Senior United Nations officials today urged the Security Council to take action, such as freezing assets and imposing arms embargoes and travel bans, against the leaders of rebel groups and military forces that recruit child soldiers or sexually abuse, maim or kill children during conflicts.
A month after the United Nations for the first time identified the combatants that are the most persistent violators of children in armed conflict, the Council heard calls to ensure that those violators are held fully accountable for their actions.
“The naming and shaming exercise, along with the possibility of sanctions against persistent violators, has persuaded parties to cease this reprehensible behaviour and should deter others from future offences,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative Radhika Coomaraswamy told the 15-member body at the start of a day-long debate on children and armed conflict.
The Secretary-General’s most recent report on the issue, released in May, named 16 different armies and insurgent groups in Africa, Asia and Latin America as having recruited or used child soldiers for at least the past five years.
Ms. Coomaraswamy noted that the majority of these parties were non-State actors “who need to enter into action plans with the United Nations to be de-listed.” She urged governments “to endorse this process in the best interest of the children.”
The Secretary-General’s recent report praised the progress made through the signing of several action plans to end the recruitment and the use of child soldiers, including pacts with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, which has released almost 3,000 people who were originally recruited as minors.
While that action plan came too late for Manju Gurung, a Nepalese girl who was abducted by the Maoists at the age of 13, she addressed the Security Council today to speak “on behalf of all children in armed conflict who face and survive the atrocities of war.”
“They trained me to use .303 rifles, ISAS, SLR, AK-47,” she said. “They also taught us how to make and detonate bombs. We had to wear shorts and short-sleeve shirts and do leopard crawls during trainings and my skin had cuts, scabs and bruises.”
Highlighting the need to tackle the issue at all levels, Atul Khare, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told the Council that child protection advisers have been established in nine peacekeeping missions, a focal point has been named in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), and the department was strengthening its child protection presence in Afghanistan at the UN mission there (known as UNAMA).
Also addressing the Security Council, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Hilde Johnson noted that schools were increasingly being targeted by armed groups, an unfortunate reality as illustrated by her recent visit to Chad where she spoke with a group of boys. “I asked them about their hopes for the future. All then had one singular, uniform ambition: education.”
In her statement, Ms. Johnson also noted the need for better monitoring and reporting to gather the factual details that are required to hold violators accountable, bring them to justice and enforce measures through existing sanctions regimes.
The Council debate, which heard from dozens of speakers, concluded with the adoption of a presidential statement in which they voiced deep concern that some parties persistent in committing violations and abuses against children.
Members expressed their “readiness to adopt targeted and graduated measures against persistent perpetrators,” including possible sanctions for breaches of international law by the recruiters of child soldiers.
The panel also urged UN Member States to use their own national justice systems, as well as international justice mechanisms and mixed criminal courts and tribunals, to end impunity for those who commit crimes against children.
Today’s debate comes one week after six countries in Central Africa committed to ending the recruitment of child soldiers in the so-called N’Djamena Declaration, a move applauded at the time by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The six – Cameroon, Chad, the Central African Republic (CAR), Niger, Nigeria and Sudan – outlined their commitments to child protection in line with global standards, including those in the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.