US statement on children in armed conflict

Below are remarks from U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice on the open debate on children in armed conflict held yesterday in the United Nations Security Council:

Thank you, Mr. President. We’re grateful to you, Mr. Minister, as well as to Ambassador Wittig and the German Mission for hosting this important debate and for your leadership as Chair of the Security Council Working Group. We also very much appreciate the important statements by the Secretary General, Special Representative Coomaraswamy and UNICEF Executive Director Tony Lake.

Mr. President, abuses against children in armed conflicts do not just tear at our hearts. They also rip the fabric of our societies, undermine our shared security, and challenge us all to do far more to bring these outrages to an end. 

The toll never ceases to shock. According to a recent UNESCO report, between 1998 and 2008, an estimated 2 million children were killed in conflicts, and 6 million left disabled.  Approximately 300,000 children are reportedly being exploited as soldiers.

Let there be no doubt: we are failing the world’s children so long as so many continue to suffer such brutality and abuse. This is not to diminish the work that has already been done to assist children in armed conflicts around the world. Since 2004, the UN has signed 15 action plans in 9 conflict zones, and concluded 5 of them. The Special Representative and UN agencies in the field have had a measurable impact on the ground. One of the brightest spots in the Secretary General’s otherwise depressing report is the number of child soldiers who have been released. An estimated 6,300 children were released from such servitude this year in Sudan, Nepal, Chad, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burma, and Sri Lanka.

We have increased the spotlight on grave abuses. We have built up our information-gathering capacity, including comprehensive reports by the Secretary General. We’ve listed serious perpetrators and frankly examined individual country situations. All these steps by the Working Group help keep such abuses squarely on the international agenda and bring them to the urgent attention of national authorities.

But, as we all know, a great deal more needs to be done.

For instance, I just returned from witnessing the birth of the Republic of South Sudan. Some progress has been made throughout Sudan, notably the release over the past year of almost 1,200 children from the terror of armed groups. The UN has concluded Action Plans and signed Memoranda of Understanding with several groups in Sudan. But the abuses persist, including by the LRA and others. The Government of Sudan and the Sudanese Armed Forces have not yet signed and implemented an action plan. And separately, we urge the former SPLA to continue to implement its now-expired 2009 action plan, as well as to sign a formal extension of that plan.

In Burma, there are still child soldiers within the ranks of government forces and armed groups. The Government of Burma has committed to stop recruitment and use of child soldiers and to develop an action plan with the UN. We urge it to do so as soon as possible to draw from the expertise of relevant agencies such as ILO and UNICEF.

We are deeply troubled as well by the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Half a dozen groups from the DRC are listed in Annex I of the Secretary General’s report. The DRC government has failed to engage meaningfully with the United Nations to end abuses against children committed by its armed forces. As a result, child recruitment has risen in some areas. The DRC government should move immediately to remedy these alarming violations, including by finalizing and signing a long overdue action plan with the UN. 

This year’s report also documents another appalling trend: increased attacks on schools and hospitals, particularly in Afghanistan, Cote d’Ivoire, DRC, Iraq, Burma, Pakistan, Yemen, and the Philippines. In Cote d’Ivoire alone, according to UNICEF, 224 schools were attacked during the post-election crisis, disrupting the education of some 65,000 children. The Secretary General’s report documents such attacks, and with today’s resolution, the Secretary General will have the mandate to “name and shame” those who perpetrate such attacks on a recurrent basis. 

Mr. President, overall we remain deeply concerned that persistent perpetrators continue their violations against children with impunity. Sixteen parties to armed conflict listed in the Annexes of the Secretary General’s report have been listed for five years or more. This is plainly unacceptable. Thus, the United States has urged the inclusion in today’s resolution of the Council’s time-bound commitment to consider a broad range of options to increase pressure on persistent perpetrators. The Council’s unanimous support for this commitment is an important step toward holding egregious violators accountable for their actions.

Mr. President, today, let us rededicate ourselves to working towards a world in which all children have the security, opportunity, and hope that we seek for our own sons and daughters.

Thank you.

You can join Presbyterians working to protect children by participating in the Red Hand’s Campaign.  

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