Madam Special Representative,
Madam Director of UNICEF,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, allow me to thank the Foreign Affairs Minister of Mexico for her initiative in bringing us together here today to deal with the issue of children and armed conflict. This is an opportunity for me to pay tribute to Mexico’s commitment to this issue, conveyed by its choice of Permanent Representative Claude Heller to assume the duties of President of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.
I - Since its creation four years ago, this working group has focused on the recruitment and use of child soldiers and has obtained results, contributing to the release of tens of thousands of children. That was made possible thanks to the unflagging efforts of the Security Council members, as well as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Radhika Coomaraswamy; UNICEF, at the highest levels; and other actors in the field, particularly NGOs.
France, for its part, is fully committed to the fight against the use and recruitment of child solders. In addition to its commitment within the Security Council Working Group, it hosted the 2007 Paris conference, "Free the children of War," which gave rise to the drafting of the Paris Commitments. Here in New York, Rama Yade, the French Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights, held several ministerial meetings on the follow-up to these Commitments, whose success attests to the international community’s resolve to combat this scourge.
Unfortunately, much remains to be done in this area, as we are reminded each day by the tragic situation of children affected by conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Sudan and Sri Lanka. We must respond. If the parties to a conflict do not implement action plans to free children despite repeated calls from the Security Council, we must not hesitate to impose tough, targeted sanctions. There is no effective prevention or deterrent without sanctions. In this regard, I particularly welcome the actions taken by the International Criminal Court and the international criminal justice system, which have proven their ability to prosecute those who are guilty of the recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts. Now more than ever, the fight against impunity must be a priority.
We do not consider legitimate governments and armed groups on the same level. But with respect to the Paris Principles, they have the same responsibilities. Children—all children—must be freed from the scourge of war. It is not just the protection, and sometimes even the survival, of children that is at stake, but the credibility of the Security Council and its resolutions as well.
France is convinced of the need for substantial progress with regard to the other five serious violations of children’s rights that have been referred to the Security Council. We fully agree with the analysis and recommendations presented by the Secretary-General in his latest report. The widespread nature of sexual crimes against children and the massive, systematic and planned nature of these crimes in certain situations, particularly in certain regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo, calls for decisive reaction. Children are too often killed or maimed during deliberate attacks, including terrorist attacks aimed at schoolchildren. We must do everything we can to halt these vile acts and to ensure that their perpetrators are held accountable before the courts.
I welcome today’s adoption of a presidential statement that sends a strong signal to the parties with regard to these violations. As our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Kouchner, indicated last year, "The time has come to reflect together on the possibility of permitting the working group to tackle the tragedy of sexual violence against children in armed conflicts, irrespective of whether or not there are child soldiers in the country concerned." From this standpoint, expanding the criteria for adding parties to the "list of infamies" so that they include sexual violence and murder and maiming with intent, represents an important first step. We must ensure that inclusion on this list has consequences, which implies, in particular, triggering the establishment of a reporting and monitoring mechanism.
II - Given my experience at the head of this working group, I would also like to share with you three proposals that would allow it to carry out its activities more effectively, more proactively and more transparently.
The working group’s conclusions should be followed up more effectively. First of all by the working group itself, which should make greater use of the information regularly provided to it by the Secretariat and by NGOs. Then by the Security Council and its Sanctions Committees when examining situations on their agenda.
And finally, in partnership with the donors, to ensure in particular that the children released by armed groups and all other children that are victims of abuse receive appropriate care and are placed in reintegration programs. Despite its remarkable effectiveness, the provision combating the use of child solders as it currently stands is aimed more at obtaining their release than ensuring that they are taken care of after their return to civilian life. Yet reintegration programs are key to avoiding the re-recruitment of children and to eradicate this scourge permanently. They require actions in the areas of health, education, jobs and long-term financing, often difficult to guarantee.
In this regard, we might consider organizing informal donor meetings after the adoption of the conclusions relating to each situation in order to exchange information on needs that have been met and the gaps that need to be filled. The Paris Conference review forum, "Free children from war," inaugurated last September by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights, Rama Yade, could provide a framework for these meetings. The Mine Action Support Group’s experience could provide a frame of reference in terms of methodology. The next high-level meeting of the Follow-up Forum for the Paris Commitments, which will take place in fall 2009 on the sidelines of the General Assembly, should be an opportunity for the international community to mobilize its efforts even further, particularly with regard to funding. France decided last year, at the first meeting of the Forum, to make an exceptional contribution of € 1 million to the programs for the reintegration and social rehabilitation of child soldiers implemented by UNICEF. We hope that other countries will be able to do the same, and that they will announce at the Forum next fall that new funding will be granted to the rehabilitation programs.
The responsiveness of the working group could be improved. The working group has in fact demonstrated its ability to adopt conclusions on all the reports that have been submitted to it. In contrast, it has not, up to now, been able to find the resources to react formally to the sometimes troubling information that it may receive from the field based between the review of two reports from the Secretary-General. Without hampering the Group’s work on the reports that have been submitted to it under resolution 1612, it seems crucial for the working group to react more quickly to emergencies. We could draw inspiration from Security Council practices, in particular by allowing the Presidency to react publicly on behalf of the Working Group.
Lastly, the group’s work must be more transparent. As the Group decided four years ago, meetings are in principle held behind closed doors. Experience shows that greater transparency is both desirable and possible. The working group’s formal meetings, based on the Council’s formal meetings, would thus benefit from being held in public so that the many States concerned by the issue of children in armed conflict can be better informed. Using new information technologies such as the Internet could also be tried, so that the stakeholders in the field can also benefit from—and contribute to—our debates.
In order to implement these measures and achieve these objectives, the Secretariat must provide better logistical support. The burden for this is currently falling solely on Mexico’s mission. We believe that increasing this group’s work load must lead to an allocation of sufficient resources to the group. This is crucial.
III. The international community cannot—at a time when there are believed to be 200,000 child-soldiers in the world—turn its attention away from this tragedy or waver in its efforts to demobilize them and reintegrate them into society and to put an end to their recruitment.
In this regard, the principal aspects of our policy to fight the scourge of children in armed conflict remain unchanged:
The importance we attribute to the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its optional protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, as well as their translation into national laws
Reaffirming the importance of the contribution of the International Criminal Court as an instrument to fight against impunity for those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against children, and as an instrument of deterrence with respect to potential violators
Promoting a comprehensive approach to the problem that deals with issues of development, humanitarian conditions, security and human rights, and in which the Security Council, the Secretary General’s Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, UNICEF and other UN agencies, funds and programs, NGOs, regional organizations and national authorities play complementary roles
Pursuing the resolute commitment of the Security Council, including in its definition of the mandate of peacekeeping operations, which must systematically consider the protection of children—notably through the appointment of advisors to protect children and better coordination on the ground to take into account the cross-border dimension of the problem when necessary;
Support for the Secretariat’s efforts, particularly with respect to strengthening the reporting and monitoring mechanism, inter-agency coordination and the growing involvement of new partners such as WHO, UNESCO and regional organizations, as well as the coordination of activities promoting the release of children and programs to reintegrate and assist the victims;
The promotion, in partnership with UNICEF, of the "Paris Commitments and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups," agreed to in February 2007. More than 75 States have already signed on to these commitments, and we hope that the General Assembly and the Security Council will continue to contribute to their respect and implementation by all involved.
We are translating these guidelines into actions, as attested by the creation of two attaché positions specializing on the issue of children in armed conflict at our diplomatic missions in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, each with its own budget and regional jurisdiction and working closely with the authorities of the concerned countries, UN partners, local and international NGOs and other donors. We were consequently able to respond swiftly, in partnership with UNICEF, when about 100 children were released in Burundi a few weeks ago. We are also able to implement programs in the eastern DRC that fully integrate the best practices defined by the Paris Principles.
Let me conclude by reiterating that France is more committed than ever to protecting children in armed conflict, and to assure you, Madam President, of our determined support for Mexico’s efforts as President of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. It would be unrealistic for us to deny the fact that our work often involves complex procedures and long maturation processes.
Nevertheless, we must be animated by a spirit of urgency. For the fate of tens of thousands of children—children who are counting on us to make concrete gestures—depends on it. Our Working Group’s credibility depends on our ability to respond to the suffering of these children swiftly and concretely. We must step up our efforts by grappling with the problem of reintegration as well as other offenses, notably sexual violence.