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Children and Armed Conflict Debate and Resolution on Abductions

On Thursday (18 June), the Security Council will hold a ministerial-level open debate on children and armed conflict focused on the Secretary-General’s annual report on this topic (S/2015/409) and on the issue of abductions. The debate will be chaired by Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Dato’ Sri Anifah Aman. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF Yoka Brandt will speak. Eunice Apio, Director of Facilitation for Peace and Development, will talk about the long-term impact of abduction on children. A draft resolution, which adds abductions as an additional violation to trigger inclusion of a party in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report, has been put under silence and is expected to be adopted during the debate.

Malaysia, the chair of the Working Group, and the president of the Council this month, circulated a concept paper (S/2015/402) on 1 June. The paper notes that the open debate hopes to discuss how the international community’s response can be strengthened to address abduction of children in armed conflict. It provides a review of how children have been affected in 2015, highlighting both the challenges and opportunities for more effective action. It also provides information on abduction of children and suggests that the Council strengthen its response to this grave violation in a number of ways including through expanding the criteria for the listing of perpetrators in the Secretary-General’s annexes to include abduction. Members are expected to highlight ways in which available tools can be used to prevent abductions and other violations of children. Given that the most common tool, the signing of an action plan committing to stopping violations against children, is unlikely to be particularly useful in the case of groups that abduct children, some members may suggest other ways to reach out to such groups.

Other issues that may be raised tomorrow include the role of the Working Group in responding to violations against children, as well as what is needed to ensure that peacekeeping operations can implement their protection of children mandates. Following the March debate on children and armed conflict, which focused on child victims of non-state armed groups, then-Council president France circulated a non-paper with proposals from member states. Some of the themes in that non-paper, including dealing with extremist non-state actors as well as accountability, sanctions and impunity issues, may be raised by member states.

The Secretary-General’s 14th annual report was published on 5 June. It covers the unprecedented challenges in protecting children and highlights the abduction of children as an alarming new trend. These are issues that the Secretary-General is expected to highlight in his statement to the Council. Zerrougui is likely to focus on the substance of the annual report. Twenty-three conflict situations are covered in the report and 58 groups are listed in the annexes for violations against children, but no new parties were added this year. Additional violations were attributed to groups already listed such as the anti-Balaka in the Central African Republic, the Allied Democratic Forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham in Syria and Boko Haram in Nigeria. The March 23 Movement was removed from the annexes because it no longer exists as a rebel group.

There was speculation that the report might list the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas for violations against children during the conflict in Gaza last summer. While ultimately neither is listed, the report does provide figures for children killed and wounded, as well as schools damaged during the escalation of violence last summer. Some members may raise this issue, particularly in relation to how it might affect the integrity of the listing mechanism established by the Council to protect children.

Negotiations on the draft resolution, circulated by Malaysia on 8 June, have been relatively smooth and swift. The draft focuses on adding abductions as a trigger for listing parties in the annex. It also addresses current key issues such as attacks on schools and hospitals, the importance of child protection provisions in peace negotiations, ceasefire and peace agreements, as well as issues related to inclusion of child-related issues in security sector reforms and peacekeeping and political mission mandates. The draft text also stresses the importance of timely consideration of violations and abuses, and invites the Working Group to make full use of its tools to promote protection of children. Some speakers may want to raise the issue of whether new tools are needed, particularly given the fast changing nature of some recent conflicts. The issue of sexual exploitation is highlighted in the draft resolution in relation to the Secretary-General’s zero tolerance policy in UN peacekeeping operations and pre-deployment child protection training. These are issues that are likely to be covered by some speakers during the debate.

During the negotiations several key areas emerged as requiring further discussion. The most difficult issue appears to have been the inclusion of a reference to the Safe Schools Declaration adopted in Oslo on 29 May. (The Declaration is the result of a process led by the governments of Norway and Argentina. Signatories to this Declaration agree to endorse and use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, which call upon parties to armed conflict to avoid using educational buildings or making them targets of attack.) Members who have signed the Declaration such as Chile, New Zealand and Spain, supported having a reference but were generally flexible with language used given that some other members were uncomfortable with endorsing the Declaration. Some non-signatories to the Declaration, including most of the permanent members, found it difficult to accept inclusion of this reference in a resolution, partly for legal reasons. It seems that in the version that was put under silence, any reference to the Safe Schools Declaration was dropped.

While there was overall acceptance of the idea of including abduction as a new trigger, and little argument over the general definition, the second issue revolved around whether or not threshold language was needed to make clear that parties would be listed for patterns of abductions of children. Although there was pushback from some members in having “patterns” as a qualifier, it seems that others argued that it would be appropriate since three of the other trigger violations contain such threshold language.

One issue that was expected to result in sharp divisions was inclusion of “deprivation of liberty” in the draft resolution. Ahead of the negotiations, Russia had indicated that as this resolution was meant to focus on abduction of children, it may not be the appropriate time to include deprivation of liberty issues, but it did not raise strong objections during the negotiations on the draft text. However, several members were not comfortable with having the Secretary-General report on deprivation of liberty of children in armed conflict by both armed forces and armed groups and one member had issues with references to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in relation to this issue. Another issue that emerged in the context of deprivation of liberty was whether “unlawful” and “arbitrary” should be included to describe the type of detention. It seems that the US believed having “unlawful” was adequate, while several others wanted to have both words included. The version under silence included both words.

Overall the negotiations appear to have been conducted in a very cooperative manner, with members focusing on the shared objective of adding a new trigger for listing in the Secretary-General’s annexes. A number of members such as Chile, New Zealand, Spain and the UK provided additional inputs that added to the substance of the draft resolution.

For more information on this issue please see SCR’s 2015 Cross-Cutting Report on Children and Armed Conflict.

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