, China and Russia may also be particularly uncomfortable with discussing early warning in country situations not on the children and armed conflict agenda.
It seems that divisions 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 in the working group. The direct involvement of some members in conflict situations such as Ukraine has also complicated the working group’s activities. It seems that in the past two years, agreement on some of the conclusions on country situations in Africa has been delayed, including because of concerns raised by the African members of the Council (Gabon, Ghana, and former Council member Kenya) about references to the relevant countries’ governments. It remains to be seen how the advent of the five new elected Council members—Ecuador, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, and Switzerland—will affect these dynamics, not least as Mozambique is now included as a situation of concern in the Secretary-General’s annual report.
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.|
|23 June 2022S/2022/493||This was the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|19 July 2022S/PV.9096||This was the Security Council’s annual open debate on children and armed conflict, held on 19 July 2022.|