What's In Blue

Arria-formula Meeting on “Combating Forced Separation and Illegal Exploitation of Children”

Tomorrow morning (10 November), Russia will convene a Security Council Arria-formula meeting titled “Combating forced separation and illegal exploitation of children”. Briefings are expected from Mira Terada, Director of the Foundation to Battle Injustice, and Arun Dohle, Director of Against Child Trafficking.

The meeting, which will begin at 10 am EST and take place in Conference Room 4, will be broadcast on UNTV.

The concept note prepared by Russia says that tomorrow’s meeting aims to address the issue of “forced separation of children, especially refugees and asylum seekers, from their families and their subsequent trafficking and exploitation in various forms”. Another objective is to discuss ways of providing legal assistance and support to refugees who face such actions in destination countries. According to the concept note, the issue of “forced separation of children of Ukrainian refugees in Europe” was referenced during the 5 April Arria-formula meeting organised by Russia, titled “Children and Armed Conflict: Ukrainian Crisis. Evacuating Children From Conflict Zone”. Following this meeting, “appeals from those who faced similar problem were received and not all of them were Ukrainians”, maintains the concept note.

The 5 April Arria-formula meeting featured briefings by Russia’s Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova, representatives of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, and a representative of the children’s division of the Donetsk centre for traumatology. 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 Lvova-Belova and briefers of the self-declared republics took the floor. (For background, see our 4 April What’s in Blue story.)

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Council members have used Arria-formula meetings to promote differing narratives on various aspects of the conflict, including accountability, the freedom of religion, and the situation of children. For instance, following Russia’s 5 April Arria-formula meeting, Albania, France, and the US, together with non-Council member Ukraine, convened an Arria-formula meeting on 28 April on the abduction and deportation of children during armed conflict, which mainly focused on Ukraine. (For background, see our 28 April What’s in Blue story.) The latest Arria-formula meeting on Ukraine—which was convened by Albania, the UK, and the US on 27 October—focused on “violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law investigated by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine”. (For background, see our 26 October What’s in Blue story.)

At tomorrow’s meeting, several Council members may accuse Russia of misusing the Arria-formula meeting format to disseminate false narratives and disinformation. These members apparently view tomorrow’s meeting as a cynical attempt by Russia to justify its invasion of Ukraine and as part of a broader strategy to divert the international community’s attention from Russia’s violations of the UN Charter.

Sharply contrasting views on the situation of children who have been displaced by the conflict in Ukraine are likely to be on display at tomorrow’s meeting. Russia is expected to accuse Western countries, particularly European member states, of forcibly separating Ukrainian refugee children from their parents. Since April, Russian Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Dmitry Polyanskiy has raised such allegations in several posts on X (formerly Twitter). Other members, including European Council members, are expected to reject Russia’s claims and condemn its aggression against Ukraine and the resulting forced displacement of civilians. According to data presented by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over six million Ukrainians have sought refuge abroad, approximately 5.8 million of whom are in Europe.

Several members are expected to express concern about grave violations committed against children in the context of the war in Ukraine. (The six grave violations, as determined by the Security Council, are child recruitment and use; killing and maiming; rape and other forms of sexual violence; attacks on schools and hospitals; abductions; and the denial of humanitarian access.) The Secretary-General listed in the annexes of his most recent annual report on children and armed conflict, dated 5 June, the Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups for committing attacks on schools and hospitals (480) and the killing of children (136) in Ukraine in 2022. This marked the first time that a permanent member of the Security Council was listed in the annual report’s annexes. The report also expressed concern about the high number of children killed (80) and maimed (175) and attacks on schools and hospitals (212) by Ukrainian armed forces but did not list them in the report’s annexes. (For background, see the brief on Children and Armed Conflict in our July 2023 Monthly Forecast.)

Tomorrow, some members are expected to accuse Russia of forcibly transferring and deporting Ukrainian children within Russian-occupied territories and to Russia. These members may note that while the transfer of children does not constitute a grave violation under the Children and Armed Conflict agenda, it is a violation of international humanitarian law. Moscow for its part is expected to deny such allegations and claim that its actions represent a humanitarian evacuation of children from conflict zones in compliance with international human rights law.

At the 27 October Arria-formula meeting, Council members received briefings from the three members of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Ukraine—Erik Møse (Chair), Pablo de Greiff, and Vrinda Grover. In her briefing, Grover noted that the commission found in its latest report, submitted to the General Assembly on 19 October, that the “transfer of 31 children from Ukraine to the Russian Federation is an unlawful deportation and constitutes a war crime”. She also highlighted several challenges in investigating the matter, including discrepancy in the information provided by Ukrainian and Russian authorities regarding the number of children transferred or deported and lack of access to Russia or to areas under its control in Ukraine.

Several members are also expected to emphasise in general the importance of protecting children in armed conflict, including by adhering to obligations contained in such treaties as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Fourth Geneva Convention. There is also likely to be discussion on the risks to which children displaced by conflict are exposed, with some expressing particular concern about the conditions that unaccompanied children face.

Members may also raise concern about the situation of children displaced by conflict in other countries besides Ukraine. In this regard, some may reference the escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian armed group and de facto authority in Gaza, and the ensuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. (For more information, see our 6 November What’s in Blue story.) According to an 8 November OCHA flash update, an estimated 1.5 million people in Gaza are internally displaced. Russia might accuse some Western Council members of double standards in light of their positions on the recent violence in Israel and Gaza. In a 13 October press briefing, Russian Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia said that Western delegations have been willing to raise the issue of alleged violations of international humanitarian law in Ukraine, while “turning a blind eye to the Israeli air force attacks on civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip”.

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