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UN envoy on children in conflict hails progress in Burundi but says more needed

UN envoy on children in conflict hails progress in Burundi but says more needed

Special Representative Radhika Coomaraswamy
The Central African State of Burundi has made progress in protecting children from the ravages of armed conflict, but more still needs to be done, especially to improve detention facilities for minors charged with belonging to armed groups, the top United Nations envoy on children and armed conflict said today.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, made her remarks during a press conference in the Burundian capital Bujumbura, at the end of her visit to the impoverished and strife-torn country.

“The general situation of human rights has significantly improved in Burundi. The measures already taken by the Government to address the recommendations of the Security Council are also very encouraging,” she said, referring in particular to Council resolution 1612 that calls on Member States to protect children from armed conflict.

“Most of the minors detained on charges related to their involvement with armed groups seem to have been released but efforts still need to be made to improve conditions of detention for minors.”

She said that in the short term, the Government had promised to ensure that children would be separated from adults during their detention, adding that she had also insisted that the authorities ensure that released children receive sustainable support to encourage them to fully reintegrate into their communities.

Ms Coomaraswamy welcomed Burundi’s revised penal code, which stipulates that the recruitment of children under 16 years to fight in armed conflict is a war crime, and expressed the hope that parliament would soon adopt it to allow the legislation to be implemented.

“The Government can count on the full support of the UN in training of the police and military authorities on child protection,” she said, stressing the role of the UN Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB) and also that of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in child protection.

UNICEF, BINUB and the entire UN country team will work together to continue their support of the Government in its efforts to address the needs of children in the peace consolidation phase.”

Ms Coomaraswamy said that during her meetings with President Pierre Nukurunziza, and senior ministers, they had expressed their deep commitment to continue efforts to address child rights and child protection.

Like neighbouring Rwanda, Burundi has also been ravaged by an ethnic conflict between its Hutu and Tutsi populations. Since gaining independence in 1962, the small country has been the victim of violent coups and political instability. The death of some 300,000 people after the first free elections took place in 1993 led to increased international involvement and the establishment of the first UN mission in Burundi three years later.

Before visiting Burundi, Ms. Coomaraswamy had spent 6 days discussing child protection and child rights issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).