I thank you, Mr. President, for having organized this open debate. I also thank the Secretary-General, Ms. Leila Zerrougui, Mr. Anthony Lake and Mr. Alhaji Babah Sawaneh for their statements today.
I align myself with the statement to be made by the observer of the European Union.
I take this opportunity to once again congratulate Luxembourg on its outstanding work on children in armed conflict, which led to the adoption of resolution 2143 (2014) today.
For 15 years, the Council has been mobilized for the protection of children in conflict. From that mobilization a global system has been born and has led to the demobilization of tens of thousands of child soldiers. Today, Ms. Zerrougui and Mr. Lake have provided evidence that that mobilization continues apace. Their “Children, not soldiers” campaign offers us hope for a world where national armies no longer recruit child soldiers. To achieve that, the full cooperation of the States concerned will be crucial. The United Nations has a powerful instrument in that regard, and one that has shown its effectiveness. The action plans allowed two States to be removed from the list of infamy in 2012. In the near future, other States will hopefully follow the same path. Our procedures are therefore working.
Children are, unfortunately, still the first victims in today’s conflicts when they are forcibly enlisted as combatants. In the Central African Republic, as we know, the armed groups, including the ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka, have more than 6,000 children among their ranks. France will shortly present a draft resolution for the deployment of a peacekeeping operation in that country. But the seriousness and urgency of the situation require that the resources of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic be enhanced as of now, especially for the protection of children, as provided for in resolution 2134 (2014).
Children are also at risk when their education is threatened. Schools are increasingly the target of intolerable attacks. They are burned, destroyed and caught in the middle of crossfire. Yet international humanitarian law sets out a clear rule: schools cannot be military objectives.
In Syria, this has been the sad reality for children for three years. The regime’s indiscriminate aerial bombings, which were recently unanimously denounced by the Security Council in resolution 2139 (2014), have deprived an entire generation of their right to education. More than 3,000 schools have been destroyed. More than 2 million Syrian children no longer attend school. We also condemn all violations by the armed groups against children. There is an ongoing dialogue between the Free Syrian Army and the United Nations on the issue of child recruitment. We encourage Ms. Zerrougui to continue that dialogue with a view to signing an action plan.
The Council recently held an open debate on the rule of law (see S/PV.7113). Our debate today allows us to lay out in a concrete manner an essential aspect of the rule of law — the need for States to keep rigorous birth records, which is essential to eliminating the phenomenon of child soldiers as it sheds light on that practice and allows it to be fully understood. We must also have in mind the situation in the Central African Republic, where Séléka fighters have systematically destroyed the country’s archives, thereby depriving all citizens, first and foremost children, of access to the rule of law. In the fight for child protection, the fight against impunity plays a vital role. The fact that the International Criminal Court issued its first conviction against Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, who was found guilty of conscripting and enlisting children under 15 years of age, was a decisive step. France welcomes the fact that the resolution adopted today highlights the role of justice, in particular that of the International Criminal Court. We all recognize the complementary role of national courts and want them to further strengthen their efforts against the most serious crimes. But when the courts fail, the International Criminal Court is our guarantee that an independent and permanent remedy exists.
Our tireless efforts must continue. In that regard, I would highlight several issues.
First, on the role of the Secretariat, we are aware of Mr. Ban Ki-Moon’s commitment to the Organization being irreproachable. Security sector reform and demobilization and reintegration efforts must fully include the issue of child soldiers. In that respect, Lieutenant-General Dallaire has become an advocate of training programmes, and we commend him for that new commitment, which is reflected in our resolution.
Secondly, on the protection of education in conflict, France follows with interest the work of non-governmental organizations to develop guidelines on the military use of schools. States must be encouraged to work alongside civil society to develop best practices that are adapted to the operational realities on the ground to improve the protection of education in times of conflict.
Finally, France continues to call on all States to endorse the Paris Principles, which complement the work of the Security Council. We want to suggest, along with Ms. Zerrougui, UNICEF and non-governmental organizations, that a regional seminar on the Paris Principles be held this summer in Africa to support Ms. Zerrougui’s campaign in the region.
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