New UN Security Council resolution protects children by expanding criteria for parties to conflict

09:24, July 13, 2011      

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by Rebekah Mintzer

The UN Security Council passed a resolution here Tuesday that called for all parties to conflict that attack schools and hospitals to be added to the list published annually by the United Nations of those who commit grave violations against children.

The 15-member Council adopted resolution 1998 unanimously at the start of an open debate on children and armed conflict.

"Today's resolution marks another important step on our long way towards ending violence against children," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who chaired the open debate, as his country holds the Security Council presidency for July and served as sponsor of the resolution.

"Among other things, it bans 'attacks on schools and hospitals' and lists those who perpetrate terrible acts like this, on a 'list of shame'," said Westerwelle.

Anthony Lake, executive director of the UN Fund for Children ( UNICEF), who spoke at the open debate said that attacks on schools and hospitals are "alarmingly common" in many countries experiencing conflict.

The destruction of schools deprives children of education and skills that could help raise them out of poverty, perpetuating a cycle of poverty, despair, and conflict, Lake explained.

"The human costs of these attacks are beyond statistical calculation," he said. "The economic costs are also very high, forcing communities to rebuild schools and replace stolen supplies and equipment when conflicts come to an end -- a cost most can little afford, few budgets provide for, and humanitarian aid rarely covers."

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the secretary-general's special representative for children and armed conflict said that attacks on hospitals deprive children of a vital resource.

"These are two-fold atrocities," she said. "Not only do such attacks kill and wound girls and boys, but they also leave them without access to treatment."

Coomaraswamy and Lake both welcomed resolution 1998.

"We hope that this will spur governments and other groups to do more to prevent attacks on schools and hospitals -- defining concrete plans to end those violations," Lake said. "And when they will not, creating clearer links to sanctions committees will strengthen this Council's ability to take action. For impunity is as intolerable in a civilized society as justice is indispensable. "

Coomaraswamy said that the resolution gives "concrete impetus of action on the ground" to protect schools and hospitals, in addition to reaffirming "the need for enhanced monitoring and reporting of incidents where there are violations that deprive children of their right to go to school or to be treated in hospitals."

The Security Council has passed eight resolutions on children and armed conflict since 1998, according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who spoke at open debate. He praised the council for its growing attention to children and armed conflict as well as its actions in this area.

"It has sent a consistent and clear message: protecting children in armed conflict is a peace and security issue, and the international community will not tolerate grave violations of this principle," Ban said.

The secretary-general also told the council that progress has been made in protecting children around the world, thanks to their solidarity as well as the contributions of the UN system, national governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and civil society.

"These efforts -- and the action plan concept laid out in Security Council resolution 1539 and later resolutions -- have led to the signing of 15 action plans covering nine conflict areas," he said. "Two more action plans are expected this year."

Resolution 1539, passed in 2004, called on parties to conflicts to create action plans on the subject of how to eliminate violations of the rights of children in armed conflict.

"These successes alone show the value of 'naming and shaming,'" said Ban.

According to Ban, last year alone, around 10,000 children associated with armed groups were released.

"We must now secure longer term international support for their full reintegration back into their communities. This is an essential component of peacebuilding and development," he said.

Westerwelle said that the will to help children impacted by armed conflict, as displayed in the Security Council on Tuesday, exists on an international scale.

"There is a wide consensus in the international community to protect children," he said. "Because children are very often the first victims of violence and conflict, we must do what we can to protect them."

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