Remarks at an Open Arria Meeting on Children and Armed Conflict

Ambassador Michele J. Sison
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
October 13, 2017


Thank you, Inigo, and thank you to all the organizers and to Special Representative Gamba and to you, Ms. Neff. But really, thank you most of all, Joy, for sharing with us what you endured at the hands of Boko Haram. We’ve all been moved today by your words and your testimony. And really, God bless you. As a human being, as the mother of two daughters, I’m not going to forget your words. None of us are going to forget your words. It really brings back to us what we’re trying to do here as a Security Council in New York, which is to protect civilians, make lives better, protect children. You are a very brave young woman with incredible fortitude, and really, for all of us, hearing your words today is humbling. There’s no other way to express that.

So, hearing from you today and learning from the Secretary-General’s report, we are seeing that children in conflict situations are still faced with inestimable challenges around the world. The number of children killed, kidnapped, maimed, used, abused is even more staggering today than it was 20 years ago when the Children and Armed Conflict mandate was created. And of course the impact on the girl child is especially telling and distressing. But all of these children need to be protected.

The U.S. considers the work of the Special Representative to be of paramount importance to international peace and security, and it really is appropriate that we are gathered here as Security Council members and civil society and other Member States to talk about this issue today. Virginia, we have really been impressed by the speed and the efficiency and the efficacy with which you have assumed your new role. This is greatly appreciated.

And when Special Representative Gamba was in Washington last week, she made very clear to my colleagues that the preventative aspects of her mandate – protecting children today – means staving off future conflict and staving off radicalization to violence of scores of young people. That was important. These children can emerge from the horrors of war only to find themselves without family, without acceptance in the community, without access to basic services, or without access to the resources they need for reintegration into society. And this was an issue that we did discuss on our visit to the Lake Chad Basin and to Maiduguri, as Inigo mentioned.

The U.S. remains deeply committed to the mandate and mission of the UN’s work to end the suffering of children in conflict situations. Not only is this work essential – absolutely essential – to putting a stop on the ongoing atrocities faced by children in such situations, but this work is also essential to secure international peace and security for future generations. What we do today matters in the years ahead, and I know you know that, Virginia.

In the past two decades, we’ve come together numerous times to express our outrage at the blatant and reckless attacks on schools, and today is no different. Of course, attacks on schools not only can constitute a violation of international humanitarian law, but they also shock our conscience. And that is what, I think, your words, Joy, have done today. They have – in a good way – shocked our conscience. Such attacks have lasting effects on society. Such attacks have lasting effects on children. And of course, we also condemn armed actors who unlawfully convert schools for military use.

All of these practices that we’re talking about today deeply impact a child’s right to learn. I want to mention and turn for a moment to the drawn-out conflict in Syria, where we’ve seen devastating of the conflict on children. One in three casualties in the Syrian conflict has been a child under the age of 15. One in three schools in Syria is out of commission; the school has either been destroyed or been damaged or is now sheltering the displaced or is being used for military purposes. And more than half of Syria’s public health facilities have been completely destroyed in the conflict. In more than 75 percent of Syrian households, we see children now having to work to help support their families, and many of these children are the sole breadwinners for their families. And these children, then, have not only lost their childhood, of course, many have lost their lives.

The use of schools, as I said, by armed groups is completely unacceptable. We’ve seen this practice in northeastern Nigeria, as Joy has so movingly reminded us, but also in Central African Republic, in the DRC, and in other global conflicts.

Former Special Representative Olara Otunnu, in his first address as the first SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict, called on the Security Council to ensure that schools and hospitals be considered “battle-free zones.” And we all need to continue working toward this goal.

The U.S. is committed to doing everything possible to protect educational institutions and students in time of conflict. Over two decades, of course, the UN has established a robust multilateral framework to help protect children affected by armed conflict. And again, the mandate of the SRSG is an essential element of this framework because it reflects all of our steadfast determination to end these devastating effects on children in armed conflict situations.

So we do look forward to a more in-depth discussion on all aspects of the Children and Armed Conflict mandate at the Security Council’s open debate later this month. We particularly appreciate France’s effort, as Security Council president this month,

to draw attention to this critical issue. And Joy, I know you will be a wonderful medical doctor one day – or whatever you choose in the future for a career path. But I can see you in those hospital scrubs or in those whites as a wonderful medical doctor one day. And you and the other girls in our prayers and will remain in our prayers.

Thank you.