posted on Mon 30 Oct 2017 5:52 PM
Children and Armed Conflict Open Debate and Presidential Statement

Tomorrow (31 October), the Security Council will have an open debate on children and armed conflict focused on the Secretary-General’s annual report on this issue. The debate will be presided over by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development Jean-Yves Le Drian. Secretary-General António Guterres, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba, and Mubin Shaikh of the Child Soldiers Initiative, are expected to brief. Council members are expected to adopt a presidential statement during the debate.

France, the president of the Council for October, circulated a concept note for the debate suggesting that members which had not yet done so could take the opportunity to announce their endorsement of the Paris Principles and Commitments to protect children from unlawful recruitment or use by armed forces or armed groups. The concept note also suggested that members focus on preventing the recruitment and use of children by non-state actors, including by violent extremist and terrorist groups, and exchange information on best practices and concrete actions taken such as the establishment of national laws or action plans to prevent the recruitment and use of children.

The Secretary-General’s annual report, which covered the period from January to December 2016, was circulated on 6 October. Increasingly complex crises continued to provide the backdrop for a deteriorating situation for children and armed conflict with an increase in all six of the violations being monitored: recruitment and use of children; sexual violence; killing and maiming; attacks on schools and hospitals; abductions of children; and denial of humanitarian access for children. According to the report, more than 8,000 children were killed and maimed in 2016, while 14,500 violations were verified. Sixty-five parties were listed: nine government forces and 55 non-state armed groups.

Open Debate

The Secretary-General in presenting his report is likely express concern over the scale of violations documented in the report and to call on parties to conflict to protect children in accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law. He may also talk about his decision to create a new “developments and concerns” section in the report and to divide the annexes into an “A” section, listing parties that have not put in place measures during the reporting period to improve the protection of children, and a “B” section, listing parties that have put in place some such measures, conveying how this will allow for enhanced UN engagement and provide a more preventive aspect to the report.

There had been heightened interest in the listings in the annexes this year. In 2016, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon removed from the listing, pending a review, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, which had been listed for the first time in 2016 for the killing and maiming of children and attacks on schools and hospitals in Yemen, raising questions about the credibility of the listing mechanism. The Saudi Arabia-led coalition is listed in this year’s annual report, but under the “B” section of Annex I, in light of two actions towards improvement taken in 2016, and one in 2017.

Special Representative Gamba is expected to brief on the details of the report and on progress made in signing and implementing action plans. Besides Yemen, new parties are listed in Afghanistan (ISIL-Khorasan Province), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (Mai-Mai), Iraq (Popular Mobilization Forces), and Syria (Army of Islam). Two parties were de-listed after they implemented action plans for the recruitment and use of children: the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) in the DRC and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the Philippines. In addition, two non-state armed groups, the Coordination des Mouvements de l’Azawad (CMA) in Mali and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in Sudan, signed action plans.

Gamba may speak about her plans for the children and armed conflict agenda, including best practices studies, strengthening relationships with regional organisations, and building relationships with sub-regional organisations. She may talk about the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign, which focused on getting governments to sign and implement action plans to stop the recruitment and use of children, and float the idea of having a similar campaign for other grave violations (sexual violence; killing and maiming; attacks on schools and hospitals; abductions of children; and denial of humanitarian access for children) that could lead to parties being listed.

Shaikh is expected to talk about the radicalisation of children and how to counter this. Shaikh is a Canadian who went to India and Pakistan at 19 and became radicalised by the Taliban. However, following the 9/11 attacks, his view of extremist activities changed, and he became an undercover operator with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. He now works with the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

In their statements during the debate, members will most likely cover some of the areas suggested in the concept note and share lessons learnt in dealing with non-state armed groups, including extremist groups. Some members may take the opportunity to announce that they will endorse the 2008 Paris Principles and Commitments, a voluntary promise by states to work together to halt child recruitment, support the release of children from armed groups and help reintegrate these children into civilian life. Others may refer to their endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration, which is focused on the protection and continuation of education in armed conflict, and the Vancouver Principles, which will be launched on 14 November as a measure to prioritise and further operationalise child protection within UN peacekeeping.

Although the listings were less controversial this year, some members are still expected to stress the importance of maintaining the independence of the mechanism and the credibility of information and listing decisions. The revision of the format of the annual report may be raised by a few members as a potentially useful tool in encouraging progress on the necessary steps to be delisted. Some members might question the information in the report and suggest that greater transparency is needed in how information is obtained. There is expected to be general support voiced for the work of the Office of the Special Representative, including the greater outreach and advocacy around the annual report this year.

Another area that is likely to be addressed by a number of members in the face of possible budget cuts is the need to ensure adequate resources for the monitoring and reporting mechanism to function properly, with particular emphasis placed on the essential role of child protection advisers.

Presidential Statement

During the debate, the Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement drafted by Sweden, the chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. The draft presidential statement covers a range of key issues relevant to the children and armed conflict agenda, reinforces points made in previous Council outcomes, and adds stronger language in a few areas. It welcomes the enhanced engagement of the Secretary-General with parties, reiterates that the protection of children should be part of a comprehensive strategy to resolve conflict and sustain peace, and covers a number of trends from 2016.

While there appears to have been general acceptance of most of the draft text, there were a couple of areas that required some negotiation. The main issue appears to have been about whether to include language on the Paris Principles and Commitments. While France was strongly in favour of having a reference to this, it was opposed by a few members. It seems that at least one member objected to having such a reference because the Paris Principles and Commitments was not a UN document. The compromise in the final draft was to take note of international and regional initiatives on children and armed conflict, “including the international conference held in Paris in 2007 and the follow-up conference held in Paris in 2017”.

Another issue that arose was over whether or not to welcome the Secretary-General’s report. It seems that at least one member made it clear that they could not do this, as they disagreed with some of the content of the report. In the end, the draft presidential statement simply takes note of the report.

For more information on recent developments in the children and armed conflict agenda, please see our 27 October Research Report on Children and Armed Conflict: Sustaining the Agenda.