What's In Blue

Children and Armed Conflict: Annual Open Debate

Tomorrow (26 June), 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, dated 3 June. Briefings are also expected from UNICEF Deputy Executive Director for Humanitarian Action and Supply Operations Ted Chaiban, former UN Secretary-General and Deputy Chair of the Elders Ban Ki-moon, and a child civil society representative from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The Secretary-General’s annual report covers the period from January to December 2023 and provides information on the six grave violations against children in situations on the children and armed conflict agenda, which include 25 country situations and one regional monitoring arrangement covering the Lake Chad Basin region. 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 describes “extreme levels” of violence perpetrated against children in armed conflict in 2023; the UN verified 32,990 grave violations, of which 30,705 were committed in 2023 and 2,285 were committed earlier but verified in 2023. This represents a “shocking” 21 percent increase compared with the previous reporting period and the highest number recorded since the monitoring and reporting mechanism (MRM) was established through resolution 1612 in 2005.

The Secretary-General’s report attributes the unprecedented increase in violations to several factors, including the changing complexity and intensification of armed conflict, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and “blatant disregard for international humanitarian law and severe violations of international human rights law”. It notes that the most violations were verified in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), the DRC, Myanmar, Somalia, Nigeria, and Sudan.

The Republic of Korea (ROK), June’s Council president, has circulated a concept note, which says that, considering the alarming trends of grave violations, tomorrow’s meeting provides a timely opportunity for member states to discuss ways to advance their collective norms towards protecting children and ending all grave violations.

Tomorrow, the briefers and many Council members are expected to argue that the devastating picture painted by the Secretary-General’s report should serve as a call to action for conflict parties to take immediate steps to reverse the negative trends, including through engaging with the UN to sign and implement action plans to end and prevent grave violations. They are likely to note that the dire situation highlights the need for continued support by the international community for the children and armed conflict agenda and its tools that are aimed at promoting behavioural change. They might mention in this regard the MRM, which facilitates the verification of violations against children through a rigorous methodology; the Secretary-General’s annual report, including its annexes which list parties that have committed grave violations against children; and the conclusions adopted by the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. Some members may express concern that the past several years’ delayed adoption of conclusions hampers the working group’s ability to respond promptly to developments on the ground. (For more information, see the brief on children and armed conflict in our June 2024 Monthly Forecast.)

Several country situations are expected to feature prominently in the statements of the briefers and Council members. There are likely to be strong expressions of concern regarding the intensification of hostilities in Israel and the OPT, particularly in Gaza, following the 7 October 2023 attacks against Israel led by Hamas and the subsequent Israeli military response in Gaza. The UN verified 8,009 grave violations against 4,360 children—including 113 Israeli children and 4,247 Palestinian children—a figure representing almost a quarter of the overall violations recorded in the report. The Secretary-General listed in the annexes to his report the Israeli armed and security forces for killing and maiming children as well as for attacks against schools and hospitals, while Hamas’ Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades and affiliated factions and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s Al-Quds Brigades are listed for killing and maiming children and abduction.

Many participants are likely to discuss the situation in Sudan, where the violence that erupted in April 2023 between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group, has had devastating effects on children. The UN documented 1,721 grave violations against 1,526 children in Sudan in 2023, a “dramatic” 480 percent increase over 2022. The Secretary-General listed the SAF for killing and maiming and attacks against schools and hospitals and the RSF for recruitment and use, killing and maiming, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and attacks against schools and hospitals.

Among the situations likely to be raised tomorrow is Haiti, where violence perpetrated by gangs continues to have deleterious effects on children. Personnel of the multinational security support (MSS) mission aimed at helping Haiti combat gang activity and restore security, authorised through Security Council resolution 2699 of 2 October 2023, reportedly began deploying to the country today (25 June). The Secretary-General’s report emphasised the importance of training in child protection for MSS personnel. Other situations that are expected to be discussed tomorrow include Ukraine, Myanmar, and Afghanistan.

According to the concept note for tomorrow’s meeting, this year’s open debate will focus on three themes and trends outlined in the Secretary-General’s report, namely the denial of humanitarian access for children, attacks on schools and hospitals, and the effects of the drawdown of UN peace missions on child protection capacities. Regarding the denial of humanitarian access—an issue which was also the focus of a 3 April Council briefing—the Secretary-General’s report records 5,205 verified instances, representing a 32 percent increase compared with the previous year. Chaiban may emphasise the importance of enabling humanitarian actors’ engagement with all parties to conflict, including those on sanctions lists, to facilitate the principled provision of humanitarian assistance to all children. Some members may highlight the need to protect humanitarian personnel, while mentioning the recent adoption of resolution 2730 of 24 May which addresses this issue.

The briefers and Council members are likely to voice alarm about the steadily increasing trend in attacks on schools and hospitals. The Secretary-General’s report recorded 1,650 attacks on schools and hospitals in 2023, noting that this remained a particular issue of concern in Israel and the OPT, Ukraine, Myanmar, the DRC, and Sudan. There may also be reference to the 20 June report of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). The report covers developments in 2022 and 2023, recording around 6,000 reported attacks on education and incidents of military use of schools and universities that harmed more than 10,000 students and educators globally. Speakers may emphasise the importance of implementing Security Council resolution 2601 of 29 October 2021 on the protection of education and for member states to sign and implement international instruments such as the Safe Schools Declaration.

Although the Council has held several meetings on transitions of UN peace operations, tomorrow’s meeting will be the first to spotlight the need to preserve and transfer child protection data and capacities during such processes. This issue is particularly relevant considering that the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is undergoing a transition and that the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) was recently renewed for a final 19-month period through resolution 2732 of 30 May. Members may express concern about MONUSCO’s drawdown, especially in light of the high number of grave violations recorded in the DRC in 2023 (3,764). Ahead of the open debate, Security Council experts interacted informally in New York with child protection advisers (CPAs) from three UN peace missions, who impressed upon them the vast scope of tasks undertaken by CPAs, including monitoring and reporting on violations, engagement with conflict parties to implement action plans, and support for reintegration of children released from the ranks of armed groups. The CPAs highlighted the need for sufficient follow-on capacity to implement such tasks, including by providing financing for entities such as UNICEF and local civil society organisations that are slated to assume these roles after the UN peace operation departs.

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