What's In Blue

Posted Tue 4 Jul 2023

Children and Armed Conflict: Annual Open Debate

Tomorrow (5 July), the Security Council will hold its annual open debate on children and armed conflict. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba will present the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict, which was made public on 27 June. Briefings are also expected from UNICEF Deputy Executive Director for programmes Omar Abdi and a child civil society representative.

The Secretary-General’s annual report covers the period from January through December 2022 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 27,180 grave violations against children in 24 country situations and one regional situation (the Lake Chad Basin), 2,880 of which occurred prior to 2022 but were only verified in 2022. It notes that the most violations took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Somalia, Ukraine, and Syria.

This year’s annual report adds Haiti and Niger as situations of concern with immediate effect. Information about violations committed against children in these country situations will be included in the Secretary-General’s future reports. It also removes India as a situation of concern, citing measures taken by the government to better protect children.

The UK, July’s Council president, has decided to focus this year’s annual open debate on ways to prevent and respond to grave violations against children in armed conflict. A concept note that it has circulated ahead of the open debate highlights the importance of utilising existing tools to prevent grave violations against children and to strengthen accountability for such violations. It references in this regard the monitoring and reporting mechanism (MRM), which uses rigorous methodology to verify violations against children. According to the concept note, the timely and reliable information collected by the MRM provides the basis for UN engagement with conflict parties aimed at developing commitments to end and prevent violations against children.

The concept note also says that the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict acts as a crucial accountability mechanism. The working group’s conclusions can influence conflict parties’ behaviour, including by encouraging them to take steps to end and prevent violations against children. The concept note states that “[a] well-functioning Working Group is critical to the success of the children and armed conflict mandate and to ensuring accountability for those children affected by conflict”.

In the past two years, difficult Council dynamics around several country situations have prevented agreement on several sets of conclusions, which are agreed to by consensus. Five sets of conclusions remain pending: on three Secretary-General’s reports on children and armed conflict that were presented in 2021 (AfghanistanMyanmar, and Syria) and two that were presented in 2022 (Nigeria and Somalia). The working group’s inability to adopt conclusions on some country situations for nearly two years is a matter of concern, as it hampers its capacity to respond to developments on the ground in a timely manner. (For more information, see the children and armed conflict brief in our July Forecast.)

The concept note contains several questions to help guide the discussion at tomorrow’s meeting:

  • What works in preventing and responding to grave violations against children in armed conflict?
  • What more needs to be done to scale up existing successful initiatives?
  • What innovative and new approaches can be piloted to better protect children in armed conflict?
  • How can member states ensure that protection and prevention approaches are age- and gender-sensitive and child-centred?

In presenting the annual report, Gamba is likely to highlight trends in violations against children in the past year. She may note the 112 percent increase in attacks on schools (1,163) and hospitals (647), mainly in Ukraine, Burkina Faso, Israel and the OPT, Myanmar, Mali, and Afghanistan. Gamba is also expected to emphasise the harmful effects of the use of explosive weapons—including those with a wide impact area—in populated areas and note that the use of explosive remnants of war (ERWs), improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and mines represented some 26 percent of the methods used in the killing and maiming of children. She may underscore the need to prioritise the clearing of ERWs, IEDs, and mines; provide child-sensitive risk education; and promote assistance to victims. The special representative may also emphasise that member states and conflict parties should consider every person below the age of 18 years as a child, in line with Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Abdi may emphasise the importance of enabling humanitarian actors’ engagement with all parties to conflict, including armed groups—which perpetrated half of the verified violations against children in 2022—to facilitate humanitarian access and  dialogue with parties to end and prevent grave violations. He might also call on member states to provide more financial support for the MRM. Abdi may note that while the data that the mechanism collects is already robust, additional resources can help enhance the quantity of the data and the UN’s ability to provide analysis.

Council members may call on conflict parties to conclude and implement action plans to end and prevent grave violations against children. The briefers and several members may also encourage member states to strengthen their focus on prevention of violations, including by joining and implementing international instruments and commitments, such as the Paris Principles and Commitments on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups and the Safe Schools Declaration.

The need to facilitate adequate child protection capacities in peacekeeping operations is also likely to be raised by several members. In this regard, they might emphasise the need to ensure child protection data and capacities are preserved and transferred during mission transitions and reconfigurations. This issue is particularly relevant considering the upcoming drawdown of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). In resolution 2690 of 30 June, the Security Council terminated the mission’s mandate and requested MINUSMA to complete the withdrawal of its personnel and the transfer of its tasks by 31 December. (For more information, see our 29 June What’s in Blue story.) According to the Secretary-General’s annual report, the UN verified 1,024 grave violations committed against children in Mali in 2022.

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. These members are likely to mention the transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia—an issue which has been often raised in the Council since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022—and call on Russia to facilitate the reunification of children with their families.

There are also likely to be expressions of concern about the effects on children of the recent escalation of violence in Sudan, where fighting erupted on 15 April between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group. According to a 15 June statement by UNICEF, more than one million children have been displaced by two months of conflict in Sudan; as at 6 June, over 330 children have been killed and more than 1,900 have been injured as a result of the fighting.

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, the Secretary-General listed the Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups for committing attacks on schools and hospitals and the killing of children in Ukraine. This marks the first time that a permanent member of the Security Council is listed in the annual report’s annexes. Several civil society organisations and member states have criticised the Secretary-General for failing to hold accountable Israeli security forces and Palestinian armed groups, neither of which were listed in the annual report’s annexes. (For more information, see the children and armed conflict brief in our July Forecast.)

At tomorrow’s meeting, although most 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. 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.

It remains to be seen whether Russia being listed in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s report will deepen Council divisiveness and further complicate the working group’s ability to carry out its work. During the Council’s 29 June meeting on Ukraine, which was called by Russia and focused on Western arms supplies to Ukraine, the UK referenced Russia’s listing in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report, noting that Russian forces have been responsible for killings, abductions, and rapes of children, and have used children as human shields 90 times. In response, Russia said that it would respond to the UK’s allegations—including on the supposed use of children as human shields—during the UK’s Council presidency.

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