21 February 2018, New York – Statement on behalf of the European Union and its Member States delivered by Ambassador Joanne Adamson, Deputy Head of the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations, at the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly: OPAC Turns 18
– Check against delivery –
I have the honour of speaking on behalf of the European Union and its Member States. I would like to thank the co-hosts for organising today’s event — Child Soldiers International, UNICEF, Belgium, France, Canada, Colombia and Sierra Leone.
Children in conflict situations continue to face gross violations of their human rights. Child soldiers are vulnerable victims, forced into combat and exposed to high levels of violence. They are often rejected when they finally manage to return to their communities. While there has been some significant progress in recent years, the Secretary-General’s latest annual report on Children and Armed Conflict highlighted a considerable increase in the recruitment and use of children in a number of conflict situations.
The adoption in 2000 of the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC) was a crucial development in strengthening the legal framework for the protection of children. It has now been ratified by 167 States, including all EU Member States, and the EU is committed to its universal ratification and full implementation.
Indeed, the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy (2015-2019) includes a specific commitment for the EU to promote the ratification of OPAC, and I take this opportunity to encourage all States who have not yet done so to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol.
All EU Member States have endorsed the Paris Principles and Guidelines on Children associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups, and the Paris Commitments to Protect Children Unlawfully Recruited or Used by Armed Forces or Armed Groups. The Paris Principles and Commitments, now endorsed by 108 States, provide crucial guidance on the sustainable demobilisation and reintegration of child soldiers. We welcome the launch in November of the Vancouver Principles on Peacekeeping and the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers, which build on the existing framework and have already been endorsed by 58 States.
We gathered together in February last year to mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption by the General Assembly of Resolution 51/77, which created the mandate on children and armed conflict. The EU remains a strong supporter of the CAAC mandate and of SRSG Virginia Gamba, and we welcome the renewal of her mandate in the Rights of the Child resolution that was adopted by the General Assembly in December.
The vital work of the SRSG, UNICEF, and other actors, has resulted in significant progress in recent years. Since 2000, more than 115 000 child soldiers have been released, 29 Action Plans have been signed with parties to conflict, and the Security Council has adopted 11 resolutions on children and armed conflict. Just two weeks ago, we saw the release of 300 children by armed groups in South Sudan.
The EU is committed to supporting these efforts. In 2003, the EU first adopted Guidelines on Children in Armed Conflict, which were later updated and supplemented by an implementation strategy. EU-funded projects provide vital assistance to children associated with armed forces and groups, and children impacted by armed violence, in a range of conflict situations including in Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Sudan, the Syrian Crisis, Ukraine and Yemen. EU projects support efforts to prevent recruitment and use, to secure the release of child soldiers, and to ensure their comprehensive and successful reintegration through long-term interventions.
Education is key to preventing the recruitment and use of children by armed forces and groups. The EU’s commitment to education in emergencies reached 6% of its humanitarian aid budget in 2017, and will increase to 8% this year, far above the global average. EU humanitarian funding has supported the education of over 4.7 million children in 50 countries.
Girls are significantly affected by recruitment and use of armed forces and groups, with some estimates indicating that as many as 40 per cent of children associated with armed forces or armed groups are female. The EU seeks to ensure that the specific obstacles to the education of girls in emergencies are fully taken into account in its activities and programming. Girls should no longer constitute the invisible side of reintegration programs.
Finally, it is important to ensure that the recruiters of children in armed forces and groups are held accountable for their acts and face justice. We must expand our efforts to develop robust justice systems, aligned with international standards, in all countries, so as to protect children and prevent violations of their rights.
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