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Your Excellency Mr. Philippe Goffin, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defence of the Kingdom of Belgium,
Your Excellency Ambassador Magnus Lennartsson, Chargé d’affaires a.i., Sweden,
Distinguished members of the panel,
Excellencies, ladies in gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here today to present and launch the “Practical guidance for mediators to protect children in situations of armed conflict” developed by my Office in close collaboration with the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, the Department of Peace Operations and UNICEF through an extensive consultation at all levels with key mediation and child protection experts that lasted about 18 months.
To echo what the Secretary-General highlighted this morning, children continue to be among the primary and most vulnerable victims of immensely sad, unnecessary and horrific wars which they are unable to prevent or control and from which they have no means to protect themselves. We know very well that, if left unaddressed, these violations against children’s wellbeing and dignity have lasting negative consequences on their young lives. Furthermore, the occurrence of these violations are a threat for sustainable peace and reconciliation as they feed grievances and frustrations that can lead to protracted violence, having a major negative impact on the achievement of peace and security globally.
As Security Council Resolution 2427 (2018) stated, the protection of children should be given primary consideration from the early stages of all peace processes, with a strong emphasis on bringing to the table all actions which are in the best interest of the child such as stopping their recruitment and use, ensuring adequate treatment of children separated from armed groups, remembering that they are first and foremost the victims of conflict and generating all actions that can assist recovery of the children, their families and their communities thus ensuring lasting reintegration and peace.
I recently returned from South Sudan, where I witnessed the signature, on 7 February, of a comprehensive joint action plan between the United Nations and the South Sudanese Defence Forces, the SPLA in Opposition and the South Sudan Opposition Alliance. This plan is remarkable for several reasons but principally because all listed parties both governmental and parties in opposition signed it committing themselves to stopping and preventing all six of the grave violations in the Children and Armed Conflict Agenda. Furthermore, parties to the conflict with no listed violations also committed themselves to their prevention. What is truly extraordinary is that this commitment occurred before, and not after, the establishment of a final governance reform in South Sudan which is set to occur later this month. I am deeply convinced that this action plan, unique in its type, is a good example of the potential that bringing children issues to peace processes have as confidence building measures and as vehicles for dialogue on the road to lasting peace.
This brings us to the subject at hand. Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
The protection of children and the prevention of violations against them should and must be prioritised in mediation and peacebuilding efforts to ensure long-lasting and sustainable peace in countries affected by armed conflict. This voluntary practical guidance aims to provide tools for mediators and other parties involved in peace processes to achieve this goal. It is applicable to international mediators as well as national dialogue participants from all parties to a conflict.
One of the findings of the consultative process carried out for the development of the guidance was that during peace discussions, child protection issues are mostly addressed in an ad-hoc manner as priorities identified by parties to conflict and through the support of mediators. Most of peace dialogues are not necessarily focused on children and this needs to change. The protection of children must be put at the core of all peacebuilding and mediation efforts not only because this is a good entry point for all items to be negotiated but also because in securing them we protect children immediately and prevent their use and abuse in future. Children are and should be the pillar upon which sustainable peace, justice and reconciliation are built.
In some situations, it is much easier to tackle issues related to the protection of children as opposed to other priorities identified by negotiating parties. Engaging on issues related to the protection of children in armed conflict may open the doors to address other priorities that negotiating parties want to consider in the framework of a peace process, including on governance, and security sector reform, among others.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
Looking ahead, it is important that each one of us here commits to ensuring this guidance is not only disseminated widely, but also implemented. This tool is not aimed to be an UN-centred document, it targets Member States to support them in putting children at the centre of initiatives aimed at preventing and ending conflicts but it is also useful as a tool to all parties of conflict in national dialogues of peace and on regional attempts at the construction of peace. By identifying best practices for the integration of child protection issues into peace processes, this practical guidance will support prevention and mediation efforts by the United Nations, by regional, sub-regional, national and local actors including all parties to conflict and all conflict affected communities.
By the end of this year, I hope to be able to organize at least one regional workshop with national and regional counterparts to develop implementation plans out of this guidance adapted to the relevant context or contexts.
To conclude, I strongly encourage Member States, regional and sub-regional organizations, mediators, parties to conflict and other actors involved in peace processes to make full use of this practical guidance. It is of utmost importance that all of us here commit to make good use of this new tool and to circulate it widely, so as to achieve the greatest possible impact for the protection of all children affected by armed conflict globally, to prevent children from use and abuse in, for and by conflict and to ensure children will be empowered to be active agents of change for peace nationally, regionally and globally.