In November, Watchlist traveled to Colombia to coordinate with local partners and participate in activities linked to the commemoration of Universal Children’s Day, celebrated annually on November 20. During the visit, Watchlist met with local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including its longstanding civil society partner the Coalition against the Involvement of Children and Youth in the Colombian Armed Conflict (COALICO), international NGOs, and UN agencies to discuss the current situation of children affected by armed conflict in Colombia.
Despite the signing of a peace agreement between the Government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias – Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) in 2016, violations of children’s rights continue, including recruitment and use, sexual violence, and forced displacement as a result of clashes between parties to the conflict. The activities of post-demobilization armed groups, organized crime, and other non-State armed actors put children at additional risk and present new challenges to monitoring, reporting, and response to violations of children’s rights, especially as it becomes more difficult to identify perpetrators. In the two years since the signing of the final accord, Government presence remains sparse in many parts of the country, and these communities often lack access to clean water, health care, education, and other basic services, leaving children and adolescents especially vulnerable to violence and abuse. The situation has been further exacerbated with the mass influx of migrants and asylum seekers fleeing the economic and political crisis in Venezuela, leaving both Venezuelan and Colombian children more vulnerable to recruitment and use, sexual violence, and other forms of exploitation by armed and criminal groups.
In addition to speaking with civil society and UN actors, Watchlist was able to hear about the situation in different parts of the country directly from affected children. On November 27, children and youth from vulnerable and conflict-affected communities across Colombia came together at a half-day workshop in Bogota, organized by COALICO. Participants learned about Colombia’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the UN Human Rights Council, which took place earlier this year. They reviewed the Colombian Government’s response, as well as contributions from other UN Member States, and developed their own recommendations to address concerns facing children and youth in their communities.
On November 29, the youth participants of the workshop presented their views and recommendations at COALICO’s third annual international conference on children’s rights, organized in collaboration with Terres des Hommes Germany, the Colombian Civil Society Platform for Children’s Rights, and other partners. Under the banner “Children as Defenders, Leaders, and Builders of Peace,” the conference brought children, NGOs, and policy makers together to exchange their reflections, concerns, and recommendations on the
protection of children’s rights in Colombia. Additionally, a number of international experts joined the conversation to share best practices and lessons learned in the defense of children’s rights. In addition to Watchlist, these included speakers from the International Bureau of Children’s Rights in Canada, CODENI in Nicaragua, and the Yves de Roussan Center for the Defense of Children and Adolescents (Cedeca/Bahía) in Brazil.
Watchlist spoke on a panel together with Yenny Londoño, a child rights advocate and former child soldier who was invited to address the UN Security Council during its most recent open debate on children and armed conflict last July. Yenny and Watchlist’s Program Director Adrianne Lapar spoke about the UN’s children and armed conflict agenda, including implementation of the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM), and its importance in promoting accountability at the international level for grave violations committed against children in Colombia. For many of the children participating in the conference, this were their first time hearing about the mechanism. Many of the children were also inspired to hear Yenny’s account, from her difficult childhood and adolescence, to earning the opportunity to speak directly to high-level policy makers in New York.
The conference was the culmination of a series of events COALICO organized in Colombia throughout the month of November to commemorate Universal Children’s Day. These included workshops, roundtables, and other activities in Bogota, Buenaventura, and Medellin.
For more information about Watchlist’s Partnerships Program, please visit https://watchlist.org/about/partner/.