It is our collective duty to be more active to protect children in armed conflict (03/25/2015) [fr]
Child victims of non-State armed groups - Statement by Mr François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations - Security Council - 25 March 2015
I thank the Secretary-General for his presence here today.
I would like, at the outset, to convey my warmest appreciation to the Secretary-General, his Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF for their briefings and their commitment. I also express my heartfelt appreciation to Ms. Bodin and Mr. Nzita for their poignant testimonies, which have enabled us to better grasp the tragic reality and extreme complexity of the situation of child victims of armed groups and non-State actors. Their testimony is also a powerful message of hope that confers on all of us the responsibilty to act.
The scenes of violence depicted in Mr. Junior Nzita’s book, If My Life as a Child Soldier Could Be Told, is unfortunately the daily reality of thousands of children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Syria, Iraq and other countries. Among those serious violations, I would like today to stress the role of abductions, 80 per cent of which are committed by non-State armed groups and have become a systematic terror tactic used by extremist groups such as Boko Haram and Daesh. The situation is especially difficult for girls, who are subjected to sexual violence and forced into slavery, marriage and pregnancies, which make it all the more difficult to separate them from armed groups. It is important to forcefully condemn the barbaric violence of armed groups, but that is not enough. The time has come for us to act more effectively on the ground, as we have heard today.
In that regard, the work being overseen by Ms. Zerroughi is remarkable. Today, 14 non-State armed groups have signed action plans that commit them to cease violations with regard to children; seven of them have been removed from the lists annexed to the Secretary-General’s annual reports. By the same token, UNICEF has also made considerable progress. In the Central African Republic, 1,623 children associated with non-State armed groups were demobilized and reintegrated in 2014, thanks to a programmed supported and financed by France. But the Security Council’s efforts with local authorities and civil society during its trip to the Central African Republic 10 days ago showed that the challenges remain immense. Given the scale of the task we face, we need to be prepared, proactive and concrete. In that regard, I would like to propose three new modes and levels of action as a blue print for action plans.
First of all, we must act at the diplomatic and political levels. States are the key actors for establishing the necessary climate of trust for the United Nations, the Special Representative and actors on the ground to be able to promote action plans. Such efforts produced results in the Philippines, for example, where the Moro Islamic Liberation Front reaffirmed in 2014 its adherence to the action plan signed in 2009 to prevent the recruitment of children. Mediators and special envoys need to more systematically integrate activities related to child protection in their projects. The protection of children must be a concern and a priority not only within the framework of peace accords, as in the case of Mali or the Central African Republic, or in ceasefire agreements, but also in the absence or even the failure of peace negotiations, as is often the case. France therefore proposes the development of United Nations guidelines for mediators on the protection and liberation of children. Negotiators are able to wield greater weight when they can apply pressure through mechanisms such as sanctions and the Secretary-General‘s black list. It is time to update resolution 1612 (2005) to include abduction as a serious violation capable of triggering the addition of the guilty parties to that list of infamy. We fully support the efforts by Malaysia in that regard.
Secondly, we must act at the operational level, throughout all the phases of a conflict. In a world in which preventive action is essential, particularly in the realm of education, we might look to Pakistan, for example, where terrorist groups are fighting against the education of girls and are targeting schools. Elsewhere, for example in Central African Republic, in Boali and Yaloke, some children who were already attending school before the conflict ended up leaving their classrooms to join the anti-Balaka forces. Preventive measures must also therefore include information campaigns about armed groups in schools and on the radio or via other forms of communication in order to discourage children from joining such groups. And in the midst of conflict, tools adapted to those already involved in combat must be provided. Military personnel, peacekeepers and regional security forces must be provided with clear strategies or operational concepts as well as with regular training to enable them to act with caution when they find themselves faced with child soldiers, often on the front lines, whom they seek to separate from armed non-State groups and hand over to child protection services. In that context, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has a clear role to play in maintaining its strategies and proposing specific, targeted training. The document recently adopted by NATO on the protection of children in armed conflict is also an interesting example.
Finally, once a child has been freed from the clutches of an armed group we must facilitate and, above all, as has been rightly emphasized, ensure his reintegration into his family and community. States are responsible for implementing strategies for demobilization, disarmament and reintegration specifically designed for children, with special attention to the situation of girls. The situation of girls needs to be the subject of a more granular and methodical statistical follow-up as part of the follow-up reporting mechanism; only that will make it possible to implement solutions more adequately adapted to their protection and reintegration.
My third and last proposal concerns the need to deepen our actions with respect to the law. The fight against impunity, which has also been mentioned, remains indispensable for discouraging and preventing serious violations by new actors. I would like to highlight the message from the International Criminal Court (ICC) whose first judgement, upheld on appeal, found Thomas Lubanga guilty of the crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15. The ICC is currently developing a comprehensive strategy on the protection of children, an initiative that we fully encourage and commend. States must take responsibility by ratifying international instruments such as the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Convention of 1977 and the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 2000 and 2011. France also calls on all countries to adhere to the Paris Principles and Paris Commitments of 2007 as an essential point. For non-State armed groups, the signing of action plans or acts of engagement is essential. Such tools usefully guide our action against violations of the rights of children in armed conflict.
This year marks 10 years since the adoption of resolution 1612 (2005). It is our collective duty to be more visibly active and more committed, more responsive and more effective with respect to the protection of children in armed conflict. The fight to protect children in armed conflict involves each and every one of us. The community of nations must join together to condemn it and, above all, to take action. As Mr. Junior Nzita’s testimony has taught us, we should and we can win the battle together.