Children and Armed Conflict Open Debate
Tomorrow (2 August) the Security Council will hold an open debate on children and armed conflict, which will be chaired by Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba will present the Secretary-General’s annual report. Other speakers are likely to include the Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore; Mariatu Kamara, UNICEF Canada’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict; and Majok Peter Awan, a former child soldier, and currently a UN child protection officer. There will be no formal outcome, but a summary of the meeting with be circulated as a document of the Council and the General Assembly.
The Secretary-General’s annual report (S/2019/509) covers the period January through December 2018, and provides information on the six grave violations against children in situations both on the agenda of the Council as well as situations of concern that are not on it: recruitment and use; killing and maiming; abductions; rape and other forms of sexual violence; attacks on schools and hospitals; and the denial of humanitarian access. There was a rise in violations against children with more than 24,000 grave violations documented against children in 20 country situations. The report attributes this rise to a number of factors, including new conflict dynamics and operational tactics which have a greater impact on children. The number of violations attributed to state actors and international forces increased, while those attributed to non-state actors remained steady.
In mid-July, Poland circulated a concept note highlighting some of the key findings in the Secretary-General’s report and suggesting several themes for members to focus on. One was the rise in the number of children being killed and maimed. Ten years after the adoption of resolution 1882, which added killing and maiming as a trigger for being listed in the Secretary-General’s annexes, the Secretary-General’s annual report underscores that the number of cases of killing and maiming of children was the highest recorded (12,038) since a mechanism to monitor and report on violations was set up in 2005. In 2018, there was also a significant increase in attacks on schools and hospitals. More positively, the report documented the release and reintegration of 13,600 former child soldiers. Both the annual report and the concept note attribute the rise in violations to the changing nature of war.
The concept note also highlights the impact of wars fought in urban areas that are likely to lead to an increase in longer-term disabilities. Some members may note the recent adoption of resolution 2475 on protection of persons with disabilities in armed conflict and discuss how this resolution can be used in the context of children and armed conflict. In this context, Kamara, who had her hands amputated as a 12-year old child during the conflict in Sierra Leone, is expected to speak of her experiences.
Another issue that is likely to be a key theme of the debate and that is highlighted in the concept note and the annual report is the continuing issue of rape and other forms of sexual violence against children. In 2018, the UN verified 933 cases of sexual violence against children. The highest figures were documented in Somalia (331) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (277). However, this is a violation that is often underreported, due to the stigma associated with it, particularly when perpetrated against boys. Fore, who is expected to brief on UNICEF’s work in monitoring and reporting on the grave violations, may expound on the difficulties in gathering information on this violation. Members may refer to resolution 2467 on sexual violence in conflict, adopted in April, which included references to the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict and the Special Representatives for Sexual Violence and Children and Armed Conflict sharing information with relevant sanctions committees. This resolution also noted the needs of girls who become pregnant as a result of sexual violence and the risks of children born as a result of sexual violence in conflict.
Besides focusing on the difficult overall situation for children in 2018, as conveyed in the Secretary-General’s annual report, Gamba may focus on some positive developments, including the release and reintegration of 13,600 former child soldiers. She is likely to emphasise the need for a greater focus on reintegration and refer to the Global Coalition for the Reintegration of Child Soldiers launched in September 2018 by her office and UNICEF to encourage greater support for child reintegration programmes. During the debate, members who are supporting this campaign may talk about the work being done to understand better the needs and challenges related to the reintegration of boys and girls.
Gamba is also expected to stress the importance of child protection advisors (CPAs) on the ground, who are critical to the children and armed conflict agenda and reiterate the need for an adequate number of CPAs in peace operations. She may relate the work of the CPAs to the signing and implementation of action plans and reiterate the need for more parties to sign as well as follow through on implementation in order to be removed from the annexes listing parties perpetrating any of the six grave violations. Awan may relate his experiences as a child soldier in Sudan to his current work as a child protection officer in South Sudan.
As they have in previous years, some members may express their views on the annexes of the annual report which list parties that have committed grave violations against children (one including parties in conflict situations on the Council’s agenda, the other one in situations that are not on the list of issues that the Council is seized of). For the third year running, the annexes have been divided into an “A” section, listing parties that have not put in place measures during the reporting period to improve the protection of children, and a “B” section, listing parties that have put in place some such measures. The most recent report did not add any new listings. Two parties—the Mai-Mai Katanga in the DRC and the White Army in South Sudan—were delisted as they no longer exist. Three parties were moved to Section B as a result of having put in place measures: the Mouvement Patriotique pour la Centrafrique in the CAR, the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces, and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units in Syria. For the first time a party—the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement—was moved from Section B back to Section A, owing to its lack of action in implementing the action plan.
For the last few years, questions have been raised regarding parties that were omitted or allowed to remain in the “B” section because they have shown a commitment to putting in place measures although violations have continued. This year some civil society groups have questioned why the Israeli Defense Force had been omitted from the annex, and whether the Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen should have remained in the “B” section, given the high number of incidences of killing and maiming attributed to it.
Other themes that members are expected to focus on include prevention of violence against children and the implementation of resolution 2427 adopted in July 2018, which connected the children and armed conflict agenda to the issues of conflict prevention and sustaining peace. In the context of prevention, some members may show interest in exploring ways of working with regional and sub-regional organisations to develop initiatives to prevent violations against children.
The activities of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict may also be highlighted, particularly video-teleconferences (VTC) with respective UN country teams. So far this year the Working Group has had VTCs with the UN country teams in Mali in February, DRC in May—both ahead of the mandate renewals for the UN peacekeeping operations in these countries—and Nigeria in July. Belgium, the chair of the Working Group, may also highlight that since the beginning of the year, the Working Group has adopted conclusions on the Secretary-General’s reports on children and armed conflict in Myanmar and Syria and has started discussing its conclusions on the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict in Yemen.