Human rights - Debate on children and armed conflitcs
«The overriding interest of the child must prevail. What project could more fundamentally unite us more than that of our common future, that of our children? It is our collective responsibility.»
Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, Mr. Jean-Yves Le Drian
Special Representative Virginia Gamba,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the French presidency of the Security Council, I want to begin by thanking the secretary-general and the special representative for their speeches, but also for their commitment. I want to reiterate France’s full support for their efforts.
I also want to thank Mubin Shaikh for his important account; his testimony is a warning to us. I am also thinking of UNICEF and the civil society actors who are mobilizing their efforts; working on the ground, they help us advance this agenda on a daily basis. And finally, I want to thank our Swedish, Italian, and Senegalese partners, with whom we have worked closely to make sure this debate is in line with the Paris Conference of February 21.
We must advance toward our goal: a world in which children are not the victims of conflicts. We have a collective responsibility to ensure that children are where they are supposed to be: in classrooms and surrounded by the affection of their families, not on the battlefield. It is a universal moral obligation.
To achieve this goal, the international community has mobilized its efforts for more than 20 years to denounce, end, and prevent the recruitment and use of children by States and non-state armed groups. As the secretary-general and the special representative so clearly articulated, the international community’s efforts have given rise to some real progress: more than 110,000 child soldiers have been freed since 2000, nearly 60,000 of them between 2007 and 2015.
My country’s commitment to protect children in armed conflict is historic. Since 1999, France has promoted the adoption of effective tools to protect children in conflicts, including some in this forum where we meeting today. Ten years ago, Paris hosted the Protecting Children from War conference, which adopted the Paris Commitments and Paris Principles, alluded to earlier. We call on those who have not yet done so to endorse them; they offer an essential basis for the protection of children in conflicts and the fight against the appalling violence of which they are the victims.
As you know, the Security Council adopted six resolutions on this issue, including resolution 1612 in 2005. It is an innovative, seminal instrument: through its fact-based approach, established through quality information, it allows us to deal with these challenges neutrally and impartially. The monitoring and alert mechanism at the UN secretary-general’s disposal plays a major role in this regard.
But despite this progress, much remains to be done. 230 million children still live in countries or areas experiencing armed conflict. In these crisis theaters, they continue to be recruited, separated from their families, and deprived of education, care, and freedom.
It must be said: children are now the targets and tools of terror. They feel the full force of the asymmetrical conflicts that characterize our age. As the annexes to your report attest, Mr. Secretary, non-state armed groups are by far the most responsible for these violations. Of some 15,000 violations, they are responsible for about 11,500. The situations in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen sadly remind us of this. Among these non-state armed groups, terrorist groups are particularly responsible for the terrible change in scale.
We have also seen that recruitment methods have diversified: along with forced enlistment we now have radicalization and recruitment on the Internet. The use, or rather the exploitation, of children has also changed: they are now used as human bombs or human shields. Girls in particular suffer sexual violence; they are reduced to slavery or sold by trafficking networks, forced to marry and to undergo forced pregnancies. The fate of the Yezidi children of Iraq and the Chibok girls of Nigeria are in all our minds.
But indignation is not enough. Words must lead to actions. Since the creation of the “Children in Armed Conflict” agenda, this Council has had a key role to play.
We must work collectively, and first, gather the most complete information possible on these violations. For that, the secretary-general’s report is a vital tool. We also support your approach, Madam Special Representative, of creating in the very near future an updated review of the best practices and solutions that have already enabled us to get results.
Second, we must engage in prevention. In doing so, we can look to the successful efforts already made to prevent violent extremism, with one goal: establishing concrete plans together to ensure this prevention, taking into account the new recruitment tools that I mentioned. The fight against radicalization on the Internet, indoctrination, and forced conscription on the ground are part of this effort. More effective prevention also means we must use the results obtained by consciousness-raising campaigns. I am thinking in particular of the “children, not soldiers” campaign, with special attention paid to non-state armed groups.
Education is also a major challenge. Let us begin by protecting schools, which are often attacked and occupied by warring parties. That is why France decided on February 21 to endorse the declaration for school security. We can no longer tolerate “lost generations” of children, such as those in Syria, where millions are excluded from any form of education. Where progress has been made, we must remain vigilant to ensure that there is no backsliding. I am thinking, for example, of the children who were used by armed groups in the Central African Republic. We must ensure they can return to a healthy environment.
Informing. Preventing. Third, stepping up our actions on the ground.
That is the purpose of the actions we are taking in close cooperation with UNICEF in Nigeria and in Yemen to facilitate the reintegration of children previously associated with armed groups. Armed forces, including UN operations – and I am thinking in particular of PKOs – must have clear operational concepts that include prevention and the protection of children. In this regard, the deployment of child protection advisers is essential. We have full confidence in the security-general to continue strengthening this aspect in PKOs.
Action plans agreed on with the UN are very important tools; I noted with great interest the special representative’s idea of working at the regional and sub-regional levels as well. The progress underscored in the report, such as we have seen in Mali and Colombia, is often made within this regional framework.
Fourth and finally, we must reintegrate children into society while respecting international norms and fighting impunity.
Reintegration within international norms. States must shoulder their responsibilities and ratify the international instruments that contribute to the protection of children in armed conflict.
Reintegration. We must do everything we can to facilitate and make permanent the return of children who have been the victims of conflicts to their families, while taking care to monitor them psychologically due to the traumas they have suffered. Civil society is doing a great deal in this regard – I am thinking, for example, of Save the Children – but it is up to States first of all to be responsible for these policies.
Finally, the crucial fight against impunity. Initiatives have been taken by the International Criminal Court and several States such as Colombia in this regard. They are important. The utmost pressure must be placed on those who commit these acts of violence. As for the particularly devastating reality represented by sexual violence, I want to reiterate our support, Mr. Secretary-General, for your zero tolerance policy.
Those responsible for such crimes must be held accountable.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The overriding interest of the child must prevail. What project could more fundamentally unite us more than that of our common future, that of our children? It is our collective responsibility.
That is why respecting and strengthening the rights of the child must remain central to our work. I am counting on your commitment.