The civilian populations are the first victims of contemporary armed conflicts. Over the course of the past decade, wars will have cost the lives of two million children and mutilated six million children. Many of them have been victims of sexual violence. Twenty-three million children are refugees or victims of forced displacement, often separated from their families or orphans. Each year, 10,000 children are victims of antipersonnel mines. Worldwide, there are more than 250,000 child soldiers at the heart of modern wars.
1- The issue
Instruments for the protection of children in armed conflicts
A report submitted by Ms. Graça Machel (“Impact of Armed Conflict on Children”) to the Secretary-General of the United Nations in 1996 alerted the international community to the need to protect children in armed conflicts - child soldiers in particular.
France has worked hard to develop an arsenal of standards to protect children in war. In addition to the provisions of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their additional protocols of 1977 protecting civilians, there is the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), which prohibits the enlistment of children under the age of 15, and especially its additional protocol on the protection of children in armed conflicts (2000), which sets the minimum age for recruitment at 18. This protocol, which came into force in 2002, has been signed to date by 122 States and ratified by 110 States. Finally, the Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998) describes the use of children under the age of 15 in conflicts, the intentional attack of hospitals and schools, and the use of sexual violence as intimidation as war crimes.
A party to all of these instruments, France ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in February 2003. The international community is now working principally to apply these standards. Specifically, international institutions are trying to improve the protection of children and are working to demobilize them as well as to rehabilitate them psychologically and socially. UNICEF plays a leading role in this work and is coordinating with other United Nations agencies and programmes and NGOs. In addition, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers created in 1998 brings together leading humanitarian and human rights advocacy organizations.
The issue of children associated with armed groups and forces
Child soldiers are boys and girls under the age of 18, who are enlisted either voluntarily or forcibly in an armed force (government armed forces or armed group), regardless of the role they play (combatants, scouts, spys, servants, sex slaves). Direct participation in hostilities or the use of a weapon by the child are not determining factors and girls used as sex slaves or subjected to forced marriages within an armed force are considered to be child soldiers. This is the reason people talk today about children associated with armed groups and forces. The strategies to prevent their enlistment were established for the first time in April 1997, in the Cape Town Principles, during a conference in South Africa bringing together UNICEF and several NGOs. On 26 October 2006, the Secretary-General of the United Nations presented a report on children in armed conflicts in which he listed the countries where children are recruited by armed forces or groups.
Girls are recruited for dual purposes - as children, and because they are female - by rebel groups more so than by regular armies. In some armed groups, the proportion of girls can reach 40%. Sexual violence against women and girls is a systematic aspect of modern conflicts. They are used as sex slaves as well as combatants, human bombs and servants.
The difficult return to civilian life: demobilization and reintegration programmes
Whether they were “volunteers” or kidnapped to be enlisted by force in various functions, these boys and girls have in turn been witnesses to violence, both as butchers and victims. Without reintegration, these children may contribute to the collapse and recurrence of conflicts, as well as slowing the development of their country. For a long time, the demobilization of child soldiers has been a disorganized process. The Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration (DDR) programmes - a fundamental tool to get children out of these conflicts - face a dual challenge: to get children out of the armed groups and take care of them, and to support children in their return to civilian life. Reintegration into the family and society often presents difficulties related to the duration of the distance, the violence committed or suffered, and rejection of authority.
2- French actions
France plays a leading role in both the United Nations and the European Union.
Actions within the United Nations
France is conducting cutting-edge actions in the framework of the Security Council and, since its creation in November 2005, has presided over the Security Council working group on children and armed conflicts. At France’s instigation, the Security Council has placed the issue of children in armed conflicts on its agenda since 1999 and has unanimously adopted a series of resolutions that aim to progressively increase the pressure of the international community on perpetrators of children’s rights violations. France believes that the Security Council must be prepared to adopt concrete measures targeting parties that would refuse to cooperate with the United Nations to liberate all child soldiers.
Moreover, in 1997, the United Nations established a Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflicts (Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy has held this position since 2006), who reports to the United National General Assembly, to the Human Rights Council and the Security Council. The mission of the Special Representative is geared toward raising the awareness of players, mediating with the parties involved in the conflicts and coordinating actions. Since 2001, the reports submitted by the Special Representative have included, at the request of the Security Council, an appended “black list” of the countries and armed groups that make use of child soldiers.
In order to increase the visibility of actions to help children in armed conflicts, France is organizing a ministerial conference with UNICEF in Paris on 5-6 February 2007. This conference will be the opportunity to present the new “Paris Principles”, which will serve as the basis for formulating programmes and adopting an exhaustive reference frame identifying good practices for preventing, liberating and reintegrating children associated with armed groups and forces. Furthermore, it will make it possible to bring together as many States as possible represented at the conference around the adoption of a final declaration called the “Paris Commitments”.
UN Security Council resolutions on children in armed conflicts
Since 1999, the UN Security Council has adopted six major resolutions aiming to fight the phenomenon of child soldiers. France originated three of them (1379, 1539 and 1612). Resolutions 1261 (1999) and 1314 (2000) initiate the commitment of the Security Council with regard to this issue by condemning the recruitment of children and inviting the States to sign the additional protocol on the participation of children in armed conflicts.
In resolution 1379 (2001), the Security Council asks the Secretary-General to present it annually with a “black list” of the parties involved in an armed conflict recruiting or using child soldiers: it is both a way to bring the attention of the international community to flagrant abuses and an instrument for development programmes. The first such list was submitted to the Security Council in 2003 and targeted 23 countries. In addition, resolution 1379 calls on international financial and development institutions to support rehabilitation, demobilization and reintegration actions.
Resolution 1460 (2003) makes this list a long-term action and extends its scope by setting the stage for targeted sanctions against the perpetrators. It also provides for the more systematic integration of the protection of children in peacekeeping operations. Resolution 1539 of 22 April 2004, initiated by France, takes up this acquis and aims at a more effective implementation of the existing standards by establishing a monitoring mechanism. The United Nations players present in the field will be responsible for assessing the progress made by the forces or groups included in the first part of the “black list”, so that the Security Council can take possible measures against them on the basis of reliable, accurate information. Sanctions are provided for in the event of non-cooperation. Finally, the resolution encourages regional organizations, such as ECOWAS and the EU, to act to protect children in armed conflicts.
Resolution 1612 of 26 July 2005, filed by Benin and France, stipulates, in addition to the establishment of the surveillance mechanism, the creation of a Security Council working group tasked with the issue of children in armed conflicts. First, the monitoring mechanism reviews the conflicts involving children on the Security Council’s agenda. A public meeting of the United Nations Security Council was held, under the presidency of France, in New York on 24 July 2006, on the topic of children in armed conflicts. This meeting, presided over by Ambassador Jean-Marc Rochereau de la Sablière, France’s Permanent Representative to the Security Council, made it possible to give political impetus to the process initiated by the Security Council on these issues, in accordance with Resolution 1612. At the conclusion of this debate, a presidential declaration was adopted, in which the Member States reassert their support for the Working Group and renew their commitment to cooperate extensively on the subject. At this time, France announced a new contribution of 5 million euros to UNICEF, thereby showing its effective support for the action of the United Nations with regard to child soldiers.
Actions of the European Union
France plays an active role in the European Union’s action plan. On 8 December 2003, the European Union adopted guidelines on children in armed conflicts. In order to implement these guidelines, on 9 December 2004, the EU adopted an action plan on children in armed conflicts concentrating on 13 countries that are especially affected, including Uganda and Burundi. The EU Member States are called on to set up joint cooperation projects in these countries.
The EU action plan
On 8 December 2003, after consulting with the special rapporteur, UNICEF and NGOs, the European Union adopted guidelines on children in armed conflicts. They demonstrate the EU’s commitment to acquire a wide range of tools to encourage the protection of children: political measures, taking into consideration the issue of children in armed conflicts in all foreign relations and crisis management, in particular in peace operations.
This subject is also taken into consideration in the framework of humanitarian programmes operated by ECHO, disarmament programmes concerning small arms and antipersonnel mines, programmes for displaced persons, as well as cooperation programmes (in particular the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights).
The guidelines resulted in the adoption on 9 December 2004 of an EU action plan on children in armed conflicts, which aims to give them a more practical expression. Specifically, this plan aims to promote better coordination of the cooperation actions of Member States and the Commission in the countries concerned. The Member States are asked to coordinate their cooperation actions under the leadership of “head countries” in a choice of five areas: education, recruitment prevention and demobilization, sexual violence prevention, humanitarian assistance, and protection.
In this framework, in 2005, the EU took steps to raise awareness in Côte d’Ivoire, Burundi, Sudan and Liberia. The embassies of EU Member States in Nepal also proposed a local action plan. The EU will evaluate the implementation of the guidelines and action plan at the end of 2007?
French cooperation actions
France devotes a portion of its Official Development Assistance to the issue of children in armed conflicts and reinforces its cooperation with UNICEF, the UNHCR and the NGOs most directly concerned.
In 2006, France increased its contribution to UNICEF by 20 %, to reach 13.8 million euros. In this context, France supports the UNICEF INNOCENTI Centre (in Florence), which works on reintegrating children involved in armed conflicts, girls in particular, and is preparing a guide on the participation and protection of children who are victims or witnesses in the framework of international justice mechanisms (in collaboration with the ICC). This contribution also finances a specific multi-year programme, “West Africa and the Great Lakes Region”, implemented by the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development. France’s support of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers increased 66% in 2006, to reach 50,000 euros. In support of Security Council resolutions, in 2005 France contributed for the Department of Peace-Keeping Operations (DPKO) to carry out an evaluation of the child protection advisor network in the framework of operations selected by the Council
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