What's In Blue

Posted Mon 18 Jul 2022

Children and Armed Conflict: Annual Open Debate

Tomorrow (19 July), the Security Council will hold its annual open debate on children and armed conflict. Brazilian Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Fernando Simas Magalhães is expected to chair the meeting. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba will present the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict. Briefings are also expected from Executive Director of UNICEF Catherine Russell and a youth civil society representative from South Sudan, who is the founder of a youth-led refugee peacebuilding organisation.

The Secretary-General’s annual report (S/2022/493), which was made public on 11 July, covers the period from January through December 2021 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 23,982 grave violations against children in 21 country situations and one regional situation (the Lake Chad Basin). The report notes that the most violations against children took place in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

This year’s annual report adds three new situations of concern with immediate effect: Ethiopia, Mozambique and Ukraine. Information about violations committed against children in these country situations will be included in the Secretary-General’s future reports. In addition, it calls for enhanced monitoring capacity in the Central Sahel region.

Brazil, July’s Council president, has circulated a concept note for tomorrow’s meeting. One key theme highlighted by Brazil is the situation of refugee, internally displaced and stateless children. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), children accounted for approximately 41 percent of all forcibly displaced people globally in 2021. The concept note says that stateless, refugee and internally displaced children are at a higher risk of facing grave violations such as recruitment and use, abduction, and sexual violence. Some members may note at tomorrow’s meeting that these children’s access to education is often disrupted; in this regard, they might highlight the importance of implementing resolution 2601 of 29 October 2021 on the protection of education in conflict, which calls on member states to facilitate access to education for refugee and displaced children.

Another suggested area for discussion is the abduction of children, which has experienced the steepest rise among all the grave violations in recent years. According to the Secretary-General’s annual report, abductions increased over 20 percent in 2021, compared to 2020. This follows a 90 percent increase in instances of this violation between 2019 and 2020. The concept note encourages speakers at tomorrow’s meeting to address the differentiated impacts of this violation on girls and boys. The abduction of girls—which increased by 41 percent in 2021—is often carried out for the purpose of sexual violence, forced marriage and exploitation, whereas boys’ abduction is often linked to recruitment and use.

Speakers at tomorrow’s meeting may encourage practitioners to use the guidance note on abductions which was released by the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict today (18 July). It provides practical guidance to child protection staff on the ground on how to identify and report on this violation and includes advocacy tools that can be used as part of efforts to end and prevent the abduction of children by parties to conflict.

A third focus proposed by Brazil is the reintegration of children formerly associated with armed forces and groups. The concept note underscores the link between children’s reintegration and peacebuilding and suggests that children’s successful incorporation into society can help to prevent their re-recruitment and break the cycle of violence. At tomorrow’s meeting, some members may encourage the promotion of synergies within the UN system to enhance reintegration efforts, including through cooperation with the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC).

In this context, the civil society representative may speak about ways to tailor reintegration efforts to the needs of children formerly associated with armed forces and groups, including by increasing their opportunities to acquire new skills. Another possible message is the importance of increased involvement of local organisations, including youth-led organisations, in reintegration efforts.

In presenting the annual report, Gamba is likely to highlight the trends in violations against children in the past year. She may emphasise that children were disproportionately affected by explosive remnants of war (ERW), improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and mines in 2021. Gamba may underscore the need to prioritise the clearing of ERWs, IEDs and mines; provide child-sensitive risk education and promote assistance to victims. She may also elaborate on some positive developments, including the release of 12,214 children from armed groups and armed forces.

Russell is expected to brief on UNICEF’s work in monitoring and reporting on grave violations. She is likely to call on all parties to conflict to commit to full compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, while urging those that have leverage with warring parties to use their influence to promote the protection of children.

Council members may raise other issues, including the need to protect children’s access to education, the importance of implementing a gendered perspective in child protection activities, and ways to strengthen existing mechanisms and tools to monitor, report, and respond to grave violations.

The Secretary-General’s report notes that almost one in three victims of grave violations were girls, an increase compared to 2020 (during which one in four victims of violations were girls). While boys accounted for 90 percent of cases of recruitment and use, 98 percent of violations related to sexual violence were perpetrated against girls. In addressing these issues, members might emphasise the need to collect gendered data on violations and tailor gender-sensitive responses, including sexual and reproductive health and psycho-social support to survivors.

Some members may highlight the need to facilitate adequate child protection capacities in peacekeeping operations. In an effort to to respond to potential violations in emerging crisis situations, they may also note that the Security Council can request the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict to brief the Council when there is concern about potentially significant violations against children.

Although members are expected to focus on cross-cutting issues, some may also highlight specific country and regional situations. Several Council members—including European members and the US—are likely to reference the situation in Ukraine. In this regard, they may call on the Secretary-General and his special representative to determine which parties are responsible for committing grave violations in the context of the war in Ukraine and whether they should be listed in the annexes of his reports. Others may highlight concerns about the situation in Afghanistan and the Lake Chad basin region, particularly regarding girls’ access to education.

Some Council members may express their views on the annexes to the Secretary-General’s annual report, which list parties that have committed grave violations against children (one annex for parties in conflict situations on the Council’s agenda, the other annex on situations not on the Council’s agenda). 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.

This year’s annual report contains some new listings. It listed the dissident groups of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia–Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) in Colombia for recruitment and use. In Burkina Faso, Jama‘a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM) was listed for the recruitment and use, killing and maiming, and abduction of children. In the Lake Chad Basin region, Boko Haram-affiliated and splinter groups were listed for the abduction of children.

For the last few years, questions have been raised regarding parties that were listed, de-listed or omitted from the annexes of the annual report. This year, some civil society organisations have criticised the Secretary-General’s decision to not re-list the Saudi Arabia-led Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen, even though the report showed it was responsible for killing and maiming at least 100 children in 2021.

There has also been criticism of the fact that Israeli government forces and Palestinian armed groups were not listed in this year’s report, despite a high number of violations documented against children during the 11-day round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas in May 2021. The report says that there was a substantial number of airstrikes by Israeli armed forces in 2021, but that so far this year the UN has not witnessed a similar number of violations. The Secretary-General warns that “should the situation repeat itself in 2022, without meaningful improvement, Israel should be listed”. He also notes the high number of violations committed by Palestinian armed groups, similarly warning that “if the high number of violations against children were to be repeated in 2022, without meaningful improvement, Palestinian armed groups, including Hamas’ al-Qassam Brigades and Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s al-Quds Brigades, should be listed”.

It seems that some civil society organisations and member states have questioned the Secretary-General’s decision to move the Syrian government forces, including the National Defence Forces and pro-government militias, from section “A” to section “B”. The Secretary-General cites the government’s engagement with the UN on a draft action plan on ending and preventing grave violations against children as the reason for the decision. However, he emphasises that the move is conditional upon the signing of an action plan and the continued decrease in the number of verified cases of recruitment and use.

At tomorrow’s meeting, although Council members are unlikely to focus on specific listing or de-listing decisions, they may stress the need to maintain the integrity and objectivity of the annexes of the annual report. Council members may call for the consistent and transparent application of the criteria for listing and de-listing parties, which were set out in the Secretary-General’s 2010 annual report. They may also call for more clarification from the Secretary-General on the criteria for moving parties from section “A” to section “B”.

Sign up for What's In Blue emails