Arria-formula Meeting on Children and Armed Conflict
Tomorrow (7 May), an Arria-formula meeting will be held via videoconference on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on violations against children in situations of armed conflict. It is being organised by Council members Estonia, France, Ireland, Kenya, Niger, Norway, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia, the UK, the US, and Viet Nam, together with Belgium, Canada, Germany, and Sweden, and in cooperation with the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict (Office of the SRSG CAAC).
The expected briefers are Virginia Gamba, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict; Khassim Diagne, Deputy Special Representative for Protection and Operations in the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO); Fiona Frazer, Human Rights Chief in the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA); Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Director of the Office of Emergency Programmes; and Philippe Adapoe, Regional Director for West and Central Africa at Save the Children. The meeting will be livestreamed on UNTV and on the Estonian Foreign Ministry’s YouTube channel at 2 pm EST.
According to the concept note prepared by the co-organisers, the objective of the meeting is to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children in situations of armed conflict, including how conditions created by the pandemic affected trends in violations against children and the UN’s ability to monitor and report on such violations. Tomorrow’s meeting will also launch a report titled “Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on violations against children in situations of armed conflict”, which was published by the Office of the SRSG CAAC on 3 May.
Although the Security Council will convene for its annual open debate on children and armed conflict in June, it appears that the co-organisers of tomorrow’s meeting wanted to conduct an in-depth exploration of the impact of COVID-19 on children in conflict situations through an exchange with specialists from different country situations. It seems that since the outset of the pandemic, Council members have inquired during closed meetings of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict about the potential impact of the pandemic on the children and armed conflict agenda. On 22 May 2020, Gamba and Fontaine provided the Working Group with an initial assessment of the effects of the pandemic on the UN system’s ability to perform tasks related to the monitoring and verification of violations against children.
Tomorrow’s meeting will provide an opportunity for Council members and the wider UN membership to receive updated information on the impact of the pandemic on children in situations of armed conflict and to discuss lessons learned and best practices to overcome similar future challenges. The 2 May report of the Office of the SRSG CAAC notes that the monitoring and reporting mechanism (MRM) was particularly affected during the second and third quarter of 2020 because of movement restrictions, which have limited the UN’s ability to undertake fieldwork. It states that while the UN country task forces on monitoring and reporting on grave violations against children (CTFMR) continued their monitoring and reporting work in that period, the restrictions still resulted in a backlog of cases requiring ongoing verification. The report further emphasises that the MRM was able to maintain its high standards of monitoring and verification, notwithstanding the difficulties posed by the pandemic.
The briefers and several Council members may note that the pandemic further highlighted the need for adequate resourcing for dedicated child protection capacity in UN peace operations. Some may note that even prior to the pandemic, child protection posts in UN peace operations were underfunded, and there was limited support capacity at UN headquarters for child protection personnel working in the field. They may call for increased prioritisation for child protection measures in political and budgetary discussions, to facilitate their continuance during unforeseen circumstances such as those created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some speakers may suggest ways that Council members can advance this goal, including through promoting stronger language on resources for child protection in Security Council resolutions and in conclusions of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.
Another likely topic of discussion at tomorrow’s meeting is trends in violations against children in situations of armed conflict in 2020. The 2 May report says that due to the backlogs in the verification of reported violations, it might take some time for the full scale of violations against children during 2020 to become evident. It further notes that collection of data on violations such as sexual violence, recruitment and use, and abductions—which are already underreported due to their sensitive nature—has become even more difficult in the context of the pandemic. However, available data may indicate an increase in recruitment and use and sexual violence violations committed during 2020. The report says that the pandemic and measures implemented by states to mitigate its effects are likely to have increased the vulnerability of children to recruitment and use because of closure of schools and loss of family income. In addition, the vulnerability of girls to sexual and gender-based violence has also likely been worsened due to reduced mobility and increased isolation.
Council members are generally united in their support for the children and armed conflict agenda, as reflected in the choice of most members to co-sponsor tomorrow’s meeting. That said, some Council members may raise the impact of the pandemic on children in armed conflict in country situations which might be deemed sensitive by other members, such as Myanmar or Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Members are also likely to emphasise different priority areas for the implementation of the agenda in their statements. Several members, including Estonia, Ireland, Niger, and Norway (the chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict) are likely to underline the importance of promoting access to education in situations of armed conflict. On 10 September 2020, Security Council members adopted a presidential statement, which was spearheaded by Niger and then-Council member Belgium, that condemned the significant increase in attacks against schools in recent years and addressed the impact of COVID-19 on the right to education.
Members may express concern about risks to education in various country situations, such as the Central Sahel region, which experienced a spike in attacks on educational facilities between January and July 2020, according to research conducted by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). Some members may also address measures that member states could take to protect children’s access to education, including through the adoption of normative frameworks such as the Safe Schools Declaration. On 27 April, Council member Mexico became the 108th signatory to the declaration.
Several Council members, such as Estonia, Ireland, Norway, and Mexico, may also mention the need to address the increased vulnerabilities created during the pandemic, and the need for gender and age-sensitive responses. Some may also emphasise the importance of psychosocial support to address the possible immediate and long-term effects of the pandemic on children in situations of armed conflict. Several members might also underline the continued need to pursue accountability for violations committed against children.