Children and Armed Conflict
- Central Africa
- Central African Republic
- South Sudan
UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
Statement by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations
First, I must thank Special Representative Leila Zerrougui, UNICEF and DPKO for their indispensable efforts to keep children affected by conflict safe. Thank you also to Forest Whitaker, UNESCO's Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation. We are in debt to your commitment and empathy. We welcome the presence of Foreign Minister Asselborn; Luxembourg's leadership of the Working Group on what is – but should not be – a politically challenging issue, has been exemplary. Thank you also to Sandra Uwiringiyimana. We are so fortunate that that soldier let you live. The Council needs to hear such direct testimony and we hope that others with Sandra's courage and determination will continue to help keep the Council focused on why what we try to do can mean so much to so many. And why the cost of our own failures as a Council – whenever they occur – can be so high.
Our briefers have reminded us that the situation for millions of children affected by conflict around the world is dire and that children continue to suffer each of the six grave violations. Nearly 700 children have been killed in Iraq this year alone. More than 10,000 children have been killed in Syria since the outbreak of conflict in 2011. In South Sudan, there are some 9,000 child soldiers. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, some 900 cases of sexual violence against children were documented between 2010 and 2013. Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in northeast Nigeria in April. A month later, 153 Kurdish boys were abducted by ISIL. Schools and hospitals continue to be attacked – as SRSG Zerrougui just said, at least 244 schools in Gaza have been damaged by shelling and air strikes and half of Gaza's hospitals were damaged since the beginning of July. Three Israeli schools were damaged by rockets. In Syria, more than half of all school-age children do not attend school as a result of the conflict. Children continue to be denied humanitarian assistance, including in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Resolutions 2139 and 2165 aim to alleviate some of this suffering in Syria. They remain uncomplied with, and we should recall that the Council committed itself to take measures in the event of such non-compliance. We should do so. We should also quickly finalise the conclusions of the Working Group with respect to Syria.
Against these horrors, there has been some progress over the past year.
- Chadian forces were de-listed as a party which recruits children, following verification by the UN of full compliance with the action plan
- The Somali Government re-commited to making its army child free, and confirmed this commitment to the Council when we visited Mogadishu last month
- Yemen signed an action plan in May
- Afghanistan's endorsement of a roadmap to implement its action plan is a welcome step
- As is the recent commitment of the Free Syrian Army to end child recruitment
- And, in Australia's own region, the Myanmar Government released 91 child soldiers last month, contributing to a total of 364 released over the past two years.
But despite such progress, so much more must still be done to ensure greater protection for children during conflict. I will highlight three key concerns: ending recruitment of children, particularly by non-state armed groups; addressing the impact of military activities on schools; and ensuring accountability for those who violate child rights during conflict.
First, the Children, Not Soldiers campaign launched by SRSG Zerrougui and UNICEF in March to ensure that by the end of 2016 no government forces recruit children should be instrumental in delivering change. But we must also maintain our efforts to end the recruitment and other grave violations by non-state actors, who make up the vast majority of the listed parties. In the Philippines, we have seen good progress over recent months in recommitment to, and implementation of, the Action Plan between the UN and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – the only Action Plan currently in place with a non-state actor. Australia will continue to support UNICEF's efforts to help the MILF implement the Action Plan.
Second, we need to do more to protect schools, teachers and students during conflict. Attacks on schools and their military use are depriving children of their basic right to schooling and endangering the lives and safety of students and teachers. Military forces and non-state armed groups have turned schools into barracks, detention facilities, torture centres and firing positions. Schools are also being used as shelters – an estimated half of the schools in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq are being used to house displaced populations. We must ensure, urgently, that schools remain safe places for students and their teachers, before generations of children lose access to an education.
Finally, there is more we can do to end impunity for those responsible for violations against children during armed conflict. We strongly support the International Criminal Court's (ICC) active efforts to end impunity through the investigation and prosecution of violations against children, which include the recent confirmation of charges against Congolese ex-militia leader Bosco Ntaganda for enlisting and conscripting children. The ICC's prominent focus on crimes committed against children will be important in deterring violations in future conflicts and situations of armed violence.
We also support efforts to address perpetrators of violations against children through targeted Security Council sanctions. Resolution 2134 (2014) established targetted sanctions, designating those in the Central African Republic responsible for recruiting or using children in armed conflict, in violation of applicable international law, and those who attack schools and hospitals. This demonstrates the role that sanctions can play in denying perpetrators the means to continue violating child rights during conflict and sends a strong message that they will be held to account. We encourage SRSG Zerrougui to continue briefing relevant sanctions committees to strengthen the effectiveness of these measures.
To conclude, Madam President
As we know only too well, the intensity of conflict in the world is currently dangerously increasing. As is also the level of violence deliberately targeting civilians. As SRSG Zerrougui has just reminded us: "in a large majority of conflicts around the world, children are targeted and used deliberately – conflict confronts them in their homes, at schools, in hospitals, and when they seek to run away". Protection for these children is an intrinsic element of this Council's work. We have the tools, mechansims and legal frameworks but – demonstrably – we have to do more to ensure these are put to better use. Again, as Ms Zerrougui has said, the child victims around the world count on us.