“I can’t see my future because I don’t know if I’ll wake up tomorrow” : UN Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict Calls for Redoubling of Efforts

Author:Geneva Delegates


Geneva Delegates
Today in the presentation of her report to the UN Human Rights Council, Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, called upon States to double down on their efforts to guarantee the rights of children in situations of armed conflict so as to ensure a brighter present and future for children. Every war has a disproportionate effect on children, depriving them of their human rights and leaving deep physical and emotional scars. The increasing complexities of human rights violations perpetrated against children during armed conflicts were exposed during the discussion, particularly as they have been compounded by the climate crisis and Covid-19.
There are 6 grave violations against the rights of children during armed conflicts, which were repeatedly discussed:
Recruitment and use of children
Killing and maiming of children
Sexual violence against children
Attacks against schools and hospitals
Abduction of children
Denial of humanitarian access
Three new situations of concern were added in 2022; Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Ukraine. Luxembourg and the Secretary-General were further concerned with situations in Central Sahel and Chad. Children were most affected by violations in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. This year, some 8,070 children were killed or maimed, with a rise in deaths by explosive remnants of war, improvised explosive devices, and mines. Some 6,310 children were recruited and used by armed groups, and 3,945 incidents of denial of humanitarian access were verified. Abductions and sexual violence rose by 20% this year, and at least 2,864 children were deprived of liberty. On a more positive note, several States complimented the advances made over the past 25 years of the mandate, such as the release of 12,214 children from armed groups.
The German delegation on behalf of a group of 50 states opened the discussion with a powerful statement made by a Ukrainian child: “I can’t see my future because I don’t know if I’ll wake up tomorrow.” Germany further highlighted the mounting evidence regarding forced deportations and the illegal adoption of Ukrainian children in Russia as clear violations of Russia’s obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, stating that “accountability must be ensured, impunity must not prevail, we owe it to the children of Ukraine.” Poland, Ukraine, and Lithuania once again criticised Russian acts in Ukraine with regards to children’s rights, such as internal displacements, sexual violence, and the deliberate destruction of medical and educational facilities, and called for consistent and decisive action to protect Ukrainian children from the terrors and traumas of war. The Russian Federation delegation did not attend the session to respond.
Gamba and UNICEF further noted that, worryingly, the internationally agreed upon definition of the child is being increasingly challenged under the guise of traditional values, or counterterrorism and national security measures. Argentina highlighted the deplorable use of schools for military use, which particularly infringes upon the rights of girls and children with disabilities to access education as they are more likely to remain out of school once the conflict has ended. Several States also raised concerns about sexual violence against boys deprived of their liberty in the context of armed conflicts, and the increased risk of child trafficking.
The Special Representative aims to provide guidance, strengthen compliance, and provide accountability for the violation of children’s rights during armed conflicts. States must engage with parties to armed conflicts regarding children’s rights and enhance cooperation with regional organisations. However, as emphasised by Gamba, such engagements do not mean much until they are translated into concrete and enhanced action.
Sierra Leone on behalf of the Africa Group urged an examination of the structural causes of violence in order to achieve the 2030 sustainable development goals. Belgium similarly stressed the importance of adopting a holistic approach before, during, and after conflicts, and the United States urged the creation of long term holistic reintegration programmes for children affected by armed conflict. Iraq highlighted the need for states to provide support and rehabilitation measures to reintegrate child soldiers, as well as psychological support for child victims of terrorism. Colombia and the Special Representative also noted the importance of paying particular attention to children's rights in peace negotiation processes. States must further monitor and report grave violations, develop and monitor systems, and provide technical support to parties to armed conflicts to ensure the respect of children’s human rights. China criticised the use of unilateral sanctions, and urged states to instead focus on the prevention and resolution of armed conflicts through dialogue with parties, rather than the imposition of sanctions.
The Special Representative along with several States commended recent political efforts made to ensure the protection of children’s rights during armed conflicts. Notably, the 2022 Paris Principles aim to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers, to separate them from armed groups, and support them after their release or exit in their reintegration with families and communities. The 2017 Vancouver Principles focus on child protection at all stages of the conflict cycle, and States were urged to sign the 2015 Safe Schools Declaration to support the protection of students, teachers, schools, and universities from attack, and ensure the continuation of education during armed conflict, as well as ensure the implementation of concrete measures to deter the military use of schools.