Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict
On Monday (8 September), the Security Council will hold an open debate to discuss the Secretary-General’s latest report on children and armed conflict (S/2014/339). Special Representative of the Secretary-General Leila Zerrougui, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF Yoka Brandt and Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous are expected to brief. The Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Luxembourg—the lead country on this issue—Jean Asselborn, will be attending.It is possible that Sandra Uwiringiyimana, a former child victim of armed conflict from DRC will also speak. In addition, Forest Whitaker, who is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation and has given his support to the Children, Not Soldiers campaign, is also expected to participate.
Besides highlighting some of the key points of the report, Zerrougui is expected focus on recent conflicts–including Gaza, Iraq and South Sudan-where children have been affected. An emerging area that Zerrougui may also touch on is the need to take into account the effects of terrorism and counter-terrorism activities on children. Other areas that she is likely to cover include attacks on schools and hospitals. She may also touch upon developments related to her office’s relations with regional organisations.
Zerrougui is also expected to report on the Children, Not Soldiers Campaign, launched by the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and UNICEF earlier this year, which aims to eliminate child recruitment by government forces by 2016.
On 14 May, Yemen signed an action plan to end the recruitment and use of children in the armed forces, leaving Sudan and Syria as the last two countries out of the eight countries with government forces on the Secretary-General’s annexes that have yet to sign an action plan. In addition, both Afghanistan and South Sudan reconfirmed their commitment to action plans to end the recruitment of children, with Afghanistan endorsing a “road map towards compliance” on 1 August.
While members are likely to welcome progress toward the 2016 goal of no child recruitment by government forces, there are some who may question South Sudan’s commitment given reports by groups like Human Rights Watch that cite evidence that although the South Sudanese government had made progress in stopping the recruitment of child soldiers, both government and opposition forces have deployed children since the start of the current armed conflict in December 2013. Some speakers at the open debate may also focus on the importance of not neglecting child recruitment by non-state actors. Zerrougui is also likely to update members on Myanmar’s commitment to review the roadmap signed in 2012 and the progress with the Moro National Liberation Front in the Philippines.
A number of members may also focus on the addition of Boko Haram to the list of parties on the Secretary-General’s annexes for killing and maiming children, as well as attacks against schools and hospitals. Boko Haram’s activities may also encourage some participants in Monday’s debate to call for the abduction of children to be added as a violation that could lead to a party being listed on the Secretary-General’s annexes.
Monday’s debate will be the second this year on the issue of children and armed conflict.
On 7 March, the Council, during Luxembourg’s presidency, held an open debate on children and armed conflict (S/PV.7129), during which it adopted resolution 2143. Many of the issues flagged in this resolution are expected to be highlighted in members’ statements during the debate, including the need to respect and protect schools from attacks and use by armed forces or groups. The role regional organisations could play in child protection and the need to incorporate child protection provisions in peace agreements may also be raised.
A newly emerging issue that might be brought up by some Council members is the need for a clear policy on the participation of government forces listed in the Secretary-General’s annexes in UN peacekeeping missions. This issue first emerged in the context of Chadian troops being part of the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali in 2013. The need to comply with UN verification of contributing troops to ensure full adherence to UN policy not to accept children in UN peacekeeping operations motivated Chad to implement its action plan to stop recruiting children, allowing it to be taken off the Secretary-General’s list this year. In the last few months, there have been calls to exclude the Democratic Republic of the Congo armed forces, Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) from serving as peacekeepers in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic until it has fully implemented the action plan signed with the UN in 2012 to stop recruiting children. (The FARDC has been on the Secretary-General’s lists for ten years.)
The activities of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict might also be a focus for some members. The first half of the year has been relatively productive. The Working Group negotiated a resolution; adopted two conclusions (on Mali and the Philippines); and received briefings by video tele-conference from the South Sudan UN Country Task Force, the Commissioner for Peace and Security of the AU, Smail Chergui, and the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, as well as from Zerrougui who also briefed on her visits to South Sudan and Yemen as well as on the situation for children in Iraq. However, it has not been easy getting consensus on the conclusions on the Secretary-General’s first report on violations against children in the armed conflict in Syria. It seems that the difficult dynamics on Syria at the Council level are very much mirrored in the Working Group. Russia, in particular, would like to reduce language that could be seen as accusing the Syrian government of involvement in violations against children and instead wants to highlight any measures taken by the government to protect children. This however has proved unacceptable to many members of the Working Group and it seems that negotiations are currently deadlocked. While it is unlikely that any concrete suggestions for breaking this deadlock will come up during the debate, members may voice concern over the spillover effects of the long-standing Council positions on Syria into this thematic issue.