Time to punish parties who use or abuse children in armed conflicts – UN envoy

12 February 2008
Radhika Coomaraswamy

The Security Council must “take concrete and targeted measures” against those parties that persistently use or abuse children during armed conflicts around the world, the United Nations envoy on the issue said today, urging that well-meaning words be transformed into effective actions.

Addressing the Council during a day-long open debate, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy noted the ongoing impunity for those persistent violators that use or abuse children during wars.

From the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to Myanmar and from Sri Lanka to Uganda, parties to armed conflicts kill, maim, abduct or sexually assault children; deny humanitarian access to children in need; and recruit and use child soldiers. In total, at least 58 parties are known to be offenders.

Ms. Coomaraswamy called for the establishment of a mechanism by the 15-member Council to review and oversee targeted measures against violators to end their impunity.

“It is most important that the Council make good on its promise in order to ensure the credibility of this exercise,” she said. “The targeted measures could include the imposition of travel restrictions on leaders and their exclusion from any governance structures and amnesty provisions, the imposition of arms embargoes, a ban on military assistance, and restriction on the flow of financial resources to the parties concerned.”

While acknowledging that some parties have made important commitments in peace accords and action plans to stop recruiting child soldiers, the Special Representative warned that in some regional conflicts – such as those in the Great Lakes and Horn regions of Africa – cross-border recruitment from refugee camps is surging.

The detention of children for alleged association with armed groups is also worrying and a violation of international standards, she said, noting that many detained children face ill-treatment, torture, interrogations and food deprivation.

In addition, systematic and deliberate attacks against schoolchildren are escalating in numerous conflicts, particularly Afghanistan, while in the DRC and Burundi “appalling levels of sexual and gender-based violence” are occurring.

UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Ann M. Veneman told the Council debate that it was possible to reintegrate children used by armed forces and groups, especially once they are given the necessary skills and assistance to become productive members of their communities.

“Yet reintegration is a difficult and long-term process requiring patience and long-term commitment,” Ms. Veneman said, adding that UNICEF is already working in several countries – notably the Central African Republic (CAR), Côte d’Ivoire and Sudan – to reintegrate children.

She also highlighted the particular vulnerability of girls and women during armed conflicts because of sexual violence.

“Allow me to share with you one story as told by a 14-year-old girl in Liberia. She said: ‘The attackers tied me up and raped me because I was fighting. About five of them did the same thing to me until one of their commanders who knew my father came and stopped them, but also took me to make me his wife. I just accepted him because of fear.’ We need to put an end to the abuse, the rapes and the sexual violence.”

Representatives of dozens of countries then addressed the Council during today’s debate, which follows the recent release of a UN report stating that children are still recruited and used in armed conflicts in at least 13 nations worldwide. They are Afghanistan, Burundi, Chad, the CAR, Colombia, the DRC, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Somalia, Sudan, Sri Lanka and Uganda.

After the debate concluded, Ambassador Ricardo Alberto Arias of Panama, which holds the rotating Council presidency, read out a statement in which the Council called for the full implementation of its monitoring and reporting mechanism on children and armed conflict.

The Council also invited its Working Group which deals with the subject to continue proposing effective recommendations for its consideration, according to the presidential statement.

The text also noted the need for a broad strategy of conflict prevention that tackles the root causes of armed conflicts in a comprehensive manner, such as promoting sustainable development, poverty eradication, national reconciliation, good governance, democracy and the rule of law.


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