What's In Blue

Posted Fri 28 Apr 2023

Arria-Formula Meeting on Abduction and Deportation of Children During Armed Conflict

This morning (28 April), Security Council members will hold an Arria-formula meeting titled “Addressing the Abduction and Deportation of Children During Armed Conflict: Concrete Steps for Accountability and Prevention”. The meeting is being co-hosted by Albania, France, and the US, together with non-Council member Ukraine, and is being co-sponsored by over 42 member states. Briefings are expected from Ezequiel Heffes, Director of Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict; Dmytro Lubinets, the Ombudsperson of Ukraine; Daria Herasymchuk, Adviser-Commissioner of the President of Ukraine for the Rights of the Child and Child Rehabilitation; and a civil society representative.

The meeting, which will begin at 10 am EST and take place in Conference Room 4, will not be broadcast on UNTV, after Russia raised an objection to webcasting it on the official UN channel. In line with established practice, the webcasting of Arria-formula meetings via UNTV requires the consent of all Council members; it can therefore be blocked if a single Council member objects. It seems that the co-organisers intend to livestream the meeting on the YouTube channel of the Permanent Mission of the US to the UN.

This is the third time in the past two months that a Council member has objected to the webcasting of an Arria-formula meeting. On 17 March, China blocked the webcasting of an Arria-formula meeting on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). (For more information, see our 16 March What’s in Blue story.) On 5 April, the UK blocked the webcasting of an Arria-formula meeting organised by Russia titled “Children and Armed Conflict: Ukrainian Crisis. Evacuating Children From Conflict Zone”, which featured controversial briefings by Russia’s Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova and representatives from the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic. Russian Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Dmitry Polyanskiy criticised the UK’s objection in a 4 April tweet, announcing that “Russia will from now on block UN webcasts of all similar meetings”. (For more information, see our 4 April What’s in Blue story.)

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Lvova-Belova and Russian President Vladimir Putin on 17 March for allegedly committing the war crime of “unlawful deportation” and “unlawful transfer” of children from Ukraine to Russia. During the 5 April Arria-formula meeting, representatives of several Council members—including Albania, Malta, the UK, and the US—walked out of the conference room when the contentious briefers took the floor.

According to the concept note (S/2023/293) prepared by the co-organisers, today’s meeting aims to draw attention to the abduction and deportation of children during armed conflict, and to explore ways to address these issues. The concept note says that the meeting’s objectives are to:

  • Foster a better understanding of the extent and impact of abduction and deportation of children during armed conflict, including the role of state actors in such violations and abuses.
  • Highlight the measures required to prevent the abduction and deportation of children and to ensure the safe release and return of these children, including the need to hold perpetrators accountable.
  • Identify the challenges that the international community faces in responding to the abduction and deportation of children during armed conflict, including potential gaps in legal frameworks and the need for international cooperation.
  • Share best practices and identify practical steps that can be taken to address these violations and abuses.

Although the concept note broadly discusses the issue of abduction of children in the context of armed conflict, noting the situation of children in such countries as Colombia, Nigeria, and Yemen, it mostly focuses on Ukraine. It seems that several participants—including the meeting’s organisers and other like-minded states—are expected to focus their statements at today’s meeting on reports of the transfer and deportation of Ukrainian children from Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine to Russia. In the concept note, the co-organisers accuse Russia of conducting a “deliberate campaign to separate thousands of Ukrainian children from their parents” and of removing Ukrainian children from orphanages or other institutions and putting them up for adoption in Russia.

Abductions are one of the six grave violations included in the UN-led Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) for violations against children established by resolution 1612 in 2005. The other five violations are child recruitment and use; killing and maiming; rape and other forms of sexual violence; attacks on schools and hospitals; and the denial of humanitarian access. Security Council resolution 2225, adopted in 2015, designated abductions as a grave violation that could trigger a listing of parties in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict. The MRM’s field manual, which was issued in 2014, defines abductions as “unlawful removal, seizure…or enforced disappearance of a child either temporarily or permanently for the purpose of any form of exploitation of the child”. It notes that such exploitation can include, but is not limited to, recruitment, sexual exploitation or abuse, forced labour, or indoctrination.

The Secretary-General’s latest annual report on children and armed conflict, dated 23 June 2022, added Ukraine as a situation of concern with immediate effect, alongside Ethiopia and Mozambique. This report did not include information on violations committed in the three new situations of concern; such information may be featured in the Secretary-General’s next annual report on children and armed conflict, which will be published later this year.

Several other sources have reported on Russia’s relocation of Ukrainian children from and within Russian-controlled and -occupied territories in Ukraine. This includes the 15 March report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, which concluded that Russia had committed a wide range of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in various regions of Ukraine and in Russia. The commission found that many of these violations, including the forced transfer and deportation of children, constitute war crimes.

In April, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict published its “A Credible List” policy report, which provides recommendations for the Secretary-General’s upcoming annual report on children and armed conflict. The policy report cites several sources that have documented cases of Russian forces deporting children from Ukrainian occupied territories to Russia. It recommends that the Secretary-General further investigate and verify these reports to “determine if these actions amount to the grave violation of abductions as defined by the MRM Field Manual and warrant listing of Russian Government Forces in the annexes”. Heffes may repeat this recommendation at today’s meeting. He is also likely to address broader issues relating to abductions, noting the importance of monitoring potential violations against children and the need to provide access by relevant child protection actors to children who have been affected. Heffes may also highlight the importance of providing services to children who return from situations of abduction or deportation, including by providing psycho-social support.

Several Council members are expected to condemn Russia for violating international humanitarian law by forcibly transferring and deporting Ukrainian children within Russian-occupied territories and to Russia. Moscow for its part is expected to deny such allegations and claim that its actions constitute a humanitarian evacuation of children from conflict zones in compliance with international human rights law. The organisers of the meeting and other like-minded states are likely to stress the need to pursue accountability and note that this can be done through various mechanisms. Some may suggest the tools of the children and armed conflict agenda, which include listing of responsible parties in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict. Some may note that even if further investigations do not certify that Russia’s actions in Ukraine amount to the grave violation of abductions, they still constitute violations of international law, which can be addressed by other competent bodies.

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