Children and Armed Conflict: Briefing on Prevention of Grave Violations
Tomorrow morning (13 February), the Security Council will hold a briefing on children and armed conflict that will focus on prevention of grave violations against children. Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba and Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children Najat Maalla M’jid are expected to brief. A female youth civil society representative will also brief, and is expected to provide recommendations based on her peace-building and prevention work.
Malta, the chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, is convening the meeting as one of its signature events during its Council presidency. It plans to prepare a summary of the briefing as an outcome of the meeting.
The concept note circulated by Malta ahead of tomorrow’s briefing says that, despite the progress made over the years through the implementation of the children and armed conflict agenda, grave violations continue to affect children at an alarming rate globally, illustrating the continued importance of prevention efforts. (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.) It asserts that effective violence prevention requires a strategic and proactive approach at community, national, subregional, regional, and global levels that addresses all potential risks to children.
The concept note references resolution 2427, adopted unanimously on 9 July 2018, which provided a framework for the prevention of grave violations against children in armed conflict situations. The resolution expressed the Council’s commitment to consider and use the UN system’s tools to “ensure that early warning of potential conflicts translates into early, concrete preventive action, including towards the goal of protecting children… by or in coordination with the most appropriate United Nations or regional actor”. (For more background, see our February Forecast Brief.)
According to the concept note, although resolution 2427 provided the foundation for effective protection and prevention practices, it did not outline extensive guidelines on how to operationalise such practices. Tomorrow’s meeting aims to serve as a platform for Council members to discuss ways to further strengthen prevention within the children and armed conflict agenda, including through promoting the comprehensive implementation of resolution 2427. The concept note outlines several objectives for the meeting, including:
- To take stock of where stronger linkages could be made across the UN system to strengthen age-appropriate and gender-responsive efforts to prevent and respond to violations and to address risk factors to children, such as trafficking, deprivation of liberty, and cross-border recruitment and use of children;
- To examine how the UN can assist national governments and regional and subregional organisations in strengthening their capacity to protect children and to prevent violations and abuses against children; and
- To propose solutions to facilitate more systematic reporting on early warning indicators of an emerging or sudden escalation of violence against children, as well as to propose ways to keep the Council seized of this matter.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Gamba is likely to highlight, as she has done on previous occasions, that the best solution to protecting children remains the prevention of violations from occurring in the first place. She may describe her office’s preventive work, including engagement with relevant actors to promote the design and implementation of prevention plans—these are a strategy or statement adopted at the highest levels of a government, regional, or subregional organisation that addresses specific trends and patterns, such as cross-border violations, and mobilises resources for preventing violations against children.
Gamba and M’jid may highlight the importance of cooperation between their respective offices to facilitate a coordinated approach within the UN system to prevent and respond to violations against children. While the mandate of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict is focused on preventing, monitoring, and ending the six grave violations in the 25 situations on the children and armed conflict agenda, the Special Representative on Violence against Children has a broader mandate to address violence, abuses, and risk factors (such as trafficking and the deprivation of liberty) affecting children in other country situations.
Several Council members are expected to highlight that the prevention of grave violations against children should entail the full and systematic use of existing tools within the children and armed conflict agenda. The Council recognised in a 31 October 2017 presidential statement that its products—such as resolutions and presidential statements—as well as the conclusions of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, contribute to preventing and responding to violations against children, including through encouraging parties to conflict to sign and implement action plans and to take the necessary steps to be de-listed from the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict. Some members may underscore the importance of upholding the credibility and impartiality of these tools, including through the consistent and transparent application of the criteria for listing and de-listing parties from the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report.
The links between accountability and prevention are expected to be emphasised by several members. At the Council’s last annual open debate on children and armed conflict, which took place on 19 July 2022, Albania noted that holding perpetrators accountable can increase the cost of non-compliance with international law, thus contributing to the deterrence of future violations—a message that it and other members may reiterate tomorrow. Some members may highlight the need to make greater use of sanctions to fight impunity for violations against children, as France did during the July 2022 open debate.
Some members may reference other tools to promote prevention, including international initiatives such as the Safe Schools Declaration, the Paris Principles, and the Vancouver Principles. In the same vein, members may highlight the importance of strengthening the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including with regard to the age-based definition of a child, which can act as preventive measures to deter violations against children. Council dynamics around such normative frameworks have often been difficult; some members that are not signatory to these initiatives (for example, China, Russia, and the US have not endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration), have opposed references to them in Council products.
Several members are likely to call on the Secretary-General to facilitate more systematic reporting to the Security Council on early warning indicators of potential violations and abuses against children. An 18 January 2022 study issued by the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict to mark the 25th anniversary of the children and armed conflict mandate suggested that the mandate can enhance “its proactive engagements with parties to conflict”, including by relying on existing data from the UN country task forces on monitoring and reporting on grave violations against children (CTFMR) and early warning systems in situations not on the children and armed conflict agenda. This could facilitate swift addition of new situations of concern to the Secretary-General’s annual report and “allow the agenda to play an early warning role”, according to the study. An April 2020 policy note by the organisation Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict also suggested that the Secretary-General could use the narrative section of his annual report to bring early warning signs to the Council’s attention.
The issue of early warning, particularly in situations not on the children and armed conflict agenda, may be sensitive for some members such as China and Russia, which regularly highlight the importance of respecting member states’ sovereignty. These members also apparently expressed reservations during the negotiations on resolution 2427 about whether the Council is an appropriate forum to discuss issues relating to prevention.
The promotion of economic and social development as a means to prevent violations is another expected focus of some members’ statements. In this regard, resolution 2427 emphasised the need for a strong focus on combatting poverty and inequality to prevent and protect children from violations in the context of armed conflict. The resolution underlined the importance of facilitating access to education to prevent violations such as recruitment and use—a point many speakers are likely to reinforce tomorrow.