Children and Armed Conflict Briefing
Tomorrow (12 February) the Security Council will hold a high-level briefing on “Integrating child protection into peace processes to resolve conflict and sustain peace”. The meeting, initiated by Belgium, the chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict and this month’s president, will be presided over by the country’s foreign minister, Philippe Goffin. Belgian King Philippe and Queen Mathilde are expected to be in attendance, and King Philippe will make a statement. The anticipated briefers are Secretary-General António Guterres, AU Peace and Security Commissioner Smaïl Chergui (by video teleconference) and Jo Becker, chair of the advisory board of the NGO network Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict. The Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement during the briefing.
The briefers are expected to focus on the need for parties to integrate children protection provisions in peace negotiations and ceasefire and peace agreements, as well as to take into account children’s views where possible.
Guterres is expected to highlight key points from the “Practical Guidance for mediators to protect children in situations of armed conflict”, which will be launched tomorrow. The Guidance was developed in response to the Council’s 31 October 2017 presidential statement, which encouraged the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, to carry out “lessons learned initiatives in order to compile comprehensive best practices on the children and armed conflict mandate, including practical guidance on the integration of child protection issues in peace processes”. The Secretary-General is likely to point out that putting children at the heart of mediation efforts is in line with his focus on prevention, and that the new guidance will support prevention and mediation efforts by the UN, as well as regional and sub-regional efforts. While the guidance has been developed for the UN, he may note that it can also be used by member states involved in a peace process or mediation, as the principles would be relevant. Among guiding principles that Guterres may emphasise is that the best interests of the child be considered during peace negotiations in all decisions that will affect them. Another is that decisions made for the protection of children should respect the principle of “do no harm”. Guterres may also cover the Special Representative of Children and Armed Conflict’s campaign #ActToProtect, launched in April 2019 to generate greater awareness and action to protect children affected by war.
Chergui is expected to focus on how the guidance can be used by regional actors involved in peace negotiations. As an example, he may refer to the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic, signed in Bangui on 6 February 2019 between the government and 14 armed groups. The Agreement, which the AU brokered together with countries in the region, addresses all six grave violations against children and establishes a monitoring system for its implementation. Drawing on his experience in the negotiations, Chergui may describe the process that led to the inclusion of child protection in the Agreement.
Becker may refer to the low number of peace agreements that reference child protection, highlighting good examples. She is likely to refer to the “Checklist for drafting children and armed conflict provisions in peace agreements”, which Watchlist launched in October 2016. That document aims to help mediators and their teams incorporate inclusive and child protection-relevant language and provisions in various parts of peace agreements. It was widely used by the Special Representative’s Office in developing the new guidance.
Member states are expected to welcome the guidance and acknowledge the need for practical information that can be used by those involved in peace negotiations. A number of members may focus on the need for implementation of Council resolutions which have child protection elements. Of the 12 resolutions adopted on children and armed conflict, ten have included language on integrating child protection provisions during peace negotiations and in ceasefire and peace agreements. The most recent resolution, adopted in 2018, highlighted the need to consider child protection issues from the early stages of peace processes.
The presidential statement expected to be adopted during the briefing marks the development of the guidance and encourages relevant actors to use it. It commends the work by the Special Representative and other child protection actors in developing the practical guidance document and encourages the Secretary-General to disseminate it to UN entities, member states, regional and sub-regional organisations, and other relevant actors involved in peace and mediation processes. It also calls on member states and the UN to consider the practical guidance as a tool in mainstreaming child protection into conflict prevention activities, conflict and post-conflict situations, as appropriate, with the aim of sustaining peace. Although the negotiations were quite smooth, there were some differences that resulted in revisions to language related to how widely the guidance should be disseminated and to whom. Following adjustments to the language, agreement was reached by the end of last week.
There will also be a high-level event tomorrow hosted by the Special Representative, Belgium and Sweden to launch the guidance. Gamba will deliver a keynote address, which will be followed by a panel discussion. The participants in the panel are Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel Mohamed Ibn Chambas (by video teleconference); Dragica Mikavica, Senior Advocacy Adviser of Save the Children; and José Tarache Niño, a former child soldier who was involved in the Colombian peace process. The panel will be moderated by Ambassador Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve (Belgium). The panelists are expected to provide examples of cases where children protection issues were integrated into peace processes and peace agreements and to examine whether this led to the release or better reintegration of children.