Children affected by armed conflict and violence – World

Assistant Secretary General Ilze Brands Kehris

High Level Conference on the World Human Rights Situation


Dear colleagues and friends,

It is an honor to be with you today to address the subject of children affected by armed conflict and violence.

I thank the European Parliament and the Global Campus for Human Rights for the invitation and the opportunity to prepare the ground alongside my colleague Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.

This is an urgent and global problem.

At the end of last year, more than 450 million children – or one in six – were living in a conflict zone, the highest number in 20 years. A record 36.5 million children have been displaced from their homes as a result of conflict, violence and other crises.

The conflict in Ukraine has driven two million children to flee their country and displaced some three million within the country.

Any child living in these circumstances is a child deprived of fundamental rights and protection.

As early as 1924, the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child declared that “humanity owes to the child the best it has to give” and that “the child must be the first to be rescued in times of of distress”.

Since then, States have developed a legal framework developed under international human rights law, international humanitarian law and international criminal law that governs the treatment and protection of children, as well as the related obligations of States and non-state actors.

Notably, the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions codified the concept of “special protection” of children under international humanitarian law and introduced the legal standard that children under the age of fifteen should not be recruited or permitted to take part in hostilities.

The international human rights system has further strengthened the legal protection of the rights and dignity of the child.

At its heart are the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict.

It is worth recalling the four general principles that permeate the Convention:

No discrimination ;
The best interests of the child;
The right to life, survival and development;
Child participation and inclusion.

Like all human rights standards and principles, they apply everywhere and at all times.

Yet the reality is grim.

The blatant disregard for human rights and international humanitarian law in today’s conflicts has a disproportionate impact on children, in part because of their invisibility.

The absence of children as participants in peace processes and child protection provisions in peace agreements illustrates this.

It is therefore vital to redouble efforts to recognize children both as victims of violence and as active participants whose voices and experiences are heard.

The Syria Commission of Inquiry’s dedicated 2020 report titled “They Erase My Children’s Dreams: Children’s Rights in the Syrian Arab Republic” did just that. Dedicated expertise and a focus on children enabled this, and the report highlighted that a child-centred approach is essential for lasting peace.

Let me give a few more examples of how the United Nations works in partnership with Member States, civil society and children themselves to strengthen the protection of children’s rights and prevent violations in the first place.

In United Nations peace missions, human rights components work hand in hand with child protection units to monitor and report on violations of children’s rights – including the six grave violations against children – to support accountability and justice efforts.

In the Central African Republic, for example, we are supporting the establishment of community committees to support good case management and provide adequate protection for victims.

In Iraq, the United Nations Assistance Mission carries out a wide range of activities to to prevent the use and recruitment of children: from raising awareness of the right to education to continuing dialogue with the Iraqi government and the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) to sign an action plan to end and prevent child abuse. use and recruitment and other violations of children’s rights.

We also support the work of international criminal tribunals, including the International Criminal Court. In 2021, our Office and other United Nations partners submitted a amicus curiae Brief to the Trial Chamber of the ICC in the Dominique Ongwen case addressing night caused by the conflict in northern Uganda, including for victims of conflict-related sexual violence and their children, and appropriate forms of reparation.

The special procedures of the Human Rights Council also play an important role in raising visibility and sounding the alarm.

Last month, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar presented a report on the military junta’s horrific violence against children, highlighting killings and maimings, arbitrary detention, torture – and taking children hostage to pressure parents to turn around. themselves in.

He urged states to take immediate coordinated action to prevent children from becoming “a lost generation” in the face of escalating humanitarian, political and economic crisis.

This conference is an opportunity to contribute heart cry for children to a global application.

This includes small places, close to home. We know that children in migration, including in Europe, unaccompanied children, asylum seekers and refugee children continue to be at higher risk and vulnerable to different forms of detention and violence.

It is up to all of us to ensure coordinated engagement, targeted advocacy and mobilization of resources – at all levels – to ensure the implementation of human rights and the special protection afforded to every child.

We owe the children the best we can give. It’s not just a legal and moral imperative – it’s a responsibility to humanity.