Children and Armed Conflict
UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
17 June 2013
Statement by H.E. Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations
Thank you Mr President
This Council is briefed on almost a daily basis about the horrific impacts of conflicts around the world. We know that amongst those who suffer the most are children. They are recruited, attacked, abducted and are the victims of sexual violence. Their schools and hospitals are attacked and they are often denied life-saving humanitarian assistance. The Council and the UN can never do enough to protect these children.
We strongly support the mandate and work of Special Representative Ms Zerrougui, and we thank her, Under Secretary General Ladsous, Ms Brandt and Mr Ramm for their briefings today and, more so, for their efforts. We also thank Luxembourg for its dedication to child protection and for unifying the Security Council through a Presidential Statement to move the agenda forward.
The last decade has seen substantial progress on the child protection agenda. We now have important tools at our disposal, including an expanded set of triggers for listing perpetrators of grave violations and the more regular inclusion of child protection advisors in peacekeeping missions. The signing of action plans by the Governments of Myanmar, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo over the last year are also welcome developments.
Yet, as we know, grave violations against conflict-affected children continue. The situation for children in Syria is dire. Around half of the 1.6 million refugees are children. Of the 7 million Syrians in need, between 3 and 4 million are children. As the Secretary-General notes in his report, thousands of children have been killed, gravely injured, even tortured. The damage to Syria’s infrastructure – including to schools, with one in five either destroyed, damaged or converted into shelters – is depriving Syrian children of their basic needs.
There are far too many other accounts of violations on which we have been briefed. In Mali and the DRC, it is crucial that peacekeeping missions in those countries ensure effective protection of children. We have also heard terrible reports of the large numbers of children recruited in the Central African Republic – a situation on which the Council must be engaged.
More broadly, we share the Secretary-General’s concerns that the “evolving character and tactics of armed conflict are creating unprecedented threats to children”. In particular, we have serious concerns about the use of schools for military purposes.
More must be done. And I would like to focus on three areas where greater efforts could be made:
First, action plans to halt child recruitment have had a real impact on ending violations against children in a number of countries. Given many non-state armed groups violate child rights during conflict, we encourage SRSG Zerrougui to continue to focus on engaging with them – as well as Governments – in a concerted effort to conclude action plans.
Second, some existing sanctions regimes have child rights violations as designation criteria. The Council should make better use of its sanctions regimes to designate individuals or entities not previously considered for listing but whose child rights violations would qualify them for it.
Third, it is crucial that we end impunity for those most responsible for serious international crimes against children. Australia calls on States to criminalise serious violations of international law committed against children. Where States are unwilling or unable to investigate and prosecute crimes committed against children in armed conflict, this Council should consider whether referral to the International Criminal Court is warranted.
We must ensure that children – the most vulnerable during armed conflict and those least able to withstand its ravages – are shielded from its impacts. Protecting children should compel both Council unity and action. As SRSG Zerrougui said this morning – and I quote – “if not for these children, then for whom will this Council act?”.