June 2024 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 June 2024
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Children and Armed Conflict

Expected Council Action

In June, the Security Council will hold its annual open debate on children and armed conflict. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba is expected to present the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict, which is due in mid-June. Other speakers are likely to include Executive Director of UNICEF Catherine Russell, former UN Secretary-General and Deputy Chair of the Elders Ban Ki-moon, and a civil society representative.

It seems that this year’s annual open debate will cover several themes and trends, including the denial of humanitarian access for children, attacks on schools and hospitals, and the effects of the drawdown of UN peace missions on child protection capacities.

Key Recent Developments

The year 2024 marks 25 years since the Security Council adopted resolution 1261 of 30 August 1999, its first to condemn the targeting of children in situations of armed conflict and the first-ever thematic Council resolution. Worrying trends of grave violations committed against children in the past year—including in the context of the eruption and intensification of conflicts in places like Gaza, Myanmar, Sudan, and Ukraine—demonstrate the continued importance of the children and armed conflict agenda. (The six grave violations, as determined by the Security Council, are child recruitment and use; killing and maiming; rape and other forms of sexual violence; attacks on schools and hospitals; abductions; and the denial of humanitarian access.)

The Secretary-General’s most recent annual report on the protection of civilians (PoC), dated 14 May, says that the 7 October 2023 attacks against Israel led by Hamas, the Palestinian armed group and de facto authority in Gaza, and the subsequent Israeli military response in Gaza “resulted in civilian deaths and destruction at a level unprecedented in the decades-long conflict”. According to figures provided by Israeli authorities cited by OCHA, the 7 October attacks led to the deaths of more than 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals, of whom 33 were children, and the abduction of some 250 Israelis and foreign nationals, including more than 30 children. Figures provided by Palestinian officials in Gaza cited by OCHA indicate that, as at 27 May, at least 36,000 Palestinians had been killed, of whom (at 30 April) close to 8,000 had been identified as children. The numbers are likely to be higher, as many people in Gaza are missing and presumed buried under the rubble. In 2023, hostilities in the Gaza Strip rendered 23 hospitals and 56 healthcare centres out of service and damaged 370 educational facilities, according to the Secretary-General’s PoC report.

The Security Council has met frequently to discuss developments since 7 October 2023, with a 22 November 2023 briefing focusing on the effects of the fighting on women and children. The first resolution that the Council was able to adopt on the war between Israel and Hamas after several failed attempts—resolution 2712 of 15 November 2023, which was authored by Malta, the chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict—references child protection issues throughout.

In Sudan, fighting that started in April 2023 between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has displaced more than four million children, making Sudan the largest displacement crisis in the world, according to a 15 April UNICEF statement. The statement added that “2023 saw the highest number of grave child rights violations verified in Sudan in more than a decade”, noting a five-fold increase compared with 2022 in reports of grave violations, particularly recruitment and use, killing and maiming, and sexual violence against children.

The already perilous conditions faced by children in Haiti have worsened since late February, when the main gangs in the capital Port-au-Prince, in an apparent alliance, carried out a series of coordinated attacks that targeted state institutions and critical infrastructure. Briefing at a 22 April Council meeting on Haiti, Russell said that between 30 and 50 percent of armed groups in Haiti have children within their ranks, adding that thousands of cases of sexual violence were reported in 2023, many of which targeted children. A multinational security support (MSS) mission to help Haiti combat gang activity and restore security, authorised through Security Council resolution 2699 of 2 October 2023, may deploy to Haiti in early June, according to media reports. At the 22 April briefing, Russell provided several recommendations for the MSS, including on the need to treat children associated with armed groups as victims and to safely hand them over to child protection actors.

UNICEF reported on 13 May that nearly 2,000 children have been killed or injured in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion of the country in February 2022, highlighting that the number of child fatalities this year has increased by almost 40 percent compared to 2023. Hostilities in Ukraine resulted in the destruction or damaging of 103 medical facilities and 294 educational institutions in 2023, according to the Secretary-General’s PoC report.

On 29 May, the UK convened a Security Council Arria-formula meeting on Myanmar focused on the situation of children and youth. Briefing at the meeting, Director of UNICEF’s Office of Emergency Programmes Lucia Elmi highlighted that children in Myanmar are harmed in ways that are “often hidden in the shadows from the international limelight”, such as killing and maiming caused by landmines. A 4 April UNICEF statement noted that children accounted for over 20 percent of the 1,052 verified civilian casualties from landmine and explosive ordnance incidents during 2023.

Decisions relating to the annexes to the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict—which list parties that have committed grave violations against children—have traditionally attracted considerable attention. In an April report titled “A Credible List”, the organisation Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict provides several recommendations for the upcoming annual report, including to list the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), as well as the Al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas’ military wing) and Al-Quds Brigades (the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad). Other civil society organisations have made similar calls and criticised the Secretary-General for failing to hold accountable Israeli security forces and Palestinian armed groups, neither of which were listed in the annexes of the 2023 annual report. Among other things, the “A Credible List” report also includes recommendations relating to listing parties in Sudan (the SAF and the RSF) and various armed gangs in Haiti.

During its April Council presidency, Malta organised a briefing titled “Addressing the consequences of the denial of humanitarian access for children”. At the meeting, Gamba noted that data collected for the upcoming annual report on children and armed conflict indicates “a shocking increase” in incidents of denial of humanitarian access globally. The briefers and Council members expressed concerns about the denial of humanitarian access in several contexts, including Afghanistan, Gaza, Sudan, Myanmar, and Yemen.

Developments in the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict   

In the past several years, due to difficult Council dynamics, the Working Group has failed to adopt conclusions, which require consensus, on a number of Secretary-General’s reports. In 2023, when it became the chair of the working group, Malta inherited five sets of pending conclusions: three that were presented in 2021 (Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Syria) and two in 2022 (Nigeria and Somalia). In an unprecedented development, the working group had failed to adopt conclusions on the three reports submitted in 2021 before the Secretary-General presented new two-year reports on Afghanistan and Syria. He is soon expected to issue a new report on Myanmar.

On 22 May, the working group agreed on its conclusions on the Secretary-General’s new report on Afghanistan, an achievement which required compromise on language about which some permanent members (P5) had reservations. Regarding the reports presented in 2022, the working group has adopted conclusions on Nigeria. The adoption of conclusions on Somalia has apparently been delayed due to difficulty in securing the country’s participation in a working group meeting to provide its response to the draft conclusions—which is a standard practice of the working group.

The working group is currently negotiating its conclusions on Secretary-General’s reports on the Central African Republic (CAR), Colombia, and Syria, and is expected to begin negotiating conclusions on Iraq.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue for the Council is to ensure the effectiveness of the tools that support the implementation of the children and armed conflict agenda. The working group’s failure to adopt conclusions on some country situations for over two years is a matter of concern, as it hampers its ability to respond to developments on the ground in a timely manner; enhancing the transparency and visibility of its work may assist in this regard. An option would be to request the chair to provide periodic reports to the Security Council or the wider UN membership, similar to periodic briefings provided by chairs of sanctions committees. The working group chair could also alert the Council about stalled negotiations on conclusions by raising the matter under “any other business” during closed consultations, an informal meeting format.

How to maintain child protection capacities and monitoring and reporting on violations following the drawdown of UN peace operations is a crucial issue. A recent spate of abrupt mission closures—of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in December 2023 and the UN Integrated Transition Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) in February—has highlighted this issue and raised PoC concerns. The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is also undergoing a transition, with the Congolese government having called for its accelerated drawdown to begin by the end of 2023. There appears to be little or no documentation on lessons learned regarding transferring child protection and monitoring capacities during transition processes. An option for Council members would be to ask the Secretary-General to prepare such a report. Working group conclusions and other Council products can also call on donors to facilitate adequate funding for entities such as UNICEF that are slated to take over child protection and monitoring capacities after the UN peace operations’ departure. (For more on UN peace mission transitions, see our December 2023 research report titled UN Transitions in a Fractured Multilateral Environment.)

Council Dynamics

The children and armed conflict agenda enjoys broad general support among Council members. However, political sensitivities in the Council are also evident at the subsidiary body level, resulting in protracted negotiations before consensus can be reached on some conclusions in the working group.

Five member states are running uncontested for a 2025-2026 seat on the Council: Denmark, Greece, Pakistan, Panama, and Somalia. It remains to be seen how this change in membership might affect dynamics within the working group, not least since Somalia is on the children and armed conflict agenda and Pakistan is a situation of concern. In last year’s annual report, the Secretary-General said that engagement by Pakistan’s government to develop measures to protect children “may lead to the removal of Pakistan as a situation of concern from my next report, should all agreed practical measures be fully implemented”.

There appear to be differing views among Council members on whether the denial of humanitarian access—the only violation that does not trigger listing in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s report—should become a trigger violation. At the April briefing on the denial of humanitarian access, Algeria was the only member to express support for making denial of humanitarian access a trigger violation. Other Council members seem to have less appetite for a resolution that would make denial of humanitarian access a trigger violation, particularly as some P5 members have sensitivities about country situations where this violation is prevalent. (For more information, see the children and armed conflict brief in our April 2024 Monthly Forecast).

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Security Council Resolutions
30 August 1999S/RES/1261 This resolution condemned targeting of children in situations of armed conflict, urged parties to armed conflict to take into consideration protection of children and urged states to facilitate DDR.
Secretary-General’s Reports
5 June 2023S/2023/363 This was the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict.

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