Thursday, April 30, 2009

Child soldiers: “Painful as it is to describe these atrocities, silence only serves to shield the perpetrators and perpetuate their crimes”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on the Security Council to take firm action against countries which recruit children as soldiers and appealed to all States to ensure that the protection of children in armed conflict is placed above other considerations, such as politics.

Mr. Ban told an open debate of the Council that he witnessed “unbearable suffering” when he visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), adding that he had never “been so outraged” as when he spoke with girls who had been sexually victimized during the conflict in the vast African nation.

“Painful as it is to describe these atrocities, silence only serves to shield the perpetrators and perpetuate their crimes,” he said.

The Secretary-General’s most recent report on children and armed conflict, the focus of today’s meeting, explicitly lists in its annexes 56 parties, both State and non-State, who have committed grave violations against children, including 19 persistent violators who have been listed for more than 4 years.

“I urge the Council to consider action to strike a blow against this impunity, and stop these violators from continuing to victimize children,” he said.

Stressing that measures to protect children must be strengthened, Mr. Ban said that “at a minimum,” the 15-member body must expand its criteria to include parties committing rape and other serious sexual violence against children in armed conflict on the so-called “list of shame.”

Also calling for the Council to extend its focus beyond child soldiers to better deal with violations was the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on the issue, Radhika Coomaraswamy.

“Not to do so threatens to silence the suffering of thousands of children who are subjected to unspeakable crimes,” she said.

The envoy thanked the Council for its efforts which have resulted in six parties being taken off the list, emphasizing that “this demonstrates the power of the Council’s focused attention and continuing engagement, and serves as a testament that it should continue to maintain pressure on violators to enter into a protection dialogue with the United Nations.”

Mr. Ban’s recent report also notes progress made in releasing children, with over 1,200 let go by armed groups in the war-torn North Kivu province of the DRC since the start of this year, as well as 342 children released by armed groups in Burundi.

“Millions of children around the world continue to be impacted by armed conflict,” Ann M. Veneman, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said, calling for increased adherence to international humanitarian law and respect for children’s rights.

Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), told the Council that there are now child protection advisers serving with the world body’s eight “most significant” missions.

The Department has committed itself to ensuring that children are provided with “prospects for lasting, sustainable peace,” he said, underlining the importance of close cooperation among UN agencies and offices.

At the end of today’s day-long meeting, the Council issued a presidential statement, in which it underscored the “importance of adopting a broad strategy of conflict prevention, which addresses the root causes of armed conflict in a comprehensive manner in order to enhance the protection of children on a longer-term basis, including by promoting sustainable development, poverty eradication, national reconciliation, good governance, democracy, the rule of law and respect for and protection of human rights.”

Civilians – and children in particular – bear the bulk of casualties in armed conflicts, the Council said, further voicing concern over the “high incidence and appalling levels of brutality of rape and other forms of sexual violence against children” committed during conflict.

The statement called on parties on the “list of shame” which have not yet done so to prepare and implement steps to halt recruitment and use of children in war.

It also urged Member States to “take decisive and immediate action against persistent perpetrators of violations against children, and to bring to justice those responsible for the recruitment and use of children in violation of applicable international law and other violations.”
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
Putting principles before profits