Statement of H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the
Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict
New York, 31 October 2017
The protection of children in armed conflict is a grave universal concern, for which the Holy See thanks the French Presidency for having convened this debate.
The Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict covering 2014 defined that year as the worst one ever for children affected by armed conflict. The situation got worse, as the data contained in the report covering 2015 showed that the number of children caught in armed conflicts and the scale and severity of violations surpassed those of 2014. In brief, the reports left no doubt that the impact on children of our collective failure to prevent and end conflict was severe.
The Secretary-General’s 2017 annual report covering the year 2016 sadly points out that the worsening trend continues, as the number of children severely impacted by armed conflicts in many countries was the highest ever recorded. Violations include the killing and maiming of children, rape and other forms of sexual violence, recruitment of children as child soldiers and suicide bombers, abduction and selling of children, attacks on schools and hospitals, denial of access of children to humanitarian aid, as well as attacks or threats of attacks against personnel protecting children. The fact that such crimes are rampant points to a very wide gap that remains between provisions already in place and their implementation. Respect for International Humanitarian Law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (2000) can go a long way toward narrowing and eventually closing this gap.
My Delegation wishes to highlight the very disturbing fact that the verified number of victims mistreated by non-State groups is three times higher than those by Government forces. This fact poses serious challenges to stopping the perpetrators who operate outside every rule of law and to holding them accountable for their heinous acts.
Another deeply disturbing trend is that of increasing attacks on densely populated areas. Urban centers have become battlefields, where schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure are not spared but, indeed, targeted as a tactic of war. Thus the obligation to respect the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution is even more pressing. Security Council resolution 2286 (2016) on the obligation under international humanitarian law to respect and protect medical and humanitarian personnel, their equipment and means of transport in situations of armed conflict must be observed by all the parties in conflict.
During his recent visit in Colombia, Pope Francis said that “We can never accept that [these suffering children] are mistreated, that they are denied the right to live out their childhood peacefully and joyfully, that they are denied a future of hope.” Thus all have the duty, according to everyone’s responsibilities and possibilities, to take concrete measures that could better safeguard or save the lives of children caught in armed conflict. At the Government level, one such measure would be to treat children involved in armed conflict primarily as victims rather than combatants, and to hand them over to civilian child protection actors who would provide for their reintegration. At the grassroots level, some of most useful measures would be initiatives to safeguard children from being recruited or abducted, and programs to help rehabilitate survivors and reinsert them in their respective families and communities.
The Holy See and many Catholic institutions and organizations continue to be fully engaged in such initiatives and programs in places where armed conflicts have left a heavy toll on children. In this regard, my Delegation fully supports the Secretary-General’s recommendation for the establishment of “long-term multi-year mechanisms for the reintegration of recruited and used children.” No child’s tragic story ends with his or her release from captivity. The welcome of the family and the community at large is vital to his or her reintegration and full recovery.
There is one indispensable and most effective way to rooting out acts of violence against children in armed conflict, and that way is the achievement of peace.
Thank you, Mr. President.
1. Pope Francis, Address at the St. Joseph’s Home in Medellín, Colombia, 9 September 2017.