Research Report

Posted 27 August 2012
Download Publication: PDF

Cross-Cutting Report No. 3: Children and Armed Conflict

Executive Summary

This is Security Council Report’s fifth Cross-Cutting Report on Children and Armed Conflict analysing statistical information on children and armed conflict in country-specific decisions of the Security Council and trends in 2011 and early 2012 (to access the full report, please view in PDF). The report examines relevant data in the 2011 resolutions, presidential statements, Council missions and Secretary-General’s reports as well as peace agreements and peacekeeping mandates and tries to  assess the degree to which the thematic issue of children and armed conflict has been addressed and reflected in the mainstream of the Council’s overall work on country-specific situations. The report also looks at the impact of the activities of the Working Group on children and armed conflict and the Office of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict on this issue. 

After several years of largely positive developments and progress, in 2011 the protection of children in armed conflict agenda faced a number of challenges. Although it was possible for the Security Council to adopt resolution 1998, expanding the criteria for inclusion in the Secretary-General’s annexes to include attacks on schools and hospitals, the repercussions from the differences that emerged during the negotiations are still being felt into 2012.

In 2011 resolution 1973 on Libya set off a series of reactions that significantly affected Council dynamics in most areas of its work. Our findings indicate that while this may not have affected the children and armed conflict agenda substantively, it could have led to a more cautious approach to the issue in order not to roll-back progress made in the past. In addition, the apparent reduced attention to thematic issues among several Council members, either due to other priorities or the belief that these issues are best addressed in the General Assembly, may have led to a lessening of political will to advance this issue. As a result the picture in 2011 and early 2012 is a mixed one for the children and armed conflict agenda.

Findings and Observations

Among the findings of this Cross-Cutting Report are: 

  1. While the Council continued to address child protection issues in relevant country-specific decisions, there was a decrease in the overall percentage of resolutions addressing children in armed conflict. However, when there was child protection language it was not only updated but often strengthened compared to previous years. The number of presidential statements with child protection references also increased slightly.
  2. There are some signs that political will within the Council on this issue is weakening.  With the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict now being the main driver the Council is becoming increasingly divorced from the issue.
  3. The greater interaction and transmission of information between the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, the Working Group and relevant Security Council sanctions committees appear to have produced some results. Four sanctions committees (Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Sudan) now have designation criteria on grave violations against children.
  4. Addressing the issue of persistent perpetrators and finding better ways of reaching out to non-state actors has grown in urgency. There has been a significant increase in the number of persistent perpetrators (parties that have been listed by the Secretary-General for more than five years). The 2012 report on children and armed conflict (S/2012/261) lists 32 parties that come under the category of persistent perpetrators. Of these, 13 were similarly designated in previous years, while 19 were newly added to the 2012 annual report. 
  5. While there has been little movement with getting non-state actors to agree to action plans to stop recruitment of children, there has been some progress made with getting government armed forces to move towards ending recruitment and use of children. Four action plans on recruitment and use of children were signed in 2011 and another two in the first half of 2012.
  6. Although the monitoring and reporting triggers have been expanded to include sexual violence and killing and maiming, the main signs of progress appear to be in the area of the original trigger, recruitment of children. There has been only one action plan signed on killing and maiming and none on sexual violence. (Both were added as triggers for the listing of parties in the annexes following the adoption of resolution 1882 in 2009.) There were no action plans signed for the most recent trigger, attacks on schools and hospitals, but it is probably too early to assess its impact as it was only added following the adoption of resolution 1998 in 2011.
  7. Child protection was usually addressed in the reports of the Secretary-General as part of a broader section (e.g. peace consolidation, mandate implementation, human rights or humanitarian assistance). Only the reports on the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA) had child protection as a stand-alone section. This may suggest that in many UN missions child protection has been subsumed under a larger human rights agenda. At the same time there were more direct references to child protection and to progress made with action plans in the “observations” sections of the reports indicating higher awareness of the specific aspects of the issue.
  8. There was a greater focus on child protection issues in relation to the activities of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) as evidenced in resolutions, presidential statements and reports related to the Central African region and the LRA. This might be due to the overall increased Council attention to the LRA issue in 2011 and the efforts of some Council members to highlight the violations against children by the LRA.
  9. Three new missions—two peacekeeping and one political—were set up in 2011. While all three were in situations that had a protection of civilians dimension, only the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) included a strong child element in its mandate. Neither the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) nor the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) paid much attention to child protection in their mandates. In spite of the significant protection of civilians angle of the situation in Libya, there was no attempt to highlight the needs of children in a situation of on-going armed conflict in the resolutions adopted on Libya in 2011.
  10. As a result of the Arab Spring two new country situations have been added to the body of the 2012 report: Libya and Syria. Syria was added to the annexes for the killing and maiming of children and attacks on schools and hospitals by government forces. The UN will now need to monitor and report on these violations against children and a report from the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Syria will be added to the Working Group’s programme of work. Regarding Libya, it seems there was insufficient concrete evidence of violations against children to warrant adding Libya to the annex.
  11. The convictions by international courts of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo and Charles Taylor have helped raise awareness of the criminal nature of the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict. There is some interest from certain Council members and the Office of the Special Representative in using the increased awareness generated to exert pressure on the international community to ensure that there is no impunity for individuals and entities involved in violations against children.

 Observations on the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict:

  1. The Working Group has begun to find effective ways to be kept up-to-date on current conflicts. It received a number of briefings in 2011 and 2012 on current conflict situations like Libya, Mali and Syria. However, there is little appetite to take any action following these briefings.
  2. While coming up with comprehensive conclusions, the Working Group continued to stay away from stronger recommendations such as targeted sanctions and specific time-lines that might put pressure on persistent perpetrators. No new tools were suggested in any of the Working Group’s conclusions for 2011.
  3. The time gap between the adoption of the conclusions by the Working Group and the publication of the Secretary-General’s reports was substantially reduced in 2011. The average time spent negotiating conclusions fell from 10 months in 2010 about four months in 2011. This was due to determined efforts by Germany, as chair of the Working Group, to narrow the gap in order to establish a more efficient and effective cycle of reporting and follow-up action. However, difficulties over the Sudan/South Sudan conclusions have led to a slowdown in 2012 which is likely to affect the cycle of country-reports going forward.
  4. The Working Group continued to use field trips as a way of pressuring parties named in the annexes: in June 2011 it visited Afghanistan. However, the self-funding requirement has resulted in very few Working Group members participating in the trips.
Somalia Case Study

This Cross-Cutting Report also includes a case-study on Somalia, which was chosen as children have been directly affected by the conflict in Somalia over the decades. In the last year there has been some progress in protecting children in Somalia. However, our case-study shows that as a result of the Security Council’s hands-off approach to Somalia for more than a decade, it was not its interest in Somalia which was the driving force in developing the children and armed conflict agenda for this situation. This came instead from the energy generated by developments in children and armed conflict as a thematic issue, which resulted in a separate track allowing inroads into a situation which the Council largely ignored until 2007. Our comparison of what was happening in the Security Council and the Working Group in their consideration of Somalia shows that in many ways it was the Working Group and the Secretariat that influenced the Council on children and armed conflict in Somalia as the issue began to seep into the Council’s country-specific work on Somalia.

Observations from the Somalia Case Study:

  1. In a situation where there is little appetite for significant UN involvement, it is unlikely that any attention will be paid to an issue like children and armed conflict, even when there is a clear protection of civilians aspect. In such cases, a subsidiary body like the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict can play a pivotal role in highlighting a significant protection issue. 
  2. From the time children and armed conflict came on the Council’s agenda the thematic decisions on this issue have been the driver in bringing the issue of violations against children in Somalia to the Council’s country-specific agenda on Somalia. With the creation of the Working Group, and its ability to make recommendations on country-specific reports of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, a structure was set up which not only spotlighted the issue but also provided the possibility of putting pressure on perpetrators.
  3. Particularly from 2009 onwards, the Council’s overall increased awareness of the effect of the conflict in Somalia on children can be attributed largely to the efforts of the Working Group and reporting from the Secretariat.
  4. Having children and armed conflict resolutions which encouraged sharing of information between the Secretariat, the Working Group and the Security Council sanctions committees was instrumental in getting violations of children as grounds for designation in the Somalia/Eritrea Sanctions Committee.
  5. Getting the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to sign an action plan on recruitment and use of children in 2012 can be attributed to a number of factors including pressure over the years from the Working Group, a more stable political situation and a greater desire from the TFG for professional armed forces. However, the main reason for signing appears to have been a desire not to lose out on military aid from the US, thereby underlining the significance of bilateral pressure. 

Subscribe to receive SCR publications