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Cross-Cutting Report on Children and Armed Conflict

This is Security Council Report’s seventh Cross-Cutting Report on Children and Armed Conflict, continuing a series that began in 2008. The entire report can be downloaded in PDF.

These reports track Security Council involvement with children and armed conflict over the years, highlighting trends since the issue first emerged as a separate thematic agenda item in 1998. The present report covers relevant developments at the thematic level during 2014 and into the first half of 2015. It analyses Council decisions on country-specific situations relating to children and armed conflict in 2014, as well as the output of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict and the activities of the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. In addition, it covers issues related to sanctions and peacekeeping. The report discusses Council dynamics and outlines possible options to advance the children and armed conflict agenda. One of the main conclusions of the report is that while the children and armed conflict agenda managed to stay on track, with some progress made in refining the agenda, there is a need to find ways of responding more quickly to new crises as well as to the deterioration of situations already being considered.

Summary and Conclusions

In 2014 the Security Council faced a mix of old and new complex crises and a high level of demand for its attention. Many of these challenging situations had devastating effects on children. Deteriorating security and political situations in the Central African Republic (CAR), Iraq, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen saw children directly affected by hostilities between rival parties and an increase in the recruitment and use of children by armed groups. Activities of extremist non-state armed groups such as Boko Haram, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and the Al-Nusra Front led to large-scale abduction of children. The eruption of hostilities between Israel and Palestine in the summer of 2014 saw an increase in attacks on schools, as well as children killed in airstrikes and shelling. In long-standing conflicts in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Somalia, children remained vulnerable, with both government and non-state parties continuing to be involved in violations against children. While the Council attempted to address multiple crises at once, it was clear that often it did not have the capacity, flexibility or unity to act rapidly and effectively. 

Against this backdrop, the Security Council largely kept the children and armed conflict agenda on track. Key to this was its Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. Following several divisive years on this issue, 2014 was a period when steady progress was made in refining the children and armed conflict agenda. Led by Luxembourg, the Working Group in 2014 continued with its work of responding to country-specific reports on children and armed conflict. It adopted four conclusions and held ten formal meetings, as well as numerous informal meetings, where reports were discussed in detail and draft working group conclusions negotiated. 

The Working Group also showed flexibility and embraced innovation, for example by receiving briefings from the field by video teleconference and holding meetings with the AU and the International Criminal Court (ICC). Compared to the last few years, the overall composition of the Council in 2014 was generally more supportive of the children and armed conflict agenda, making it possible to cautiously move the agenda forward. Still, there is an increasingly urgent need for the Working Group to find ways of responding more quickly to new crises as well as to the deterioration of situations already being considered.

We have shown in our cross-cutting reports (this is our seventh), how over the past ten years the issue of children and armed conflict has been integrated into the Council’s country-specific work. While there has been some pushback on human rights and protection issues in recent years, there appears to be general acceptance of the inclusion of children and armed conflict language in relevant country-specific resolutions and presidential statements. In the last three years, about 70 percent of relevant country-specific resolutions have had some language on children and armed conflict. In 2014, we also found that in most relevant resolutions and presidential statements there was increasing attention paid to making the language more consistent and more specific to the particular crisis. Much of this is due to the diligent and systematic manner in which Luxembourg brought language on children and armed conflict to the negotiating table.

Significantly, the incorporation of protection of children provisions into peacekeeping missions with a protection mandate, as well as inclusion ofprotection of children designation criteria in new sanctions regimes on situations with a child protection dimension, has become common practice. Relevant peacekeeping and political mission mandates now often have adequate language for stronger child protection activities on the ground. However, there are clearly problems implementing these more robust child protection mandates in some situations, such as Mali. Further discussion and thinking on how best to match mandates and needs on the ground may be needed.

Still, Council dynamics on country-specific issues have clearly impacted the output of the Working Group. There is a direct correlation between sensitivity of an issue in the Council and the level of difficulty the Working Group is likely to encounter in adopting conclusions to the Secretary-General’s reports on children and armed conflict on the same country-specific situation. This was clearly seen in the length of time it took to reach agreement about the conclusions on the report on children and armed conflict in Syria. Less obviously, however, a number of members of the Working Group have specific concerns that relate to policy priorities or national interest sensitivities, which can affect positions on less controversial situations.

Unlike other protection issues, children and armed conflict has been led by an elected member since 2008, when France gave up the chairmanship of the Working Group. Since then Mexico, Germany, Luxembourg and now Malaysia have taken on the chairmanship and the pen for this issue, displaying commitment and devoting impressive resources to the work. While continuing to take forward the established issues of this agenda, each chair has also chosen to promote particular areas of interest. While this has resulted in new initiatives, it is important that with each change of chairmanship there is follow-through. For example, the issues of non-state armed groups and the need to put pressure on parties that had been included in the annexes to the Secretary-General’s reports for a long time, known as persistent perpetrators, were a key focus in 2011 and 2012. (The Secretary-General’s annual reports since 2002 have contained “naming and shaming” annexes of parties to armed conflict: its Annex I lists armed conflict situations that are on the Council’s agenda, while Annex II consists of armed conflict situations not on the Council’s agenda but that are situations of concern regarding children. The four violations that can trigger an inclusion in the annexes are recruitment, sexual violence, killing and maiming and attacks on schools and hospitals. A party must sign and implement an action plan to be taken off an annex.) Less attention was paid to non-state armed groups and persistent perpetrators in the last two years. However, with the March 2015 debate on children and armed conflict focusing on child victims of non-state armed groups, there may be an increased focus on these issues in the coming year.

The Office of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflictfocused much of its attention on the campaign “Children, Not Soldiers”, launched in March 2014 with the aim of ending the recruitment and use of children by armed forces by 2016. Seven of the eight armed forces in the Secretary-General’s annexes have signed action plans. As a result of the campaign, recruitment by government forces and progress on action plans to end recruitment were given considerable attention in the Special Representative’s press releases and relevant Council outcomes. This was also a key focus of field visits by the Special Representative. So far it has resulted in one new action plan signed by the Yemen government and several commitments. However, the deterioration in situations such as South Sudan and Yemen are likely to make it difficult for these governments to move swiftly to implement their action plans to stop recruitment and use of children. Little attention has been paid to getting parties involved in other violations, such as sexual violence, killing and maiming or attacks on schools and hospitals, to sign action plans.

It is worth noting that although the focus has been on government forces, in 2014 non-state armed groups in the CAR, Darfur, Mali, South Sudan and Syriacommitted to take measures against violations against children and issued command orders or launched internal sensitisation campaigns on the protection of children, particularly in relation to the prohibition of their recruitment and use.

The increased focus on attacks on schools and hospitals and on the use of schools has raised the profile of these violations. However, this has not yet led to any commitments by parties involved in such attacks or use to stop or prevent these acts. Looking ahead, if abduction of children is added as a new trigger, it may be useful to have a focused discussion on the challenges in getting action plans on the different violations.

Chad’s speedy implementation of an action plan to prevent the recruitment of children in its armed forces in order to participate in the peacekeeping mission in Mali illustrates importance of political will combined with incentives in galvanising a government to act on child violations. A better understanding of what might motivate a party to strive to be takenoff the Secretary-General’s annexes could prompt fresh thinking about approaches to non-state armed groups as well as governments. While such motivation can be used in the future to incentivise countries to implement or sign action plans, care needs to be taken to ensure that reforms are genuine before removing parties from the annexes. 

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