Presentation of SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict’s Annual Report to the UN General Assembly

Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, October 10, 2017

Mr. Chair,

Distinguished delegates,

Dear colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am happy to be here today with my colleagues Ms. Santos-Pais and Mr. Forsyth to address the Third Committee at this interactive dialogue. I wish to take this opportunity to underline the strong collaboration I have with Ms. Santos-Pais, as well as UNICEF, on common issues related the protection of children from violence.

Turning to the matter at hand, as you are aware, this is my first report to the General Assembly. It is a pleasure to be here with you all to discuss the important topic of children affected by armed conflict.

Substantively, my report focuses on two major concerns. Namely the protection of education in situations of armed conflict and the deeply worrying trend of increasing denial of humanitarian access to boys and girls in need by parties to conflict. Unfortunately, the developments identified in the report continued unabated in 2017.

In Afghanistan, girls’ education remains a direct target. For instance, in one incident verified by our child protection colleagues in April, the Taliban forced 28 school principals and one teacher to attend a meeting where they demanded a change of the curriculum and stated that no girls over 11 years of age should attend school. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 174 attacks on schools were verified between April and June 2017. The majority of schools were destroyed, looted or burnt down by the Kamuina Nsapu militia in the Kasai region. It will take years, if not decades, before this region and its children recover from the lost educational opportunities as a result of just three short months of violence. These types of incidents mean that children living in conflict-affected countries are more than twice as likely to be out of school as those living in countries at peace.

In my report, I call upon Member States to make every effort to protect education in situations of armed conflict, including through the adoption of measures to deter the military use of schools. I wish to reiterate today that Member States that have not already done so should endorse the Safe Schools Declaration. This body as a whole should also make efforts to promote this important instrument. It has made an essential contribution towards promoting tangible measures to prevent attacks on education. We simply cannot afford to make schools in conflict zones a military target. The price of a child losing his or her access to education for years, if not decades, is too high to pay.

This price is already paid by so many displaced children. I implore this body to do what it can to ensure that appropriate funding is available for education programmes in conflict-related emergency situations. This is particularly important when applying the comprehensive refugee response framework. Members of the Third Committee can also work to ensure that appropriate provisions on children affected by armed conflict are included in the Global Compact on Refugees, in particular related to unaccompanied minors. This is also an endeavour that I will work on with my colleagues on this stage today. As the Sustainable Development Goals clearly indicate; we owe it to future generations that children in all situations have access to education, even in the most difficult circumstances.

In many ways, the denial of humanitarian access exemplifies the vulnerability of children in conflict zones. In South Sudan, the alarming trends of 2016 continued this year and over 150 incidents of denial of humanitarian access were verified by the United Nations for the period April to June. Humanitarian access in Myanmar has also been very difficult throughout 2017. In Afghanistan, over 80,000 children did not receive their polio vaccinations in the second quarter of this year. This was due to direct attacks and anti-vaccination bans imposed by armed groups, as well as general insecurity in the country. We must do all we can to prevent epidemics from adding to the direct toll of conflict on children.

As has been the case for a number of years, Syria is perhaps the most concerning situation for children, particularly related to the denial of their basic needs. Bureaucratic impediments and restrictions by parties to the conflict continue to severely impact the delivery of humanitarian assistance. In this regard, only 38 per cent of persons in besieged areas and 12 per cent of the persons in hard-to-reach areas have been reached since the beginning of 2017. One hundred thousand lifesaving items have also been denied or removed from convoys since the start of 2017. ISIL controlled areas remain inaccessible, with the group impeding all deliveries of humanitarian assistance. As we are all too well aware, this situation has an acute impact on children.

International law is very clear regarding the provision of assistance to the civilian population. This body has an important role in emphasizing these norms to all its Members and ensuring that the delivery of humanitarian aid to children is not politicised. I urge you to continue including these elements in resolutions and other relevant elements of your work. From my part, I plan to work with parties to conflict that are open to doing so to support the dissemination of clear command orders among the rank and file to specify that humanitarian assistance for children should be allowed in all circumstances.

Distinguished delegates,

Since taking up the position of Special Representative in May of this year, I have invested significant time to develop my vision for the mandate. In particular, I have given much thought on how best to fulfil all the facets of the tasks given to me in the resolutions of the General Assembly. My report to this body aims to articulate that vision and outline how we can best assess progress, raise awareness, promote the collection of information, work closely with relevant entities and foster international cooperation to ensure respect for children’s rights and stop grave violations.

A key component of my proposed approach is working with regional and subregional organisations. These entities have demonstrated strong leadership in the past and have made important contributions towards the protection of children and the prevention of abuse. But we can and must do more together. We need to work with subregional entities to better integrate child protection considerations in their policies, operational planning and training of personnel. This body, and Member States in their national capacity, have an important role in encouraging and facilitating this work.

In line with this approach, I want to invest significant human resources to work with these organisations to enhance legal protection frameworks for children affected by conflict. I believe a subregional approach to strengthening the law to protect children, through the adoption of geographically focused legal or political instruments, can make a real difference to our effectiveness and be a multiplier of our efforts. In these endeavours, it will be beneficial to work with my fellow panel members and their respective entities to utilize their different expertise and mandates.

Moreover, I firmly believe that it is essential that we compile comprehensive best practices on the work we have done in the last twenty years. This will allow us to capitalise on successes, particularly regarding signing and delivering on action plans, as well as improving the overall effectiveness of child protection efforts. As I note in the report, these best practices will be essential to guide discussions with parties to conflict, in particular on reducing the impact of the conduct of hostilities on children.

I hold an equally firm belief that this work cannot be done without strong, substantive and sustained collaboration with all child protection actors. Applying best practices and lessons learnt requires a tailored and context specific approach.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As I noted earlier, much of my time is taken up ensuring that my office can fulfil the broad mandate given to it by this body. We cover 20 country situations and have over 60 listed parties to engage with, in addition to many other entities involved in conflict, not to mention a heavy reporting burden to all three main bodies of the United Nations.

My final request to all of you is to ensure that sufficient resources are provided to my Office and our partners to enable an increased focus on mandated tasks. This includes the deployment of dedicated child protection expertise in all situation of conflict. In addition to heavy report requirements and engagement with parties to conflict, we have much to gain from increasing our reach and focusing more on awareness-raising, lessons learned, best practices and proactive engagement with regional and subregional organizations. These initiatives will aid our ultimate goal: prevention. Prevention of both conflict and prevention of grave violations affecting children in situations of conflict.

Thank you.