Open Debate on Child Victims of Non-State Armed Groups
On Wednesday (25 March), the Security Council will hold an open debate on children and armed conflict focused on child victims of non-state armed groups. There will be briefings by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Layla Zerrougui and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF Yoka Brandt. The field will be provided by the Child Protection Advisor from Save the Children in the Central African Republic, Julie Bodin, while Junior Nzita Nsuami, a former child soldier from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who is President of the NGO Paix pour l’enfance will share his experiences as a child soldier and goodwill ambassador for the implementation of the action plan on child recruitment in the DRC. France, who as president this month has chosen to hold this debate, has stressed that it is looking for concrete proposals from member states on how to prevent and respond to grave violations against children by non-state armed groups. No formal outcome is planned but France is likely to follow up by circulating a letter with a non-paper containing a summary of key points made in the debate.
Last week, France circulated a concept note providing background information and highlighting key themes, as well as possible actions and tools the Council can use in dealing with non-state armed groups. Among the themes were the increasing violence committed against children by extremist non-state armed groups such as ISIS or Boko Haram, the opportunities for engaging with non-state armed groups involved in peace processes and the situation of girls associated with non-state armed groups. Many of the speakers are likely to address the questions raised in the concept note including how governments can help facilitate the release of children from non-state armed groups in the context of peace talks and negotiations; how sanctions can be used more effectively; ways of encouraging member states to implement legal measures to stop the recruitment and use of children; how regional organisations can put pressure on non-state armed groups to end violations; what measures can be used to prevent impunity for grave violations against children in armed conflict; and ways of increasing reintegration efforts.
The Secretary-General is expected to talk about the continuing threat to children from armed groups and the need to continue protect children in armed conflict. One of the areas that Zerrougui may highlight is violent extremism and the need for new tools to deal with this new facet of children and armed conflict as well as the importance of understanding the root causes and motivations behind extremism. Zerrougui is also likely to cover a number of other areas such as reintegration following the release of child victims of armed conflict as well as the detention of children for alleged association with armed groups. She is also expected to provide an update on the campaign Children, Not Soldiers, launched by her office and UNICEF in March 2014. Brandt is likely to highlight UNICEF’s role on the ground in protecting children, as well as its reintegration efforts following the release of children. She may also note the need for a better understanding of these groups in order to help the UN deal with them better.
Abductions of children, both in general and specifically connected to extremist non-state armed groups will likely be raised by both Council members and other speakers from the larger UN membership. Malaysia, the chair of the working group on children and armed conflict, had indicated that it will have a second debate in June that may focus, among other issues, on the phenomenon of abductions. Recent mass abductions including the April 2014 abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria by Boko Haram, the abduction of 153 Kurdish boys from Ain al-‘Arab in Syria in May 2014 by ISIS and the abduction of hundreds of Yazidi children by ISIS in western Iraq in July 2014 are likely to be highlighted. There may be calls from some members to include abductions as a violation that could trigger a listing in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual reports on children and armed conflict. Some members may note that resolutions on foreign terrorist fighters adopted in 2014 include language on the need to protect children from the activities of these groups as well as prevent their recruitment by terrorist groups and that the Council should further mainstream protection of children in future decisions on extremist non-state armed groups. There may also be suggestions that military operations against extremist non-state actors need to take particular care in situations where children could be injured or killed.
Given that 51 of the 59 parties listed in the Secretary-General’s annual report last year were non-state armed groups, the issue of accountability is likely to be a recurring theme for Council members as well as a number of member states. Many of these groups are persistent perpetrators, or groups that have been on the Secretary-General’s lists for more than five years. Some members may highlight the difficulty of getting non-state armed groups to sign action plans given that none have been signed since 2009. Some members may suggest the use of sanctions as a possible tool but others are likely to raise difficulties such as the lack of sanctions committees for some of the situations on the Secretary-General’s annexes. There may, therefore, be suggestions for other ways to put greater pressure on these groups.
Possible concrete proposals may include suggestions for ensuring that non-state armed groups listed in the Secretary-General’s annexes are aware they are listed and that they need to sign and implement action plans in order to be removed from the annexes. Members may also stress the importance of having a better understanding of the different types of non-state armed groups in order to tailor the Council’s strategy for preventing grave violations against children by these groups. In this context, members may request the Secretary-General to provide more information on the different groups, possibly in a special report.
Some Council members have in the past made clear that they believe the task of protecting children rests with national governments. Some member states have been reluctant to have the UN engage with non-state armed groups as they fear that this could be seen as a sign of recognition of these groups. Member states and Council members that have these concerns are likely to stress that UN representatives should only engage with non-state armed groups with the consent of the national governments concerned.
Attacks and the use of schools and hospitals by non-state armed groups are also likely to be a key focus for a number of members with some highlighting recent attacks by the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan and by Boko Haram in Nigeria. In this context there may be a call for more progress in getting parties on the Secretary-General’s annexes for attacks on schools and hospitals to sign action plans.
The issue of how to deal with non-state armed groups is not a new one. In the past the Council has had difficulty coming up with concrete suggestions for putting greater pressure on these groups partly due to differing views on the role of the UN in dealing with these groups. Positions are unlikely to have changed fundamentally which may make it difficult to move forward with some of the possible suggestions from the open debate. However, there might be some common ground on the possibility of focusing on non-state armed groups involved in peace processes, the need to incorporate protection of children into any future strategies for dealing with extremist non-state armed groups and the possibility of adding abductions as a trigger for parties to be listed in the Secretary-General’s annexes which could allow for these issues to be further elaborated on in the next debate in June.