OCTOBER 14, 2009: Press Conference on Children in Armed Conflict

Press conference on Children and Armed Conflict

Source: United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI)

In a preview of her annual report (document A/64/254), set for presentation to the General Assembly's Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict acknowledged the momentum that the Organization had built over the past year to protect the rights of boys and girls enduring armed conflicts around the globe.

Radhika Cooomaraswamy told reporters gathered at a Headquarters press conference that headway was being made to curb the further recruitment of children for armed conflicts in the Philippines, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Burundi and the Central African Republic. Action plans had been hammered out with many of these countries to begin the structured release of children. Later during the conference, she stressed that the integration of these children into society was crucial to halt their return to conflict or human trafficking.

"There was a link to trafficking and child labour and child soldiers. Children were vulnerable to all," she told reporters in response to a question about trafficking in children and the use of child labour in Côte d'Ivoire. "If they [child soldiers] were not successfully integrated, that could also lead to child trafficking."

She said her Office would be meeting regularly with an incoming special representative, given the mission to protect women and children from rampant sexual violence during armed conflict, to discuss issues, that were "on the cusp of both our mandates".

A lawyer by training and human rights advocate who served as a Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women from 1994 to 2003 and Chairperson of the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission, Ms. Coomaraswamy said she welcomed the Assembly's engagement on children and armed conflict. She also welcomed the adoption in September of Security Council resolution 1888 (2009), which mandated peacekeeping missions to protect women and children from sexual violence, and the earlier Council resolution 1882 (2009), which condemned all violations of international law involving the recruitment and use of children by parties to armed conflict and their recruitment, killing and maiming, and rape and other sexual violence.

"Between the two, we could begin a process of dealing with sexual violence in armed conflict," said Ms. Coomaraswamy. "I want to highlight that we're not just talking about girls. There are issues of sexual violence against boys." Boys in combat could be used as sexual slaves and in some situations were used as dancing boys, she added. She noted that resolution 1882 (2009) called for the protection of children to be part of military planning.

Regarding the issue of justice, she said children should be not prosecuted for war crimes. In reviewing other issues, Ms. Coomaraswamy said her Office had begun a campaign for the universal ratification of the Optional Protocol on the involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, part of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. She said 182 States had ratified the Protocol and 36 countries had not. The campaign would begin in February. "We hope that by the tenth anniversary, we would have universal ratification," she said.

In regard to the report's discussion of the rights of internally displaced children, she said children should not be discriminated against and should receive basic services and access to education. She hoped that Member States would adhere to these rights. The report also reviewed the role of children in the discussion of their rights and ways to ensure that their participation was voluntary.

In response to a question on the situation of internally displaced children in Pakistan, and whether she would like to seek international rules or regulations created by the Assembly or Council, she said the Organization's work in Pakistan was guided by its principles on internally displaced people. "We've interpreted these principles and brought out what is relevant for children," said Ms. Coomaraswamy, adding that she welcomed the Assembly's endorsement of these principles, since it would raise awareness of the issue.

As a policy, the United Nations tried to prevent placing orphans in institutions and worked to provide immediate assistance and interim care while it worked to reunite orphaned children with their relatives.

In regard to a reporter's questions on the situation of children in Somalia and the occupied territories of Palestine, she said Somalia had one of the worst cases of child recruitment by the Government and other armed groups. Security concerns in Somalia made it difficult for the United Nations to help and had prevented a visit she had planned for August. She still hoped to visit Somalia, or if that was not possible, to visit refugee camps in Yemen and Kenya.

She said she had made two visits to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the first two years ago and one earlier this year. She said greater humanitarian access was needed to Gaza, including the provision of education and the construction of schools.

Concerning a reporter's question on the release of Omar Khadr from the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba, she said her Office had had a positive meeting with officials dealing with Guantanamo detainees. There were many issues relating to Mr. Khadr's release because some officials believed his family was linked to Al-Qaida in Pakistan. Her office was focusing on his repatriation to Canada, so he could attend school and receive training. Her Office was working to place quiet diplomatic pressure on both the Canadian and United States Governments.

(A Canadian citizen, Mr. Kahdr is the last Western citizen being held in Guantanamo Bay. He is now 22 and has been held at the United States naval base for more than six years. He is accused of killing a United States solider in Afghanistan and was captured in Afghanistan at the age of 15.)

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