Thank you, Mr. President.
I would like to begin by thanking Foreign Minister Le Drian of France for being here to chair today’s discussion on children and armed conflict, and I’d also like to thank UN Secretary-General Guterres and Special Representative Gamba for their briefings and their work on this issue, as well as our guest briefer, Mr. Shaikh, for his important and unique perspective.
We should all be disturbed by the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict this year. The report shows that in conflicts around the world, children are being killed and maimed, abducted, and attacked in schools and hospitals, recruited to fight, sexually abused, and denied humanitarian aid – by state and non-state actors alike. All parties to armed conflict should share the goal of protecting children from violence, and yet, all too often, violations and abuses of international law affecting children in armed conflict are rampant.
Of particular concern to the United States is the scale and gravity of such violations and abuses against children by terrorist organizations including the Taliban, ISIS, Boko Haram, and al-Shabaab. These groups are responsible for many of the most barbaric attacks, committing over 6,800 violations and abuses against children, as documented by the UN.
South Sudan also remains a major cause for concern. The number of children who have been recruited by armed groups is around 17,000 – coincidentally about the same number of staff as the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan. Ambassador Haley just returned from that country, where she issued a stern warning to President Kiir: “The hate and the violence that we are seeing has to stop.” She also told President Kiir during their meeting that he could not deny the actions of his military, whether it was related to violence or rape or child soldiers. Sexual violence against girls and boys in particular, including mass gang rape, has intensified, even in parts of the country that were once deemed safe for them. The UN and this Council should bring all of our influence and tools to bear to ensure that all parties to the conflict in South Sudan immediately end committing all violations and abuses against children.
This month Ambassador Haley also visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC, where she witnessed the plight of children caught in the cross-fire of conflict firsthand. The DRC, which has never witnessed a democratic, peaceful transfer of power, has been plagued by dozens of armed groups vying for power and control, with rape used as a weapon of war and children recruited as soldiers. As reported by the Secretary-General, recruitment and use of children by non-state actors in DRC remains rampant, and child causalities in DRC are up by 75 percent as compared to 2015. And sexual violence as a weapon of war is endemic, with more than 60 percent of survivors in DRC being children. Every day, displaced women and girls in DRC fear being assaulted and their children abducted. This must end.
As Ambassador Haley emphasized on her recent trip, “We cannot turn a blind eye to all of this. No one should live like this.” To better help children victimized by armed conflict, the United States would like to emphasize three points.
First, we need to demand that all parties to a conflict – including state actors – fulfill their obligations under international law that bear on the protection of children. These obligations include avoiding the unlawful recruitment of children. All of us must do more to make sure parties to conflicts understand these responsibilities and fulfill them.
Second, when parties to conflict fail to comply with these obligations that bear on the protection of children in conflict, we must hold them accountable. Atrocities committed by the Assad regime – enabled by Iran, Hizballah, and Russia – show what happens when this Council fails to demand accountability. In 2016, the Assad regime slaughtered thousands of civilians in Aleppo and gassed its own people using banned chemical weapons. Schools and hospitals have been repeatedly attacked. The immediate and long-term impact on children in Syria of these atrocities is impossible to calculate. We must not stop pushing to bring the perpetrators of these acts to justice and to get help to the civilians who need it.
Similarly, in Yemen, the Houthis, Al-Qa’ida, and militias on all sides reportedly continue to recruit children in spite of our numerous demands to stop. The Yemeni government must also urgently take further steps to stop any unlawful recruitment of children in its ranks.
All parties to the conflict in Yemen need to do more to ensure the protection of civilians.
Third, the UN, humanitarian partners, and Member States should do more to focus on what happens to children after they are released from recruitment or suffer wartime atrocities. For example, we must ensure resources are available to meet the needs of all children subject to grave violations and abuses, including survivors of sexual violence. These children desperately need assistance, including psychological support, food and shelter, or medical assistance. We must not let them down or allow them to return to the battlefield.
The proliferation of child deaths, abuses, attacks on hospitals and schools, and unlawful recruitment in armed conflict shows the importance of the UN’s capacity to alleviate the suffering of these children. As we consider our Security Council mandates, the United States recognizes the importance of maintaining the role of child protection officers in UN field missions, as the report recommends.
In closing, even in this grim landscape, it is important to note progress. Over 60 countries have action plans in place with the UN. From Afghanistan to Chad, a number of governments have continued their good-faith work toward full implementation of these action plans to end abuses suffered by children in conflict.
We still have a long way to go in stemming the tide of abuse and horror faced by children in conflict situations. The United States will continue to stand behind the important work being done by the United Nations to protect these children.