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Making life safer

4 August, 2009

Lisbet PalmeLisbet Palme, a long-standing champion of children’s rights and a member of our Board of Overseers, delivered a summary of the international agreements that should make life easier and more conducive to a healthy development at the European Congress of Psychology. We print it here in full. 

Introduction 1:

The 20th century was extremely brutal with several genocides and hundreds of wars – civil as well as between countries. Wars burden civil society. The common resources meant for development have to be used for emergencies as children, their mothers and other civilians are killed, mutilated and traumatized and suffer from lack of food, clean water and sanitation.

Healthcare and schools are demolished, and landmines are still a threat after peace agreements. Hundreds of thousands of children are forced to be child soldiers. Wars have long lasting impact on the whole environment. Millions of people have to leave their homes. Today some 40 millions are refugees within or outside their countries and more than 40 per cent of these are children. Many children come unaccompanied to other countries. Children are more vulnerable as their bodies and minds are still developing. During war and as refugees their need for love, protection and guidance is jeopardized.

Introduction 2:

Finally in 1989 -twenty years ago- the Berlin wall collapsed and the cold war ended. Apartheid started fading away. Windows opened up and dictatorships were sent out. Children and their future took centre floor when the United Nations General Assembly received the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In September the following year, 1990, the largest gathering of political leaders at that time – assembled at the UN to attend the World Summit organized by UNICEF – The UN for children, a World Declaration and Plan of Action was adopted and in this document the CRC was instrumental.

The political commitments connected to the Declaration and Plan of Action from the Summit for children continued to be basic in UNICEF’s work.

During the last 20 years, 192 countries have ratified the CRC. By ratification the states indicate their wish to better the precondition for children’s survival, protection and development in accordance with the CRC, as a legal binding instrument (only Somalia and USA have not yet ratified).

A committee was founded according to article 43 in the CRCR. It reads: “For the purpose of examining the progress made by state parties in achieving the realization of the obligations undertaken in the present convention, there shall be established a committee on the Rights of the Child, which shall carry out the functions hereinafter provided”.

And as is said in art 45 c:
“The committee may recommend to the GA [General Assembly]  to request the SG to undertake on its behalf studies our specific issues relating to the rights of the child. “

The first “General Discussion” at the CRC concerned “Children in armed conflict” Article 38 September 91. The committee decided to recommend the GA to request the UN SG to undertake a study “on ways and means to improving the protection of children from the adverse affect of armed conflict”. Mrs Graca Machel was appointed to make the study and she reported to the GA in August 1996. This study was a groundbreaking and a major step forward in finding facts about the complex situations for children under armed conflict as in the modern war the civilians are the main victims, up to 90 per cent in some conflicts. One hundred years ago it was the opposite; 10 per cent civilians and 90 per cent soldiers.

Graca Machel found that:
•    Children were killed, maimed and traumatized.
•    Many lost their parents, siblings and relatives.
•    They lost the normal access to food, clean water and shelter.
•    Their healthcare and schools were demolished.
•    They were recruited as child soldiers.
•    Landmines continued to kill maime and traumatize even after peace-agreements.
•    Children were raped and gravely sexually abused including HIV/AIDS contamination.
•    Children were abducted
•    Children were denied humanitarian access
•    The warfare polluted the ground and destroyed the crops and harvest
•    Living as a refugee as millions of children were forced to do, strained them and their families enormously.

Graca Machel said that “most wars last a childhood!” She made a review where she also emphasized that much more is known about the ways in which small arms and lights weapons destroy children’s lives. After Graca Machel first study a special representative to the SG for children and armed conflict was appointed and in 2006 Ms Radhika Coomarashwamy replaced the first representative. The report she made in March this year which was presented to the Security Council in April is a shocking reading mentioning the many tragedies going on around the globe.

I will now reflect on some of the important international commitments in order to better children lives. Parallel to the study of children under armed conflict the International Labour Organization ILO adopted in 1999 a convention NO 182 on prohibition and immediate action for elimination of the worst forms of child labour which prohibits forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict. Soon after this ILO convention was unanimously adopted 1999 an optional protocol for the CRC was opened for signature May 2000 and into force February 2002.

In a UN working group members had been concerned of that even according to the CRC boys could be recruited as young as 15 years of age into armed forces.
The group was aware of the necessity to take into consideration the economic, social and political roof causes of the involvement of children in armed conflicts.

And in the new formulations in the protocol article 1 reads:
“State parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that members of the armed forces who have not attained the age of 18 years do not take a direct part in hostilities and in article 2 state parties shall ensure that persons who have not attained the age of 18 years are not compulsorily recruited into their armed forces”.

During these last 20 years initiatives to stop some of the most gruesome warfare have been successful. Following an international campaign against anti-personal landmines governments agreed in Ottawa 1997 on a draft Convention on the Prohibition of use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personal mines and their destruction. 1999 the Convention came formally into effect.
The so-called Ottawa process indicates the possibilities to change part of the war paradigm and it created hope.

Last year in December the convention on Cluster Munition was opened for signature in Oslo. 94 states have signed, only eight have ratified – Norway is one of them.

These two conventions are building blocks in the peace process. Another block concerns protection for war crimes. The Rome Statute of International Criminal Court was adopted July 1998. These statutes also concerns children, conscripting  or enlisting children into national armed forces or using them under the age of 15 to participate actively in hostilities in international armed conflicts are defined as war crime according to UNICEF’s excellent implementation handbook for the convention on the Rights of the child. The International Criminal Court  had by 2006 arrest warrants for several commanders of armed groups for war crime of recruiting children in hostilities.
The growing knowledge about children’s plight resulted in a resolution 1612 adopted by UN General Assembly in July 2005. The SG was requested to implement without delay about the monitoring and reporting mechanism in close consultation with countries concerned, to parties in situation of armed conflict.

It was decided to establish a working group of the Security Council consisting of all members of the council to review progress according to mechanism I mentioned.
The working group shall as I stated in the resolution

a)    “Make recommendations to the council on possible measures to promote the protection of children affected by armed conflict, including through recommendations on appropriate mandates for peace keeping missions and recommendations with respect to the parties to the conflict.”
b)    “Address request, as appropriate, to other bodies within the UN system for action to support implementation of this resolution in accordance with their respective mandates.”

This fact states in a concrete way how to act during the brutal warfare in order to protect children. In June 2008- a year ago- the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1820 concerning sexual violence under armed conflict. The Security Council demanded the immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians with immediate effect. It is noted in the resolution that rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, or a constitutive act with respect to genocide.

Conventions and resolutions taken by international community, the UN, are not always respected by the warrant parties. According to the resolution 1325 (year 2000) woman should participate in the peace building process and also part of the peace negotiations activities. But very few are invited to do so. And children who constitute some 40 per cent of victims of war and of the refugees have no representation at all in negotiations. However, step by step the paradigm of war is changed. But it is an extremely slow motion. The Via Dolorosa seems everlasting. Many human beings are giving up, others persist in trying to reach out to the war affected.

I now give the floor to Magne Raundalen who together with colleagues and students at the Center for Crisis Psychology in Bergen here in Norway have developed ways and means to reach out to the traumatized children who by the hundreds of thousands around the globe are hit by war. He has dared to listen to children horrendous stories with respect for their grief and anger. He has seen the dignity of the child who lost all the loved ones in the relentless war.