Statement by Ms. Virginia Gamba Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict at the 46th session of the Human Rights Council
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Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honor to address the Human Rights Council as we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the creation of the mandate on children and armed conflict by the General Assembly. Two thousand and twenty has been a difficult year and it is important to take stock of the challenges we have faced, but also the progress we have made.
The number of serious violations against children remained at an unacceptable level as respect for international humanitarian law, international human rights law and the rights of the child continued to erode. The increase in child abduction cases is of great concern. This violation, along with sexual violence, including rape and attacks on schools and hospitals, are the violations for which an increase rather than a decrease compared to the previous year was noted as the number of denial of humanitarian access remained high. The detention of children for their actual or suspected association with parties to the conflict, including those designated as terrorists by the United Nations, remains a worrying reality.
Most of these violations have occurred in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictive measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic have often had a negative effect on children and impacted the ability of the United Nations to carry out vital work to end and prevent serious violations against them , in particular by reducing the possibilities for dialogue with the parties to the conflict and delaying interviews with the victims. Planned training and awareness sessions, workshops as well as field visits had to be postponed or canceled. Travel restrictions and mitigation strategies have also affected humanitarian access and exacerbated pre-existing operational challenges. Nonetheless, both my office and the country monitoring and reporting task forces have continued to monitor and report, adjusting existing resources to current needs.
Despite the persistent and emerging challenges, significant progress in ending and preventing serious violations was made over the past year, especially in the area of transitional justice.
Parties to the revitalized South Sudan Peace Agreement, for example, signed a comprehensive plan of action covering the six grave violations; and in Myanmar, the first plan of action with an armed group was signed to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict. In the Central African Republic, the President promulgated the Child Protection Code which criminalizes, among other things, the recruitment and use of children, sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals, and the denial of humanitarian access, and considers children associated with armed forces and groups as victims. In Mali, the national monitoring committee responsible for the implementation of the Declaration on Safe Schools adopted its action plan and identified priority activities concerning, among other things, the military use of schools during conflicts.
In addition, it is important to remember that inclusive, age-appropriate and gender-responsive transitional justice and peacebuilding processes are essential components of the reintegration of conflict-affected boys and girls and key to breaking cycles of violence. In this regard, some progress during 2020 has been achieved in Colombia and Mali through the inclusion of children in transitional justice processes.
Protecting children used and abused by, for and in armed conflict and preventing violations of children’s rights means maintaining a strong monitoring and reporting mechanism, while increasing our engagement with parties to conflict and ensuring resources needed for child protection capacities on the ground.
First, to support the follow-up efforts of colleagues in the field, my office is currently preparing a report on regional workshops with country task forces on monitoring and reporting held in four regions of the world. We are in the process of developing technical guidance notes on child abduction and the denial of humanitarian assistance to children. We are also working on three analytical papers: one on the impact of COVID-19 on monitoring and reporting serious violations and on engagement with parties to the conflict; one on the gender dimension of serious violations against children; and one on the impact of serious violations on livelihoods and on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. In addition, the Secretary General has asked me to produce a study that will result in a publication on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the mandate of CAAC. The study will focus on the evolution of the mandate over the years, including determining the parameters for effective monitoring and best practices for engaging with parties to conflict to end and prevent violations.
Second, the architecture for monitoring, reporting, initiating and advocating to end and prevent violations is only as strong as the financial and human resources available to operate it. Well-trained, specialized and dedicated child protection advisers in United Nations peace operations and special political missions, as well as in country offices of UNICEF and other relevant partners such as UNHCR and in the offices of United Nations Resident Coordinators in situations of armed conflict, are essential to ensure that the mandate on children and armed conflict is effective
In 2020, I also continued to raise awareness and strengthen partnerships. The Act to Protect Children Affected by Conflict campaign is at the heart of efforts to shed light on the continuing suffering of children affected by conflict – and our shared responsibility to better protect them. To this end, working with Member States, civil society, regional and subregional organizations, United Nations partners and academia has been and remains the cornerstone of my work.
In addition, over the past year I have cooperated closely with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, including through the contribution of my office to the universal periodic reviews of Lebanon, Myanmar and Somalia. I exchanged information and identified areas of common concern with the commissioners of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic; with the head of the independent investigation mechanism for Myanmar; and with the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, among others. Another example of our collaborative approach and building partnerships is the CAAC-UNICEF partnership within the Global Coalition for the Reintegration of Child Soldiers. Here we have published three expert papers and are now planning the second phase of research that will inform best practices for achieving effective reintegration in a way that views each child as unique and can be sustainable in the long term.
In conclusion, let me remind everyone that if we are to build strong and resilient societies and break cycles of violence, we must invest in children’s rights and put their protection at the center of everything we do. Let’s do it.