[2024-06-27] The UN Security Council must step up to protect children in armed conflict

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On Wednesday 26 June 2024, Ban Ki-moon addressed the UN Security Council on the issue of children and armed conflict, and how the institutions of multilateralism can better protect peace and security.

Read Former UN Secretary- General Ban’s speech :

Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour to once again have the opportunity to brief the distinguished members of the Security Council on such an important topic.

I am speaking today in my capacity as Deputy Chair of The Elders, the group of independent former leaders founded by Nelson Mandela who work for peace, justice, human rights and a sustainable planet.

The protection of innocent lives lies at the heart of all of The Elders’ endeavours. Children in armed conflict are the most innocent victims of all, and it is a universal moral obligation to protect them from harm and exploitation.

I commend the work by the Special Representative of the Security-General, and the report presented today which describes how acute the issue of children and armed conflict has been over the course of 2023.

It should be a matter of shame to every state represented here today that innocent children continue to pay such a terrible price in the multiple conflicts being waged across our world.

I am shocked and outraged that grave violations against children rose 21 percent in 2023, with a 35 percent rise in the killing and maiming of children in the same period.

This reflects a persistent and blatant disregard for international law by those perpetrating these violations, whether government forces or non-state armed actors, and a sense of impunity that they will not be held accountable for their actions.

To give just one example, the UN has verified more than 8,000 grave violations against 4,247 Palestinian children and 113 Israeli children in 2023, reflecting the shocking scale and human cost of the current conflict.

There should be no impunity for those who commit crimes against children anywhere in the world, whether they be states or armed groups, in autocracies or democracies. Such distinctions mean nothing to the parents of murdered children, nor should they to the institutions charged with upholding international justice.

The statistics in the Secretary-General’s report tell their own story. But I know from my own experience that the trauma experienced by children in armed conflict cannot be captured in figures alone.

As a young boy during the Korean War, I experienced the trauma and wrenching displacement of fleeing my home during the conflict, with death and destruction all around me. The human suffering I witnessed as I fled my burning village with my parents continued to haunt me in the days and years to come.

No child should endure what I did as a boy, and what countless other boys and girls still do today, from Gaza and Israel to Ukraine, Sudan to Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Yemen and so many other conflicts that are not on the radar of the world’s policymakers or media.

One of the definitive reports on children and armed conflict was written 28 years ago by Graça Machel, the former freedom fighter and Education Minister of Mozambique who today serves as my fellow Deputy Chair of The Elders.

Her findings are as relevant today as they were when she first presented them to the General Assembly in 1996. She said:

“More and more of the world is being sucked into a desolate moral vacuum. This is a space devoid of the most basic human values; a space in which children are slaughtered, raped, maimed… and exposed to extreme brutality.”

The situation today is a damning reflection of the collective failure of political will over the past three decades to address the issue.

But Graça Machel’s powerful report did lead to changes, not least the creation of the mandate of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on children and armed conflict.

All Council members, and particularly the five Permanent Members, have a responsibility to protect and support this mandate in the interests of children worldwide.

At country level, alongside essential monitoring and reporting work, the mandate includes working with conflict parties on the steps they need to take to end violations and ensure the protection of children.

Identifying those responsible for grave violations, as the report does through the compilation of its annual list, is the first step towards constructive engagement, action and accountability.

In this regard, the inclusion of Israeli armed and security forces and Palestinian armed groups on the list is an important step in terms of seeking accountability.

Where peace-keeping and political missions are drawing down, there must be a commitment to provide sufficient resources so this vital work continues.

Attacks on places that are supposed to provide care and protection for children, such as schools and hospitals, are an increasing pattern in multiple conflict settings including Gaza, Ukraine, Myanmar and Sudan.

Member states should endorse and implement the commitments outlined in ‘The Safe Schools Declaration’ which has so far garnered support from 120 states.

All attacks on children in armed conflict constitute a grave violation of human rights, but the most inhumane are those involving sexual violence.

As someone who has championed women’s rights and gender equality throughout my life and particularly as UN Secretary-General, I am hugely concerned at the continuously high levels of sexual violence against girls in conflicts worldwide.

These violations have devastating consequences, not only for survivors, their families and communities, but also for those children born of sexual violence who deserve special recognition and support.

As my fellow Elder and Nobel Laureate Doctor Denis Mukwege so rightly says, “survivors of sexual violence have the right to truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition.”

And just as survivors and their children have rights, so Council Members have responsibilities – to ensure these rights are respected and perpetrators are held accountable.

Distinguished Council Members,

Allow me to close by speaking frankly about the architecture of peace and security, at the centre of which the Security Council sits. The system is patently ineffective. It is failing to perform its most fundamental function: upholding peace and security, and protecting innocent lives.

The Council is deadlocked on the conflicts of the day, as some permanent members abuse the veto responsibility granted to them in 1945. Major conflicts rage unabated due to a lack of political will to prioritise resolution.

This September, the Secretary-General will host the Summit of the Future. Specific reforms to the Security Council are finally being examined in intergovernmental negotiations. A formula for reform of the Council that balances increased representation with effectiveness must be found.

I call on all member states, including the Permanent Members of the Council, to seize this opportunity to build a better, safer future for the children of the world. Impunity for those who violate their fundamental rights must end. History will judge your efforts.

Thank you.


Source: The Elders

The UN Security Council must step up to protect children in armed conflict (theelders.org)