Children and Armed Conflict Open Debate and Resolution
Tomorrow (7 March), the Security Council will hold an open debate on children and armed conflict, focused on how to make progress on the full implementation of the children and armed conflict agenda. The Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn, will preside, with briefings by Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Layla Zerrougui, Executive Director of UNICEF Anthony Lake and Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous, as well as Alhaji Babah Sawaneh, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone. A draft resolution, which went into blue on Tuesday (4 March), is expected to be adopted during the debate.
Ahead of the debate, Luxembourg, the chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, circulated a concept note outlining the challenges faced in fully implementing this agenda, including a lack of capacity and resources for the implementation of action plans and the monitoring mechanism on the ground. Other areas covered by the concept note include the initiative, “Children, Not Soldiers”, aimed at eliminating child recruitment and use by government forces, which is to be launched today by the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and UNICEF. Preventive measures, such as the establishment of legal frameworks and age verification mechanisms as well as security and justice reform, were also addressed. The use of schools for military purposes and the effects on children’s right to education as well as the threat of pupils becoming military targets was also highlighted as a new challenge.
While the draft resolution includes a certain amount of agreed language, there are also some new elements including references to the use of schools by armed forces, establishing a vetting mechanism to ensure those who have committed violations against children are not included in army ranks, child protection training for peacekeepers and military personnel, support for the new “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign, and the role of child protection advisers in mainstreaming child protection. The importance of security sector reform in mainstreaming child protection, including through age assessment mechanisms to prevent underage recruitment, is also a new element. The draft resolution also focuses on the role regional organisations can play in child protection and the need to incorporate child protection provisions in peace agreements. It also reiterates the Council’s willingness to adopt targeted measures against persistent perpetrators of violations against children.
It seems that discussions on the draft text went relatively smoothly, particularly compared to negotiations on outcome documents for children and armed conflict in recent years. This may have been partly due to Luxembourg’s decision not to focus mainly on issues such as persistent perpetrators and non-state actors that have been contentious, as well as the change in the composition of the Council. Some members with strong views about issues such as the Special Representative’s mandate and the scope of the agenda are no longer on the Council. Still, there were a number of contentious areas including on the International Criminal Court (ICC), military use of schools and whether to include a request for more information on the delisting processes.
It seems the most difficult issue faced during the negotiations was getting agreement on the language on military use of schools. The first draft urged member states to support the development of guidelines for protecting schools from military use during conflict. The reference to any sort of guidelines was unacceptable to the US, and possibly at least one other permanent member. As a result there is no reference to guidelines in the final draft. The US appears to have had some legal issues with language in the draft text on attacks and use of schools and insisted on inserting the phrase “in contravention of applicable international law” in relation to this issue. Some of the other members were disappointed as they had hoped for language that would go beyond international humanitarian law and more specific measures on the use of schools, particularly by the military.
Another area that required some negotiation was the language on the ICC. Rwanda apparently wanted the language on the ICC that had been agreed to in the 21 February 2014 rule of law presidential statement (S/PRST/2014/5) where reference is made to the international justice system, rather than specifically to the ICC. Eventually, Rwanda accepted the language in the draft text which highlights how the fight against impunity for crimes against children has been strengthened by the work of the ICC and other tribunals.
A further contentious issue related to a request by Russia to add language from previous resolutions and presidential statements on requesting the Special Representative to brief the Council on the delisting process and progress made. A compromise was found by including this as part of a request for the Special Representative to inform the Council about the campaign “Children, Not Soldiers”.
There appears to be a greater willingness among Council members to move ahead on this agenda and focus on areas that have not been given much attention in the past, such as the use of schools and hospitals, which had been added as a trigger in resolution 1998, but where there has been little progress in terms of action plans. Having a focus on this trigger in a resolution was particularly important to some members because the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict will be considering the Secretary-General’s first report on children and armed conflict in Syria later this month where both the Syrian armed forces and the opposition forces have been listed for the use of schools and hospitals.