In a harrowing account of his own abduction in South Sudan, where an armed group had tortured him and had killed his father in front of his eyes, the founder of the Similar Ground organization called on the Security Council today to enforce the myriad resolutions it has passed to secure the safety of children around the world who are at the mercy of wars and conflicts they did not start nor should ever be forced to endure.
Patrick Kumi’s briefing, along with those of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and the Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund, commenced the Security Council’s annual open debate covering the six grave violations against children in situations on the Council’s agenda. Over 70 speakers took the floor to outline actions desperately needed to end child recruitment and use, killing and maiming, abductions, rape and other forms of sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals, and the denial of humanitarian access — crimes laid bare in the Secretary-General’s latest report (document A/76/871-S/2022/493).
“This is just one story,” Mr. Kumi said of his experience. Describing Similar Ground as a community-based organization helping children recover from their trauma, he emphasized: “There are thousands of children currently going through what I did.” He pressed the Council to include “people like me” in the decisions it makes, acknowledging that, while he was grateful for the opportunity to speak today, “one young person, once a year, is not enough”. Young people affected by conflict need more open doors at the United Nations to help design and lead responses.
Against that backdrop, Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, introducing the report, said the United Nations verified 23,982 grave violations in the 21 country situations and 1 regional monitoring arrangement covered by her mandate. Of them, 19,165 were child victims.
“This represents an average of 65 grave violations committed against children every single day, of every week, of every month in the year,” she stressed. In addition, 8,000 children were either killed or maimed, making this the most prevalent of all grave violations.
While she did point to signs of hope — with 17 joint action plans being implemented by parties, including three signed in 2021 — she said it was vital that United Nations operations are adequately mandated, staffed and funded to carry out the life-saving interventions of monitoring and reporting, engaging with parties and securing the release of children from conflict.
Catherine Russell, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), paused to reflect on the appalling nature of the information presented in the Secretary-General’s report. “Children — and childhood — are under attack,” she said, remarking that the cases represent only those that the United Nations could verify. Many others could not be reached. Reflecting on just how appalling the information in the Secretary‑General’s report was, she said: “The world has failed all of them.”
She called on Member States to insist on compliance with international humanitarian law and go beyond the requirements of the law. “You have the power to issue military orders with zero-tolerance policies on grave violations against children,” she said. “Please use that power.”
In the ensuing debate, delegates forcefully denounced the cycles of violence that keep children trapped in a constant state of terror and trauma, with New Zealand’s delegate expressing the view of many in acknowledging: “We are all horrified at the way children are used, abused and manipulated, their lives upended, their futures destroyed”.
Several delegates — including from Gabon, Liechtenstein and Ecuador — called for a much greater focus on protecting girls. Those from the United Kingdom, Ireland and Iran specifically pressed the Taliban to enable the return of all Afghan girls to the classroom, while the United States representative said the Council has been clear that if the Taliban want normalized relations with the global community, schools must be open to all female students, without delay. “We, as the international community, did not do enough to make [the] Taliban abide by their obligations,” Poland’s representative added.
With that in mind, Lebanon’s delegate brought the Council to a moment of reckoning. “We have to admit that we failed to protect children around the world,” but not because any of the international conventions, legislation or action plans lacked the seriousness or strength needed. “We failed because there is no will to implement them.”
As such, many delegates focused on solutions. Botswana’s representative, speaking for the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, encouraged the United Nations to investigate allegations of cross-border abduction and child trafficking with the purpose of adoption.
The representatives of Italy, Portugal and Yemen focused on adherence to the Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups (Paris Principles), and the 17 Vancouver Principles on child protection in peacekeeping. A number of delegates — notably from Switzerland, Spain and Denmark, also speaking for Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden — similarly called for the full implementation of resolution 2601 (2021) on the protection of education in armed conflict.
Ukraine’s delegate, meanwhile, welcomed the Secretary-General’s decision to list his country as a situation of concern in the next annual report, triggering the daily monitoring of gross violations against children on its territory by the entire United Nations. Since the February invasion by Russian forces, almost 2 of every 3 children in Ukraine have been displaced by unabated shelling.
The Russian Federation’s delegate countered by reciting statistics of child casualties inflicted by Kyiv in the Donbass since 2014 and rejecting unfounded claims that Russian authorities are abducting children.
Taking a holistic view, Albania’s delegate stressed the need for accountability, dedicated child-protection capacity in United Nations peacekeeping and special political missions, and protection of humanitarian personnel in the field. More so, he stressed it was “our moral duty and our legal responsibility” to do whatever is needed to ensure that children are raised with care, love and protection, away from violence and conflict.
Also speaking today were the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary and the Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Brazil.
The representatives of Norway, Ghana, France, India, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Mexico, China, Canada (on behalf of the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict), Malta, Luxembourg, Uruguay, Slovenia, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Czech Republic, Belgium, Slovakia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Guatemala, Australia, Republic of Korea, Sudan, Israel, Japan, Andorra, Syria, Malaysia, Georgia, Romania, Ethiopia, Chile, Bulgaria, Pakistan, Yemen, Türkiye, Philippines, Iraq, Egypt, South Africa, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Lithuania, Myanmar, Morocco, Argentina, Algeria and Armenia also spoke, as did observers for the European Union and the State of Palestine.
The representatives of India and Pakistan took the floor a second time.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m., suspended at 1:11 p.m., resumed at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 7:06 p.m.