Ambassador Robert Wood
Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs
New York, New York
April 28, 2023
Thank you very, very much. I would like to thank everyone for participating in today’s important discussion on the global issue of the abduction and deportation of children during situations of armed conflict. I also thank Dr. Heffes for sharing his expertise this morning. I also want to especially thank the briefers from Ukraine for your incredible determination and moving testimonies.
The urgency of this issue cannot be understated. As we heard today, the forced transfer and deportation of children may constitute an abuse of human rights and a violation of international humanitarian law. The impact of these actions is devastating and long-lasting. It deprives children of their childhood, education, and healthy social development.
One of the primary objectives of this meeting is to foster a better understanding of the extent and impact of forced transfer and deportation of children during armed conflict. It is imperative to acknowledge that these abuses are perpetrated not just by non-state armed groups, but also by state actors themselves, which makes it all the more critical to address them. We need to recognize the role of state actors in these abuses and hold them to account for their actions.
In addition, it is important to highlight those measures that would help to ensure the safe release and return of such children. This includes creating legal frameworks that prioritize the protection of children during armed conflict, building strong child protection mechanisms, including the prevention of family separation, and strengthening accountability measures for those who abduct or forcibly remove and deport children during armed conflict.
Children continue to be abducted by actors during armed conflicts across the world, from Boko Haram in Nigeria to the FARC and ELN in Colombia, from the Houthis in Yemen and to Russia’s forces in Ukraine.
In this context of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s forces have unlawfully deported thousands of Ukraine’s children from Russia-occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation. This includes children who were separated from their parents or removed from orphanages or other institutions and later adopted in Russia. Recent reports document the Russian government’s efforts to sever communication between these children and their relatives in Ukraine, prevent the children’s return to Ukraine, and “re-educate” them. In doing so, the Russian Federation is attempting to rob Ukraine of its future.
The Russian Federation also has refused to provide access and information about the number or whereabouts of these children to the Government of Ukraine or international organizations. The international community cannot ignore the reality that these abuses against Ukraine’s children are the result of decisions made and actions taken at all levels of Russia’s government: federal, regional, and local. Relocated children should be identified to the Government of Ukraine to support family reunification efforts.
It is crucial that the international community take concrete actions to address the abduction, forcible relocation, and deportation of children by armed forces and groups, including through the provision of support to affected communities, the promotion of access to education, and the strengthening of relevant accountability mechanisms.
We must act urgently and collectively to end the abduction and deportation of children during armed conflicts. We owe it to these children to promote their protection, ensure their safety and well-being, and prevent them from being subjected to brutal treatment.