JUNE 16, 2010: Remarks by Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at a Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict

Remarks by Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at a Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict
SOURCE: U.S. Mission to the United Nations 
By Susan E. Rice--U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations

Thank you, Madame President.  My thanks to Special Representative Coomaraswamy for her thorough briefing and her passionate dedication to this cause.  I would also like to thank UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Hilde Johnson, as well as Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Atul Khare for their very passionate and informative briefings.  I’d like especially to thank Manju Gurung for your presence here and your statement to this Council.  Your courage and your example are extraordinary. And all of us can only begin to imagine how difficult and daunting it must be to speak before a Council like this and a group such as this. Please know how much we admire you and how much we are here cheering for you and for a brighter, safer and more peaceful future. We wish you all the best.

Madame President, the 19th-century American abolitionist Fredrick Douglass once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Two centuries later, we see the truth of that insight in country after country, in conflict after conflict.  As the Secretary General's report makes painfully clear, children are abused and children’s rights are violated in armed conflicts in many areas of the world.  Even after such conflicts end, the scars remain: children exposed to violence or trauma—especially prolonged trauma—are more likely to have their social, emotional, and cognitive development impaired, and such ordeals inflict psychological damage that can endure for years to come.

The litany of abuses is grim: outright killing, maiming, forced participation in armed conflict, rape, sexual exploitation, and other forms of sexual violence. These outrages not only rob children of their innocence.  They not only often limit their full and meaningful participation in their societies.  But they also risk further stoking the very conflicts in which these children so gravely suffer.  Parties that commit violations against children plunder the future of their countries and threaten international peace and security.

The United States fully and firmly embraces our responsibility to protect children and we will not rest until the last abuse is halted and the last child soldier is released.

We welcome the Secretary General's report as an important tool to help us uphold that common responsibility. We’re glad to note that, for the first time, the report’s annexes include parties that have engaged in patterns of killing, maiming, raping, and sexually abusing children, in contravention of applicable international law. We urge that all information on violations identified by the monitoring and reporting mechanism be thoroughly verified to ensure a high degree of accuracy.

We agree with the report’s recommendation to ensure that specific language on protecting children is placed in the mandates of both the relevant UN peacekeeping operations and in those of political, humanitarian, and peacebuilding missions. We also agree that, given the regional dimensions of some conflicts highlighted in the report, these missions should speed their development of strategies and coordination mechanisms for better information exchange and cooperation on cross-border child-protection issues. 

We support the Secretary General's recommendation to include the unlawful recruitment or use of children as a listing criteria in appropriate Security Council sanctions regimes, and we strongly encourage closer cooperation and coordination among the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, these sanctions committees, and their expert panels.  As the Secretary General suggests, such coordination would let us weigh the application of "more vigorous measures against persistent violators" when that is appropriate.

We take heart from several instances in which parties and former parties to armed conflict have taken meaningful steps to protect children from Afghanistan to Burundi and Nepal—often after strong encouragement from the Special Representative and the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.

Nevertheless, Madame President, violations and abuses against children are endemic in far too many places.

The United States is particularly concerned about the situation in Somalia.  Active recruitment of child soldiers has placed several thousand children in the line of fire.  We strongly condemn the use of child soldiers by any group and we call upon parties to the conflict in Somalia to immediately cease child recruitment and release those who remain within their ranks.

Equally, we continue to be gravely concerned over developments in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Virtually every party engaged in the conflict there actively and unlawfully recruits children, and hundreds of children were shoved into the ranks of combatants there last year.  We particularly abhor the actions of the Lord's Resistance Army, which makes a practice of forced recruitment through abduction.

The United States is also deeply disturbed by the situation in the Central African Republic, where the active and unlawful recruitment of children is so bad that, as the Secretary General notes, children now comprise fully a third of the total self-defense militias, and where the LRA continues its reprehensible acts.

Madame President, we do see some hard-won progress, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Special Representative Coomaraswamy, as well as moves towards mainstreaming this issue across the whole of the UN system. But the grievous examples of violations and abuses against children, whether in the CAR, the DRC, Somalia, and many other places, remind us the pace of progress is too slow for too many children. Much more work must be done—and we have no time to spare.

The United States will remain fully and deeply dedicated to preventing violations and abuses committed against children in armed conflict.  We will continue to strongly support the efforts of the United Nations and our many NGO partners.  We look forward to continuing to work closely with our fellow Security Council members on this vital issue. We are grateful to those who organized today’s important debate. But we hope that the day will soon come when such sessions will no longer be needed.  One child harmed as a result of armed conflict is one child too many.  And the only morally tolerable number of child soldiers is zero.

Thank you, Madame President.