Moving the “Children and Armed Conflict” Agenda Forward

Approximately 250,000 children are fighting as soldiers around the world, and scores are killed or injured in conflicts like the one happening in Syria right now. The recruitment and use of child soldiers, sexual violence, maiming, and killing are just some of the egregious crimes committed against children in conflict that members of the UN Security Council will have in mind today as they hold their annual Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict.

While the inclusion of this issue on the Security Council’s agenda in the last decade has been a vital step toward protecting children during conflict, the council could take specific steps today to address the many challenges that remain.

This was the view expressed by grassroots child protection organizations last Monday at an event co-organized by Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict and the International Peace Institute. Reflecting on the progress made thus far, these actors proposed that the Security Council strengthen the UN’s Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism and focus on fighting impunity.

The Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM), which was formalized in 2005 by Security Council Resolution 1612, has had a fundamental importance in the field for local organizations as a structuring framework. Besides the implementation of action plans—concrete, time-bound commitments by parties to a conflict to halt violations of children’s rights, which are central to the MRM—this mechanism gave a strong framework under which local NGOs could strengthen their capacities, document in a consistent and systematic manner child rights’ violations, and structure local advocacy work while amplifying local voices at the global level.

Despite these advances, grassroots child protection actors agreed unanimously that shortcomings remain when it comes to addressing impunity and strengthening the accountability of armed actors. While demobilization of hundreds of child soldiers is an achievement, the risk remains that more will be recruited tomorrow if perpetrators of violations are not sanctioned for their wrongdoings. Yet, the reality is that, despite the many very positive aspects of the MRM, perpetrators are rarely brought to account for their crimes.

The roundtable discussion at IPI offered a forum, in the run up to today’s open debate, for some authoritative voices—grassroots organizations that are involved on a daily basis in protecting children from the effects of conflict—to explain why the “Children and Armed Conflict” agenda is of paramount importance and to point out some of the remaining challenges.

Member states participating in the Security Council’s debate should keep in mind two key points that came out of the discussion:

  • The Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism established by the Security Council must be maintained, protected, and further strengthened, not least because it empowers local actors to better protect children.
  • Member states and, in the first place, members of the UN Security Council must be firmer on the question of accountability, as fighting impunity is necessary to ensure that violations will not recur. The Security Council could, for instance, call upon states in which violations of children’s rights have been reported to ensure that such violations are criminalized in domestic law and are prosecuted by national jurisdictions. It is encouraging to hear in that regard that accountability is a current focus of the UN Security Council and that a resolution that looks at accountability, among other areas, should be adopted as an outcome to the Open Debate.

However, it should be kept in mind that the MRM has some limitations, some that are linked to its very nature. As Ambassador De La Sablière—the former French permanent representative to the United Nations in New York, who has been instrumental in shaping this mechanism—put it in a recent report: “The approach of dialogue with Governments has succeeded,” but “the system put in place by resolution 1612 has failed, with eleven exceptions, to convince most of these non-state actors.”

This comment relates particularly to situations where action plans could not be agreed with nonstate armed groups because of the reluctance of the concerned states to allow contact with these groups. In such contexts, one might have to look at alternatives to action plans to engage these armed groups and consider the comparative advantages of other child protection actors operating beyond the MRM framework.

Jérémie Labbé is a Senior Policy Analyst, and Marie O’Reilly is the Publications Officer at the International Peace Institute.