As the Security Council last week revisited the issue of the protection of children in armed conflict, Jamaica and Barbados have called on the international community to take concrete steps to address the matter.
In separate statements, during the Security Council debate, both countries expressed alarm over the plight of children in armed conflict and urged the international community to adopt immediate measures to mitigate the circumstances.
Jamaica’s presentation was the second of two thematic issues it raised during last month’s reign as president of the Security Council. The first, delivered by Foreign Minister Dr. Paul Robertson, dealt with the prevention of armed conflicts.
“Jamaica strongly believes that this issue must remain a priority for the international community and requires our most effective responses,” said Patricia Durrant, Jamaica’s United Nations ambassador, who chaired the second debate.
“We also strongly believe that there are several identifiable steps to be taken in the pre- and post-conflict phases and during conflicts themselves, in order to address the plight of children in an integrated and comprehensive manner.”
Ambassador Durrant said that in addressing the plight of children in the most effective manner, attention must first be given to the prevention of armed conflicts.
Promotion of a culture of adherence to humanitarian norms and standards is also of critical importance, especially in light of the increased violations of international humanitarian law in conflict situations, she added.
But a vital component in any effective strategy, she said, must involve clear efforts by States to end current levels of impunity by prosecuting those who deliberately violate the rights of children.
In identifying innovative approaches in this regard, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan recommended that genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other egregious crimes perpetrated against children, should be excluded from amnesty provisions contemplated during peace negotiations.
Noting, however, that conflicts cannot always be prevented, Ambassador Durrant said that the challenge of developing clear and appropriate strategies to protect children must be addressed through cooperative and comprehensive approaches involving the participation of a wide range of factors.
“Initiatives by the United Nations system should be accompanied by better and more effective cooperation and coordination with regional and sub-regional bodies, multilateral donors and international non-governmental organizations,” she said.
“This approach is essential, particularly in combating the illicit trade in arms and the illegal exploitation and trade in natural resources.”
On Barbados’ part, the question of children and armed conflict extends beyond guaranteeing the physical safety and human rights of the future of the world.
“It speaks to the irreparable damage to these children’s psyche, to the point that they may also repeat the atrocities to which they have been subjected in later life,” said United Nations Ambassador June Clarke.
“My delegation is determined that children around the world, like Barbadian children, should enjoy the simplicity of childhood without the terror so many have sadly come to know. For this very reason, the government of Barbados supported the establishmens of the International Criminal Court as a mechanism through which children can be protected from armed conflict.”
The Barbadian ambassador said that her country is of the firm view that the United Nations should fulfill its role to prevent conflicts, rather than seeking to resolve them after their emergence.
She also said that Barbados is deeply troubled that, increasingly, resources are diverted from economic, social and infrastructural development to deal with conflicts and other crises of a humanitarian nature.
The issue in question occupied the minds of a large number of countries around the world which expressed deep perturbation over the callous treatment of children.
“The abuse of children in armed conflict, as everywhere, is unacceptable,” said Louise Frechette, United Nations Deputy Secretary General. “We can and we must do much more to make our world safer for all of them.”
Carol Bellamy, the head of the United Nations Children’s Fund, called on the Security Council to ensure that all those who violate children’s rights in times of war—whether governments, rebel groups or corporations—are held accountable.
“We have far too often said that we will not permit children to be raped, mutilated, recruited, hurt and forced to lose their childhood,” she said. “Yet, time and time again, we have stood and watched helplessly—in Rwanda, in Sierra Leone, in Sudan, in Afghanistan, in Kosovo and East Timor—while cruelty and indifference prevailed.”
UNICEF estimates that over two million children have died as a result of war in the last decade, and another 12 million have been left homeless.
Land mines kill or injure as many as 500 children each month. At least 30,000 children under 18 are involved in over 30 armed conflicts worldwide, as child soldiers, porters, messengers, cooks and sex slaves.
A year ago, the Security Council adopted its first resolution (Res. 1261) on children in conflict. Subsequently, it has adopted other resolutions and issued presidential statements on the harmful effect of conflict on children and its implications for peace and security.
Security Council resolutions 1265 (1999) and 1296 (2000), on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, have also emphasized the particular vulnerability of children and the need for special measures for their protection.
In May of this year, the General Assembly adopted the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which raises the minimum age for compulsory recruitment into the armed forces from 15 to 18 years.
Bellamy, as well as Jamaica and Barbados, urged governments to ratify the Optional Protocol as quickly as possible, and noted that the United Nations Millennium Summit, scheduled for September 6th-8th, offers an opportunity to do so.
The question of protection for and attention to children, who are victims of armed conflict, will also receive special attention when Jamaica hosts the Ministerial Meeting of the Americas later this year. That’s in advance of the United Nations Special Session of the General Assembly on the achievement of the goals of the World Summit for Children, to be held in September 2001.
“Barbados will continue to play its part, by participating fully in all efforts of the United Nations,” Ambassador Clarke said, “to promote the respect for an adherence to international humanitarian law and human rights, and the recognition of the need for protection of children and respect for their rights and freedoms.”
Ambassador Durrant chimed in: “If we agree that children have a right to peace and a right to grow and develop in a safe and secure environment, then the international community must act to ensure their security.”