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Ban calls protecting children in armed conflict a ‘moral call’

Ban calls protecting children in armed conflict a ‘moral call’

Children wait in a barn on the outskirts of Eldoret town after being forced to flee their homes
Protecting children in armed conflict is a moral issue, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed today, calling for increased action to safeguard young people caught up in violence.

“The protection of children in armed conflict is a litmus test for the United Nations and the Organization’s Member States,” Mr. Ban said told the Security Council in an open debate. “It is a moral call, and deserves to be placed above politics. It requires innovative, fearless engagement by all stakeholders.”

He noted that in the 12 years since the release of the landmark study on the impact of armed conflict on children by Graça Machel, international legal standards on the issue have been established.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) classifies recruiting children into fighting forces as both a war crime and a crime against humanity, while the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) has a convention calling child soldiering one of the worst forms of child labour.

The Secretary-General lauded the work of the Security Council to protect children, with resolutions having been adopted on six grave violations: abduction; sexual violence; child soldiers; killing and maiming; attacks on schools and hospitals; and denial of humanitarian access.

“Yet we have only begun to scratch the surface,” he said, voicing hope that the 15-member body would take further measures to address the problem.

In her address to the debate, which heard from dozens of speakers, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, said that her recent visits to Iraq and Afghanistan have convinced her of the changing nature of warfare.

“The time has come for us to re-double our efforts in these regions, to renew our commitment to ensure that children will not be recruited or used as suicide bombers, that they will not be detained in military detention without due process which protects their vulnerability as minors, that their schools will not be attacked, that they or their families will not be collateral damage and that girl children will not be the targets of sexual violence or denied access to schools,” she said.

Over the past year, Ms. Coomaraswamy said, Member States have expressed their opinions that her Office should more closely assess the root causes of serious offences against children, in particular the problem of children associated with armed groups.

Although in agreement with the need to understand the basis of conflict, she underlined that the Council should not be steered “away from its task of ensuring accountability for and fighting impunity of persistent and grave violators of children’s rights in situations of armed conflict, a task in which it has a supreme advantage over other organs of the United Nations, including the possibility of imposing targeted measures,” she said.

Also speaking at today’s debate was Assistant Secretary-General Edmond Mulet, who briefed the Council on measures that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has taken on child protection.

Currently, the Department hosts more than 60 child protection officers in seven missions around the world, with the provision of training on children’s rights being a top priority.

“We must strive to ensure an environment in which children’s rights are fully respected and their welfare is protected: a peaceful and just environment in which they can flourish and meaningfully contribute to their communities,” Mr. Mulet said.

At the conclusion of the day-long debate, the Council issued a presidential statement in which the body reaffirmed “its strong and equal condemnation of the continuing recruitment and use of children in armed conflict in violation of applicable international law,” as well as killing and maiming of children, rape and other sexual violence, abductions, denial of humanitarian access to children and attacks against schools and hospitals by those taking part in fighting.

Today’s statement also emphasized the role of education in conflict areas as a way to curb and prevent the recruitment and re-recruitment of children.

“The Security Council reiterates the need for stronger focus by all parties concerned, including governments and the donor community, on the long-term effects of armed conflict on children and the impediments to their full rehabilitation and reintegration into their families and communities,” it said.