Children and Armed Conflict
UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
Statement by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations
7 March 2014
I would like to thank Luxembourg – and Ambassador Lucas – for its decisive leadership on the compelling challenge of children and armed conflict. And thank the Secretary-General and Executive Director Lake for their statements. And Special Representative Zerrougui for her tireless, exemplary efforts to protect children affected by conflict worldwide.
I would particularly like to thank Alhadji Babah Sawaneh for his personal account. We so often talk in the abstract in this Chamber; we need to hear from individuals like Alhadji – powerful beacons to a better future – much more often.
Armed conflict continues to have an horrific impact on children, so many of whom are recruited or used by armed forces and armed groups – there are reportedly some 6000 child soldiers in the Central African Republic. Thousands of children are killed in deliberate attacks on civilian areas or caught in the crossfire – over 10, 000 have lost their lives in the Syrian conflict. Many children are abducted and subjected to sexual violence. Attacks on schools and hospitals continue to deny children an education and desperately needed health care. The denial of humanitarian assistance is depriving children of food and basic necessities. This is a terrible stain on our efforts for peace and security.
I would like to touch on three areas where greater efforts are needed to protect children during armed conflict – ending recruitment of children by government forces and by non-state armed groups; addressing the military use of schools; and ensuring accountability for those who violate child rights during conflict.
As SRSG Zerrougui has noted, eight government armed forces are listed in the Secretary-General’s most recent report as having recruited or used children. Six of these governments have committed, through the signing of action plans, to end this practice. The aim of ending child recruitment by government forces therefore appears achievable and we strongly support the “children, not soldiers” campaign, launched yesterday, to reach this goal by 2016. We welcome the re-statement of commitment to this aim made by the eight states yesterday. In our own region, we are pleased to be supporting UNICEF’s efforts to help the Myanmar Government implement its action plan to end the recruitment and use of children by the Armed Forces.
While we welcome efforts to end recruitment by government forces, we must not, of course, lose focus on violations against children committed by non-state armed groups. In fact, the majority of groups – 46 out of 55 groups – listed in the Secretary-General’s report as having recruited or used children are non-state actors. Many of these non-state armed groups have recruited children persistently for more than five years. It is crucial that the SRSG continues her efforts to conclude action plans with non-state armed groups – difficult though that is. But to do so governments must allow UN access to these groups to address child protection concerns.
In many conflict situations around the world, schools are attacked or used for military purposes. In Syria, almost a quarter of all schools have been damaged, occupied or destroyed. It is essential that all parties implement resolution 2139, adopted by the Council two weeks ago, which demanded that all parties to conflict in Syria demilitarise schools. This was a powerful demand from all of us in the Council.
In so many conflict situations, schools have been used as military barracks, detention facilities, interrogation centres and weapons storage facilities. Using schools for military purposes gravely endangers the lives of children and is contrary to international law. We cannot deny generations of children an education through the destruction or misuse of school premises. We must work urgently on this.
It should be axiomatic – as Alhadji has reminded us today – that those responsible for serious international crimes committed against children during conflict be held to account. Where national authorities are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute such crimes, the International Criminal Court can play a key instrumental role. The ICC’s unanimous conviction of Thomas Lubanga for the war crime of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 years and using them to participate actively in hostilities was a landmark decision. Only by ensuring accountability can we deter future crimes.
To conclude, Madam President
We must never just accept the risk to children during armed conflict. We know they are the most vulnerable and the least able to withstand its ravages. As Ambassador Gasana [Rwanda] has just reminded us, they are often the first victims. Their protection must remain central in our efforts in this Council to protect civilians – the primordial core of the Council’s work. We cannot do enough to achieve this. As Special Representative Leila Zerrougui has said this morning: hundreds of thousands of children have their eyes on us.