Second Ministerial Follow-up Forum on the Paris Commitments to protect children from recruitment or use by armed conflicts or armed groups
(translation of statement made in French)
Madam Executive Director
Madam Special Representative,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for attending the Second Ministerial Follow-Up Forum on the Paris Commitments, which will offer us an opportunity to discuss a problem that distresses us all—that of child soldiers. Allow me to begin by reminding you of a few facts. The number of child soldiers, in the broad sense of the term—that is, including not just those who are carrying weapons, but all those who have been torn from their families to serve as porters, messengers or sexual slaves—is estimated at 250,000. They are divided among the five continents, although they are mainly concentrated in Africa, Asia and Latin America. They are always victims but sometimes executioners as well, having committed atrocities. Once peace is restored, reintegrating them into society is difficult, threatening the security and sustainable development of the communities to which they belong.
In the face of this scourge, the international community is far from remaining inactive. The UN has adopted legally binding instruments. The Security Council developed an unprecedented mechanism to fight the use of child soldiers. The EU has made combating this scourge one of its human rights priorities. In February 2007, France and UNICEF organized an international conference at which 59 nations adopted a serious of innovative principles: the Paris Commitments. In October 2007 and September 2008, during the first Follow-Up Forum, we received new support for the Paris Commitments, bringing to 76 the number of nations that subscribe to them.
Much has been done in recent years, and significant successes have been achieved with the release and reintegration of several thousand child soldiers, notably from the DRC, Burundi, the Central African Republic and Chad.
These substantial advances could not have been achieved without the determined efforts of the Security Council. The most recent illustration of this is last month’s unanimous adoption of Resolution 1882, which represents an important operational advance and a strong political gesture that we welcome. In this regard, I want to applaud the decisive role played by Mexico as president of the Security Council Working Group.
Indeed, by this resolution, the Security Council decided to expand the Working Group’s mandate to the issue of sexual violence and the murders and mutilations of children, independent of the presence of child soldiers on the ground. Practically speaking, this advance will make it possible for the Council and the international community to focus on and react more effectively to sexual crimes committed in too many regions, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Darfur and eastern Chad.
Since its establishment four years ago, the Working Group has focused on the recruitment and use of child soldiers and has obtained results, contributing to the release of tens of thousands of children who have been demobilized during this period. This was made possible thanks to the constant efforts of all the Security Council members, but especially those of Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, and UNICEF at its highest levels—here I would like to hail Ms. Veneman and thank her for joining us today—as well as the commitment of other players on the ground, particularly NGOs.
If the parties to a conflict do not implement plans of action for the release of children, despite the Council’s repeated calls, we must not hesitate to consider strong, targeted sanctions. There is no deterrence and no effective prevention without sanctions. In this regard, I would particularly like to applaud the work by the International Criminal Court and the international criminal justice system, which have demonstrated their ability to prosecute those who are guilty of the recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts. Now more than ever, the fight against impunity must be considered a priority.
Additionally, the Working Group’s conclusions must receive better follow-up. In partnership with donors, first, to guarantee that the children released by armed groups and all other children who are the victims of violations receive care and have access to adequate reintegration programs. And then through exchanges with different sanctions committees to facilitate the Council’s necessary reaction to serious and persistent violations of children’s rights.
Our efforts remain all the more inadequate given the scope of the task. Events in the news remind us that children continue to be used in armed conflicts.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to mention a few concrete situations, for we must never lose sight of the tragic reality facing hundreds of thousands of children and families.
The situation of children associated with armed groups and forces in central and eastern Africa remains troubling.
In the DRC, for example, where the situation has been particularly complex since the beginning of the year, with the release of children on one hand and continued recruitment by the same forces and armed groups, on the other. In this context, it is also hard to estimate the number of children recruited or released and to determine whether more have been released or recruited.
The number of children still associated with armed groups and forces in southern Sudan remains high.
The upsurge in activities by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in recent months has lead to a substantial, alarming increase in violations against children, notably abductions. Several hundred children used as porters are still exploited by this militia. Likewise, recent clashes in southern Sudan spare neither women nor children.
In Darfur, few children have been demobilized despite the verbal commitments made at the Geneva Conference in the summer of 2008 by the conflict’s main protagonists. Cases of recruitment by the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) are troubling. Finally, only about 50 children have been released by the groups that are signatories to the Darfur peace agreement, of the more than 6,000 cases estimated for all the belligerents.
In Chad, the overall situation nationwide remains worrying, although it is hard to obtain reliable data on the number of children still associated with armed groups and forces. Nevertheless, we welcome the government’s real commitment to putting an end to this practice.
These are just several cases highlighted in the news. I wanted to mention them so that we remain mobilized and redouble our efforts.
Allow me, for a moment, to mention the project that France has put in place.
Since December 2008, France has been working on a project implemented by specialized personnel at our Khartoum and Kinshasa embassies. It aims to improve protection of children in armed conflicts in six countries, the Central African Republic, Sudan, and Chad on one hand, and Burundi, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo on the other.
Interventions are structured around three themes:
1. The long-term reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict
2. Prevention and awareness campaigns to combat the use of children in armed conflicts and to strengthen the rights of children in armed conflicts
3. Strengthening the ability of authorities to care for children who have been the victims of armed conflicts, notably by bolstering their competence.
These cooperative projects to protect children, developed through close coordination with UNICEF and NGOs, take previous experiences into account while seeking to meet reintegration needs. They are aimed at finding solutions that can leverage the improvement of children’s situations.
This pilot project in two key regions has given us a few lessons with respect to reintegration, to which we will no doubt return in greater detail during this meeting. Put simply, they are:
The return to civilian life and reintegration presumes complete care of medical, psychosocial, academic, professional, economic and family needs.
The establishment of a protective environment for the child can be done only with the involvement of all, and notably families, which must be supported in their efforts to protect the child.
In very volatile situations, which are those of the countries affected by the scourge of child soldiers, government cooperation is essential to ensuring a protective environment for children. It demands the adoption of action plans to put an end to the recruitment and use of children in conflicts. Our responsibility and that of the international community in particular, lies with our material, human and financial support for national plans of action.
Taking into account the lessons we have learned and the elements that are still lacking remains a challenge. But we know that the success of programs to protect children in conflicts demands intervention at several levels (prevention, release, reintegration, strengthening of jurisdictions and psychosocial assistance), with multiple actors, in order to have an impact on all children affected by armed conflict, regardless of whether they are associated with armed groups.
Thank you for your attention. It is my pleasure to give the floor to the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict.