UN: EU statement on children and armed conflict

United Nations, Security Council: Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict

Statement by H.E. Ms. Kirsti Lintonen, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Finland to the UN, on behalf of the European Union

New York, 28 November 2006

Mr. President,

I have the pleasure to speak on behalf of the European Union.

The Acceding Countries Bulgaria and Romania, the Candidate Countries Turkey, Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Montenegro and Serbia and the EFTA country Iceland, member of the European Economic Area, as well as Ukraine align themselves with this declaration.

*) Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.

The EU attaches great importance to the issue of children and armed conflict and I thank you for the opportunity to participate in this discussion today. I would also like to thank Ms. Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary General, for her briefing as well as for her excellent report

Despite the almost universal ratification of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, millions of children continue to have their human rights violated and to suffer in situations of armed conflict. Every day children get killed, maimed, abducted or recruited as child soldiers, fall victims of rape or other grave sexual violence and suffer from attacks against schools and hospitals that prevent them from enjoying their right to education and health care. Also, because of denial of humanitarian access children in conflict areas are deprived of their right to survival and development, to food, water and medication.

Children in armed conflicts suffer from physical, emotional and social problems. In addition to the suffering of children and families affected by armed conflict, the development of the whole society suffers when its children are denied a safe childhood. No society can afford to put their children at risk. Nor can the international community.

Ten years ago the Graça Machel report laid the foundation for putting children and armed conflict on the international agenda. The important Security Council resolution 1612 came five years after the first resolution on children and armed conflict was passed in the Security Council. During those five years important steps were taken to improve the situation but it also became clear that further efforts and better co-ordinated actions were required. The EU therefore warmly welcomes the establishment of the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism and the set up of the Security Council Working Group, which resulted from the 1612 resolution.

As stated in the report there have been both negative and positive developments in the past year. The escalation of violence in the Middle East has cost several hundred children their lives and thousands more have suffered other serious grievances. The conflict in Sri Lanka has escalated and children have been recruited by both the LTTE and the so-called Karuna faction. In Somalia, a long period without a central government has left the majority of children without an opportunity to get even basic education, also humanitarian access in some parts of the country is seriously hampered. Various armed forces and groups in Sudan use children for military purposes and in Darfur many girls are victims of ethnically targeted sexual violence. A serious development is the "migration" of recruitment and the use of child soldiers within regions, such as for example the Mano River and Great Lakes Region in Africa. A way must be found to stop rebel groups to prey upon children to be recruited.

The report provides important recommendations. All grave violations of human rights and international law suffered by children in all conflicts should get equal attention. Killing and maiming, abduction, recruiting, rape and other grave sexual violations, attacks against schools and hospitals and denial of humanitarian access to children are all grave violations that seriously affect the future of the children that are forced to live in armed conflict. Also, the reporting mechanism should address all relevant situations in equal terms.

The EU stresses the need to recognise gender-based issues in the drawing up of peace agreements, assignment of peace keeping and peace building missions and in the planning of DDR programmes. The report underlines the need to recognize the special concerns of girl combatants and girls associated with armed groups. Rape and grave sexual violence against children is a particularly severe violation of their rights and can constitute a war crime, genocide or a crime against humanity. Impunity must never be allowed in such cases and the child victims need to be able to seek meaningful redress and compensation through child friendly mechanisms.

Sustainability of DDR programmes can be enhanced by supporting national initiatives and by encouraging national ownership of the programmes, yet it needs to be ensured that adequate international funding is available for rehabilitation and reintegration of all children that have been associated with armed forces.

Mr. President,

The report encourages states to strengthen national and international measures against the recruitment of children, particularly by ratifying and implementing the Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. The EU also urges states that have not yet done so to ratify and fully implement the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) which classifies enlisting children under the age of 15 as a war crime.

The European Union is proceeding with mainstreaming of children's rights into its advocacy, policies and programmes. The EU has continued with its efforts for implementation of its plan of action for the Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict. Co-operation with the relevant stakeholders is sustained and the EU continues to monitor the situation of children in armed conflicts.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank the Security Council Work Group for Children and Armed Conflict for its work. The EU continues to actively support and work closely with the Special Representative, UNICEF, OHCHR, UNHCR and other actors including non-governmental organisations and thanks these actors for their efforts to protect children and children's rights in armed conflict situations. We would also like to underline the importance of these briefings by the Special Representative to the Security Council, as well as to other relevant UN bodies such as the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council.

Mr President,

We welcome a ten-year review of the Graça Machel report. Such a review would give us an opportunity to assess the situation of children in armed conflict and highlight the challenges ahead. There is a need for in-depth and more systematic research relating to different issues of children and armed conflict.

Since the publishing of the Graça Machel report much has been achieved. The monitoring and reporting on children's situation in armed conflicts has improved. While some parties are making true progress in protecting children from grave violations in armed conflicts, others continue to violate the rights of the most vulnerable - the children. Therefore, there is a need for the international community to proceed from monitoring and reporting to response. The Security Council should call upon parties to follow up on its strong call for parties to prepare concrete time-bound action plans. The Security Council should also consider measures against parties that systematically commit grave violations of children's rights

The lack of protection of children's rights in armed conflict situations undermines children's ability to develop and participate in society. It also risks to enhance discrimination and exclusion and to make children's needs invisible. The European Union actively works to protect and enhance children's rights, also during armed conflict. The most important protective factor for children, their rights and their healthy development is however peace and non-violent solutions to conflict, to which the European Union is fully committed.

Thank you Mr. President.