Monday, July 28, 2014

UN Security Council Addresses Children and Armed Conflict

On 12 July the UN Security Council convened an open debate on Children and Armed Conflict. Secretary-General H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-Moon opened the meeting, followed by remarks by Mr. Anthony Lake, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund, and Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.  The meeting was presided over by the Foreign Minister of Germany, H.E. Mr. Guido Westerwelle.

H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Afghanistan, contrasted ongoing improvements in the living conditions of children in Afghanistan with the alarming recent escalation in violence against civilians and children in particular. He pointed out that terrorist attacks indiscriminately targeting women and children, such as recent school and hospital bombings. Ambassador Tanin condemned such “deplorable” and “heinous” attacks, particularly those involving child suicide bombers.

“A child’s vulnerability, from knowing nothing outside of a war-torn existence, is not up for exploitation in war;” he stated, “a child’s innocence is not fair game for fighting strategy; and most importantly, a child’s body is not a weapon for war, by the standards of the constitution of Afghanistan or by international law.”

On the other hand, while many Afghan children are living in poverty, Ambassador Tanin explained, many more – especially girls – are going to school for the first time ever, and almost all have access to basic healthcare services.

Ambassador Tanin reiterated the Afghan Government’s commitment to protecting children through their National Action Plan and other measures. He went on to assert that children in Afghanistan need and deserve “an environment free of indiscriminate violence to pursue their full potentials,” and according to Ambassador Tanin, the Afghan Government and the international community are responsible for ensuring one.

Other speakers in the debate echoed this unwavering support for the protection of children’s lives and rights. These speakers included Foreign Minister of Columbia, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, The Minister of Justice of South Africa, and the Deputy Foreign Minister of Portugal. Other Council Members and Non-Council Members also expressed their concerns about children in armed conflict, violations of children’s rights, child soldiers, and attacks on schools and hospitals.

Security Council debate on Children And Armed Conflict

Statement By H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin

Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the United Nations

At the Security Council debate

on

Children And Armed Conflict

12 July 2011

New York

Mr. President,

I thank you for convening today’s debate, which offers us all an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to ensuring the protection of the security, rights, and well-being of children in armed conflicts. I also wish to extend my appreciation to Mr. Anthony Lake, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund, and Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary General, for their remarks.

Mr. President,

The legacy of war and violence has left a devastating impact in my country. Violence still takes its toll on everyday life. It happened today in Kandahar.  As President Karzai stated after the loss of his brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the head of Kandahar Provincial Council, “This is the life of all Afghan people; I hope these miseries which every Afghan family faces will one day end.” Sadly, such miseries are ongoing and this includes children. Children continue to bear the brunt of conflict in Afghanistan. They are among the growing number of civilian casualties; and their ability to live safe, healthy and prosperous lives remains in jeopardy.

There is no war zone in Afghanistan; there are no front lines. Violent attacks take place in our villages, markets and public streets, and put Afghan children at risk as they attempt to live normal lives. Forty-four percent of all child-casualties are caused by IED explosions and suicide attacks, which are increasingly intended for soft targets such as civilian roads, schools, and health clinics.  Children, women and other vulnerable groups are the prime victims of such attacks.

Mr. President,

The Government of Afghanistan is committed to fulfilling its responsibility to protect the rights of all children and to addressing violations of children’s rights.  We have initiated a number of important steps, including the launch of an Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee, mandated to develop and implement our National Action Plan, which seeks to prevent the recruitment and use of children in our national security forces, and address all forms of violence against children. Our efforts are geared towards meeting our obligations for child protection.

We are working closely with the UN Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting, and the Security Council Working Group on Child Protection to protect children’s rights to security, education and health care. I take the opportunity to welcome the working group’s recent visit to Afghanistan, led by Ambassador Wittig, during which important discussions were held with relevant government entities to enhance progress in the lives of Afghan children.

Mr. President,

We all must address the disturbing rise in child-suicide bombers employed by extremist militant groups. Recent reports of terrorist networks training and selling children to militant groups for suicide bombings are gross violations of children’s rights in all countries.

A child’s vulnerability, from knowing nothing outside of a war-torn existence, is not up for exploitation in war; a child’s innocence is not fair game for fighting strategy; and most importantly, a child’s body is not a weapon for war, by the standards of the constitution of Afghanistan or by international law. The use of these children in suicide attacks is a heinous crime which must be addressed with firm conviction.

By the same token, Mr. President, we believe it is essential to avoid equating the Afghan government with the terrorists when considering the challenges facing Afghan children. Attacks against children, and violations of their fundamental rights are the work of those who are continuing their campaign against peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Mr. President,

Violence against children through sexual, physical and domestic abuse is an abomination and against national law. Sexual violence, including pederasty in its local form, which is widely sensationalized in media reports, is a crime that incurs serious punishments under the Afghan legal system. Though such problems are not unique to Afghanistan, we are taking all necessary steps to stop this illegal, un-Islamic, and immoral practice.

Mr. President,

The widespread poverty afflicting the country is also a threat to the safety and security of Afghanistan’s children. Over seven million Afghan children are living under the poverty line. Poverty plunges underage children into the labor force in both Afghanistan’s cities and the countryside. Their struggle to be bread-winners deprives many children of the opportunities to pursue an education and build a brighter future.

In the face of these challenges, we should not lose sight of the progress made thus far.  To date, more than seven millions boys and girls are enrolled in schools, investing in their futures.  We have constructed more than 4,000 schools across the country; we predict to have nine million children enrolled in schools by 2020; and in a country where practically no girls received education just ten years ago, over 40 percent of these new students will be girls. Additionally, the great majority of Afghanistan’s population has access to basic health-care, showing great improvement over the last ten years.

Nevertheless, Mr. President, we have yet to overcome our challenges. We look forward to our continued partnership with the international community to improve security, and ensure prosperity in the lives and futures of Afghan children. Our international partnerships will remain intact throughout transition as the Afghan Government is beginning to assume its leadership role; therefore, we are not alone in our successes, nor are we alone in our failures. We share responsibility for the security of children in Afghanistan, who need and deserve an environment free of indiscriminate violence to pursue their full potential.

I thank you.