Following is the text of the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s remarks at the open debate of the Security Council on children and armed conflict, in New York, today, 28 November:
Let me thank you and your delegation for organizing a discussion on this important topic. I think we can all look forward to a very constructive discussion.
The protection of children caught up in armed conflict has been among my main priorities as Secretary-General.
During the past 10 years, we have tried to place the issue firmly on the international agenda. Since 1998, when the first Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict began work and the Council held its first open debate on the subject, the subject has gained greater visibility. Your annual debates have benefited from the participation of non-governmental organizations and, at times, children themselves -– and have demonstrated that there is a gathering will to act against those who recruit and continue to use child soldiers.
The past decade has also seen important gains in the elaboration of international legal standards for the protection of children. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court classifies recruitment of children into the fighting forces as a war crime and a crime against humanity. The International Labour Organization’s Convention 182 defines child soldiering as one of the worst forms of child labour. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child outlaws child soldiering. And the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child established 18 as the minimum age for children’s participation in hostilities.
The Security Council itself has been part of this progress. Its resolutions have highlighted six grave violations, drawn from international humanitarian law, that concern children affected by armed conflict: killing and maiming, abduction, child soldiers, sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals and denial of humanitarian access.
Today, the international community is shifting its focus from the elaboration of standards to the provision of real protection. In the past year alone, we have seen encouraging signals that impunity for crimes against children will no longer be tolerated. The ICC is prosecuting Thomas Lubanga for conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 years and using them to participate actively in hostilities. And for the first time, a former Head of State, Charles Taylor, is being brought to account for violations committed against children during the conflict in Liberia.
It is incumbent on all of us to sustain this political and practical momentum, and to keep a close eye on situations of concern. Toward that end, last year, the Security Council called for the establishment of a monitoring and reporting mechanism. The mechanism is now at work in seven countries, and is providing timely and reliable information to a Task Force chaired by my Special Representative. That information forms the basis of my bimonthly reports to your working group on children and armed conflict, and has resulted in targeted measures against offending partners. Those measures have led warring parties to come forward and agree to concrete action plans to respect the rights of children.
By now the Council will have received the report on the Independent Assessment of the monitoring and reporting mechanism. I urge you to consider the recommendations that have been made to strengthen the monitoring process.
The UN system will continue to do its part in this effort. UNICEF has made protection an essential ingredient of its work and is taking the lead in the field. DPKO child protection advisers have been attached to several peacekeeping operations, reporting to the respective Special Representatives. OCHA, UNHCR and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights are also playing active roles in the monitoring and reporting mechanism. And my Special Representative has just finalized a two-year strategic framework to assist her in better fulfilling her special role as an independent, moral voice.
Not long ago, the problem faced by children in situations of armed conflict was, in important respects, an invisible issue. Little was known, and even less was said. The initiatives I have just described represent significant progress. And yet, we have only begun to scratch the surface. I hope that the Council will consolidate the gains that have been made, and will move forward to cover all situations of concern and all grave violations. The tangible gains of the past few years show that when there is political will in the Council, we can make life better for the millions of children trapped in situations of armed conflict.