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Children and Armed Conflict

This is Security Council Report’s sixth Cross-Cutting Report on Children and Armed Conflict, continuing a series that began with the publication of our first report on the subject in 2008. The entire report can be downloaded in PDF

Summary and Conclusions

During the period covered by this report, there continued to be pushback within the Security Council on children and armed conflict at the thematic level, making it difficult to move forward with any new initiatives. The children and armed conflict agenda has remained in a holding pattern for the last two years, with energy spent in ensuring there is no rollback. The more difficult dynamic within the Council on human rights-related issues in general in 2012-2013 has resulted in protracted negotiations on thematic decisions related to children and armed conflict. The sense on the part of some members that the issue has gone beyond its mandate led to a concerted effort to restrict the scope of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. It also resulted in a general reluctance to introduce new initiatives or make changes to the overall children and armed conflict architecture. As a result some key actors are beginning to look beyond the Council to regional organisations and bilateral partners to develop this issue further.

There was one open debate (19 September 2012) and one debate (17 June 2013) during the period covered by this report. The Council adopted one resolution (S/RES/2068) and one presidential statement (S/PRST/2013/8) on children and armed conflict. For the first time since the Council began adopting resolutions on children and armed conflict in 1999, a resolution on this issue was not adopted unanimously. Four countries—Azerbaijan, China, Pakistan and Russia—abstained. The resolution and the presidential statement generally reiterated and reinforced previous commitments by the Council on the children and armed conflict agenda without introducing any new strategies or initiatives.

However, the divisions over this issue at the thematic level did not appear to affect the inclusion of child protection issues at the country-specific level. Overall, the Council continued to include children and armed conflict language in relevant decisions. Agreed language from previous resolutions and presidential statements was often simply repeated, but there was also evidence of new language responding to a changing dynamic. There has been a greater focus on sexual violence and its impact on children as a result of the attention the Council has paid to this issue in particular, as well as more language on justice and accountability. There has also been an increase in attention to issues of child protection when setting up or renewing UN mission mandates.

Some of the added children and armed conflict language in Council decisions can be attributed to Germany and Luxembourg. As the 2012 and 2013 chairs of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, respectively, both were proactive in ensuring that language on children and armed conflict was retained and expanded where possible in country-specific resolutions.  In addition, NGOs, such as Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, have increasingly focused on the Council, providing examples of language that could be included in country-specific resolutions

Also of note is the increased attention paid to the situation of children in fast-changing and deteriorating situations already under consideration by the Council, such as the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Mali. Regular briefings to the Working Group by the Special Representative have also become more common, allowing the Working Group to stay abreast of new developments in situations on its work programme. However, there were very few briefings to the Council itself that focused specifically on how children were affected by an unfolding crisis. 

There was a push from some Council members for greater accountability on children and armed conflict. The 19 September 2012 and 17 June 2013 debates focused on accountability and persistent perpetrators (parties that have been listed in the Secretary-General’s report for at least five years). While there were discussions on the need to find innovative practical approaches to address persistent perpetrators, there was little movement in this direction.

The general reluctance by some members of the Working Group to impose targeted sanctions continued to block any possibility of using this tool to put pressure on persistent perpetrators. While all four relevant Security Council sanctions committees—1572 Côte d’Ivoire, 1533 DRC, 751/1907 Somalia and 1591 Sudan—have language that amounts to allowing violations against children to be used as designation criteria, there was little movement in 2012-2013 in terms of new listings. In 2012, only the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee listed an additional five individuals and two entities for targeted sanctions based on violations against civilians. There were no new listings in 2013.

This Cross-Cutting Report focuses on two sanctions committees, 1533 DRC and 1572 Côte d’Ivoire, in order to assess the impact of targeted sanctions on compliance with action plans and violations against children. The two sanctions case studies also examine the links among sanctions committees, the Working Group and the International Criminal Court and how these bodies might be able to work together more efficiently. 

Action plans signed by governments to stop violations against children now feature regularly in Council resolutions. As has been the case in previous years, the most important factor in the removal of government armed forces from the Secretary-General’s list of parties that have committed certain violations against children is political will.  It often coincides with a government wanting to be seen as a responsible member of the international community. This was the case with Somalia, in 2012, when it signed the action plan to stop recruitment and use of children and to prevent sexual violence. The Transitional Federal Government was particularly keen to show that it was serious about not having child soldiers. Another key factor is bilateral pressure. As we found in our case study on the DRC, the possibility of having aid from a key donor suspended, especially for arms purchases, serves as a strong motivation. A third factor that might encourage a government to sign an action plan to stop violations against children in armed conflict situations is if doing so is a necessary condition to participate in UN activities that are important to it. This was the case with Chad, which was interested in participating in the new UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali as a troop-contributing country, yet had to ensure that there were no underage soldiers among its peacekeepers. This strong motivation led to an acceleration of the implementation of an action plan that had seen little progress for a number of years. The initiative launched by the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict to move toward an end to recruitment of children in government forces by 2016 may lead to more rapid progress in the signing and implementation of action plans among government forces.

The Working Group, which in its early days was an innovative, nimble body, shows signs of stagnating as a result of increasingly rigid working methods. However, there is a great reluctance among some members to make any substantive changes and no appetite to experiment with recommendations or use new tools. At the same time, there is increasing awareness that changes are needed to deal with current realities and that, without greater flexibility and efficiency in its working methods, the Working Group risks becoming irrelevant.

Including references to combating violations against children in UN mission mandates is crucial. However, this is only the first step, as it does not always translate to having a dedicated child protection component within the mission. Often progress in highlighting child protection needs in a resolution does not correspond to concrete action on the ground. The head of the mission, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and budget considerations all play a crucial role in making this happen.

If the Security Council is serious about moving towards an era of accountability, there is a need for it to pay sustained attention to the issue of children and armed conflict and for the Working Group to insist on more thorough follow-through. As has been seen with other issues on its agenda, the Council has a tendency to decrease its attention to an issue once it believes it has dealt with it adequately. To ensure that the issue does not stagnate, there is a need to consider new approaches and possible changes to the children and armed conflict architecture. The lack of follow-up to Council and Working Group decisions points to a need for both bodies to be willing to take stronger action together with more focused follow-up.

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