On Thursday (18 June), the Security Council, under the Malaysian presidency with Foreign Minister Dato' Sri Anifah Aman presiding, held a ministerial-level open debate on Children and Armed Conflict to discuss the Secretary-General’s annual report (S/2015/209) and on the issue of abductions. Briefers will include Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon; Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui; Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, Yoka Brandt; and Director of Facilitation for Peace and Development, Eunice Apio. Prior to the debate, Malaysia circulated a concept note that focused on the abduction of children and suggested that member States provide their viewpoints on how to address and prevent abductions of children.
The Secretary General’s 14th annual report, published on 5 June, highlights the unprecedented challenges involved in protecting children, specifically referencing the abduction of children as an alarming new trend. During the debate, a draft resolution was put to vote and adopted unanimously with all 15 member States in favor. UNSCR 2225 (S/RES/2225, 2015) adds abductions as an additional violation to trigger inclusion of a party in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report.
Briefing the Council on the 2014 Report, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui stated that the drastic spike in the number of children killed, injured, and abused within conflict in 2014 should not only shock the international community but also galvanize collective global action. Zerrougui referenced the exacerbation of violence against children in the past year, including the increased use of children in suicide attacks by non-State armed groups and the rise in targeting of children globally due to their ethnicity. She was also highly critical of all warring parties, especially governments involved in conflicts, for the use of indiscriminate attacks in conflict-settings that have resulted in the targeting and destruction of hospitals and schools. From a gendered perspective, Zerrougui made mention of sexual violence against girls in countries such as South Sudan and the increasing use of sexual violence and rape against children as a weapon of war. Furthermore, Zerrougui spoke on allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeeping forces and called for greater accountability against perpetrators.
Many speakers mentioned the increasing use of sexual violence against girls as a weapon of war, especially by non-State armed groups such as Boko Haram and ISIS (IS/ISIL/Daesh). Of the 80 statements made, 42 statements (53%) referenced the impact of sexual gender-based violence on women and girls. While many references were made, Council members only discussed ending impunity for crimes against children by applying sanctions against perpetrators and engaging with non-State actors to end violations. Speakers ultimately provided no concrete suggestions on how to address the issue while holding perpetrators accountable. Furthermore, 43% of speakers highlighted the growing trend in abduction of girls by non-State armed groups for the purposes of sexual slavery and ultimately terror financing. These references, however, were quite broad in nature. Some speakers, such as Nigeria, Australia, Croatia, and Georgia recognized the gendered impact of these abductions as well as the sexual violence being perpetrated on kidnapped girls worldwide - specifically referencing the kidnapping of the now infamous Chibok girls over one year ago. Again, while many mentioned the need for greater accountability in preventing the abduction of children in armed conflict, there were no suggestions on how to address the matter.
From a gender perspective, the Council focused on the victimization of girls through gender-based and sexual gender-based violence. In large part, speakers failed to mention women and girls' participation in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programmes or the need for providing socio-economic and psychological support to victims of gender-based and sexual gender-based violence from conflict. Sweden, however, highlighted the importance of girls' rights to quality education in war and disaster situations as a vital part of protecting children in conflict while the United States and New Zealand stressed the importance of rehabilitation and reintegration of girls following sexual violence. 12 (15%) of the statements, including Mexico, Colombia, Italy, and Brazil reflected on the importance of protection of girls in conflict. Unfortunately, only seven (9%) of the speakers remarked on the necessity for supporting reintegration of girls victimized by armed conflict back into their communities.
Another major theme throughout the debate focused on the role of impunity in sexual exploitation and abuse perpetrated by peacekeeping operations, as was referenced by 12 (15%) of the speakers including Lichtenstein, South Korea, Slovakia and Panama. France, spoke on the issue directly, noting that the nation took seriously the accusations of sexual abuse of children by its troops in the Central African Republic and pledging to pursue serious action to prevent impunity while prioritising the zero tolerance policy as a political priority. Along with France, Spain and Guatemala called for greater linkages to protection measures in order to prevent the perpetration of sexual exploitation and abuse by those meant to protect.
Some controversy surrounded speculation that the Secretary-General’s Report would potentially list the Israeli Defense Forces (IDFs) and Palestine’s Hamas for violations against children during the conflict in Gaza last summer (2014). While neither were listed, the report does provide figures on the number of children killed and wounded, as well as the number of schools damaged during the escalation of violence. Furthermore, Hamas is not mentioned officially by name in the report.
Speakers such as Jordan, Algeria, and Venezuela mentioned this issue, particularly in relation to how it might affect the integrity of the listing mechanism that has been established by the Council to ensure protection of children. Prior to the debate, Israel’s Ambassador the UN accused Zerrougui of misconduct when preparing the report that harshly criticised the IDFs attacks during the 2014 Gaza War. The UN inquiry, which led to the results within the report, found that Israeli forces fired on seven UN schools and killed 44 Palestinians seeking shelter, while Palestinian militants hid weapons and launched attacks from empty UN schools. The United States was the only Council member to vocally defend Israel during the debate.
The resolution passed by the Council highlights the issue of sexual exploitation in relation the Secretary-General’s zero tolerance policy in UN peacekeeping operations and pre-deployment child protection training. France cited the abuses perpetrated by French soldiers in the Central African Republic and promised to shed a “full light” on the matter; recognizing the implementation of the zero-tolerance policy against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse as a political priority for the nation.
Analysis of the Resolution can be found here.