Open VTC Meeting on Children and Armed Conflict
Tomorrow afternoon (23 June), Security Council members will hold an open video teleconference (VTC) meeting on Children and Armed Conflict. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba will present the Secretary-General’s annual report. The Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, and a youth civil society representative from Mali will brief the Council. While the interventions of the briefers and Council members will be broadcast live, non-Council member states will have the opportunity to submit their statements in writing. All briefings and statements will subsequently be circulated in a Council document. A press statement is a possible outcome of the meeting.
The Secretary-General’s annual report (S/2020/525), published on 9 June, covers the period from January through December 2019, and provides information on the six grave violations against children in situations on the agenda of the Council, as well as in other situations of concern. The six grave violations are child 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. The report records 25,000 grave violations against children in 19 situations—numbers similar to those reported in 2018—with over half of the violations committed by non-state actors and a third by government and international forces.
Council president France has circulated a concept note to help guide the discussion. The note states that the debate can serve as a platform for reflecting on the implementation of the children and armed conflict agenda in the 15 years since the adoption of resolution 1612 (2005), which established the UN-led Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) and the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. It notes that the debate provides an opportunity to take stock of the positive developments achieved through advocacy and the work of the MRM, such as the release of more than 155,000 children from parties to conflict and the implementation of action plans to improve the protection of children by 12 armed forces and groups. An additional focus of the debate, according to the concept note, is to highlight the importance of education and vocational training as a means to prevent violations against children and to help reintegrate children who were formerly associated with armed forces or groups.
Member states are also encouraged to discuss ways to improve the implementation of the children and armed conflict agenda and further support the work of the MRM and the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. Questions posed in the concept note include:
- How can the MRM be adequately financed and supported and child protection advisors within peace operations and UNICEF be given the appropriate resources to carry out their work?
- How can the work of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict be further strengthened and how can the Council work to guarantee follow-up on the Working Group’s recommendations?
- How can responsibility be better shared among multiple stakeholders, such as governments, the UN and civil society, to help reduce the recruitment and use of children and provide adequate support to children who have been released?
Gamba is likely to brief on key messages from the Secretary-General’s annual report and highlight ways in which the Council can support efforts to prevent and mitigate violations against children in armed conflict. She may emphasise the persistently high levels of killing and maiming of children as an area of concern. The Secretary-General’s report notes that 10,173 children were verified as having been killed and maimed in 2019. Afghanistan remains the deadliest country for children, with 3,149 cases of killing and maiming of children in 2019, followed by Syria and Yemen. The report stresses that the number of children that continue to be killed and maimed in conflict raises concerns about problems such as the lack of capacity to mitigate harm and the dangers of warfare in densely populated areas.
Another issue that Gamba may address is the worrying increase in instances of denial of humanitarian access to children. In 2019, there were 4,400 verified incidents of denial of humanitarian access, constituting a 400 percent increase from 2018, which saw approximately 800 instances of this violation. While denial of humanitarian access is one of the six grave violations, it does not constitute a trigger for the listing of a party in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s report.
Besides focusing on the difficult overall situation for children in 2019, Gamba may also refer to positive developments achieved in the Children and Armed Conflict agenda in 2019. For example, 13,200 children were separated from non-State actors and armed forces globally. She may also note that governments and non-state actors in a quarter of the situations described in the annual report engaged in efforts relating to peace processes. In this regard, she might advocate for the use of the “practical guidance for mediators to protect children in situations of armed conflict”, which was launched by the Secretary-General on 12 February, to promote the incorporation of child protection measures in the outcomes of peace negotiations.
Fore, who is expected to brief on UNICEF’s work in monitoring and reporting on the grave violations, is likely to stress the importance of the Children in Armed Conflict agenda, highlighting achievements made in promoting it in the past 15 years. She may also outline challenges to its implementation, and emphasise the importance for member states to adopt normative frameworks on the protection of children, such as the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.
As has been the case in previous years, some Council members may express their views on the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report, which list parties that have committed grave violations against children (one annex including parties in conflict situations on the Council’s agenda, the other annex on situations not on the list of issues that the Council is seized of). The annexes are 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.
In his most recent report, the Secretary-General has de-listed the Saudi Arabia-led Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen for the violation of killing and maiming. The report notes that the decision on the removal was taken as a result of a “sustained significant decrease in killing and maiming due to air strikes and the signature and implementation of the programme of time-bound activities to support the implementation of the memorandum of understanding signed in March 2019”. In addition, the Myanmar Armed Forces, known as the Tatmadaw, were de-listed for the violation of recruitment and use, but they continue to be listed under section A of annex I or the violations of sexual violence and killing and maiming. The report includes new language this year emphasising that the UN will continue to monitor the implementation of measures to reduce violations against children by the Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen and the Tatmadaw. The report warns that a failure to comply with these measures or to achieve a further reduction in the number of affected children will result in an automatic re-listing for the relevant violation in the next annual report.
The report notes that two groups from the Central African Republic, Front populaire pour la renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC) and Union pour la paix en Centrafrique (UPC) will be moved to section B of annex I because of measures they have put in place within their respective action plans. In addition, the report mentions two new situations of concern—Cameroon and Burkina Faso—which will be included in the next annual Secretary-General’s report.
For the last few years, questions have been raised regarding parties that were listed or de-listed from the annexes of the annual report. This year, some civil society groups have questioned the de-listing of the Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen, given the high number of incidents of killing and maiming attributed to it in 2019. Similarly, there are concerns that the removal of the Tatmadaw has been premature since it has been found to have recruited and used children in different capacities in the past year. Some member states might therefore raise concerns that if parties that do not appear to have stopped committing violations against children are de-listed, the credibility of the monitoring and reporting mechanism is called into question and the leverage against violating parties offered by the Secretary-General’s report will decrease. Member states may call for the consistent application of the criteria, which were set out in the Secretary-General’s 2010 annual report, in all considerations of listing of de-listing.
A new issue of concern likely to be raised at the debate is the impact of COVID-19 on the situation of children in armed conflict. In this regard, some member states might reference the Secretary-General’s 15 April policy brief, which detailed the effects of the pandemic on children, who are particularly susceptible to its secondary consequences, including the socio-economic impacts of steps taken to mitigate the spread of the virus. Members may raise the fresh urgency, due to the pandemic, of addressing issues relating to the protection of children, such as their access to medical treatment, humanitarian assistance, and education.
The activities of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict are also likely to be highlighted at tomorrow’s debate. Some members may refer to the steps taken by the Working Group in the past two years to follow up on the implementation of child protection provisions in Security Council resolutions. These have included VTC meetings with UN country teams ahead of peacekeeping mandate renewals and joint meetings with relevant sanctions committees. Belgium, the chair of the Working Group, may also note 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 Afghanistan, the Central African Republic and Yemen, and has started discussing its conclusions on the Secretary-General’s reports on children and armed conflict in Colombia and Iraq. Belgium may also refer to the ways in which the Working Group has adapted its working methods due to the restrictions imposed due to COVID-19.