My Delegation wishes to thank the Malaysian Presidency for convening this particularly important Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict, and conveys to Malaysia its appreciation for all that it has done and will continue to do as Chair of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.
The year 2014 was described as the worst year for children affected by armed conflict. But as the Secretary-General’s Report on Children and Armed Conflict covering the year 2015 illustrates, the 2014 horror-list has been surpassed by the number of children caught in armed conflicts and the scale and severity of violations in 2015. As the Secretary-General states in his Report, “The impact on children of our collective failure to prevent and end conflict is severe, and the present Report highlights the increased intensity of grave violations in a number of situations of armed conflict.”
No one can ignore this damning observation. Never in recent memory have so many children been subjected to such violent brutality: children used as soldiers, suicide bombers, sex slaves, and disposable intelligence-gatherers in the most dangerous military operations. The deliberate destruction of their schools and hospitals in total disregard of international humanitarian law has become a strategy of war. These crimes must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.
As the Report of the Secretary-General points out, while there has been progress in the overall protection of children caught in armed conflict, much more must be done. Governments must be held accountable for the full and complete implementation of action plans and commitments they have taken to end and prevent all recruitment of child-soldiers. In the fight against non-State armed groups and terrorism, States are urged to ensure that their responses to all threats against peace and security are conducted in full compliance with international humanitarian law, to ensure that children are not victimized twice. My Delegation fully agrees with the Report that the use of airstrikes and explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas exacerbates the dangers to which children caught in armed conflict are exposed.
Moreover, double standards, or even a perception of double standards, in listing and delisting perpetrators must be avoided, since it encourages disregard for international humanitarian law, frustrates the implementation of commitments and action plans, and discourages Governments and other concerned institutions from making stronger commitments and action plans.
The Holy See has been a constant partner of the United Nations in opposing not only the use of children as combatants, but the many other forms of violence against children caught in armed conflict. Through its various structures operating in most of the conflict zones, the Catholic Church is actively engaged in taking care of the victims of such violence. Over the years, Holy See structures and numerous Catholic institutions have collaborated with UN Peacekeeping Missions and Agencies to help alleviate the sufferings of children in armed conflict and to share best practices to address this ongoing scourge. Expressing deep appreciation for all those who work in this area, the Holy See hopes that the plight of children caught in armed conflict will awaken consciences, lead to a change of heart, and inspire all parties to lay down their arms and take up the path of dialogue.
Considering the best interest of children and the fundamental role of parents, my Delegation encourages Governments to affirm and support families of children who are victimized in armed conflict. They must be assisted in overcoming prejudices against child survivors of armed conflicts, in particular against women and girls who are victims of rape, and in welcoming back children into the family fold.
Moreover, while the International Community plays an important role in supporting States in their primary responsibility to protect their citizens, it must also interact with the local communities affected by violence against children in armed conflict so that solutions and programs can emerge organically, while fostering local ownership. A solution to the plight of children caught in armed conflict, in particular of child soldiers, requires sensitivity to finding ways to reintegrate these children back into their own communities. While we witness barbaric acts beyond anyone’s imagination committed also by child soldiers, we must remember that these children are exploited and manipulated into what they have become. Thus, while their reintegration into society requires that we recognize the atrocities they may have committed, we must also build pathways for counseling and reconciliation with a view to accomplishing fully that reintegration.
The obligation to put an end to barbaric acts against children caught in armed conflict is incumbent upon every one of us. In a particular way, it is incumbent upon this Council, as it calls on all States to put in place and implement stronger measures for the protection of children in armed conflict, and as it ensures that UN peacekeeping operations strictly adhere to all laws and measures in this regard.
Thank you, Mr. President.