On 7 March 2014, the UN Security Council held an extraordinary Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict under the Luxembourg Presidency. This is one of two debates on Children and Armed Conflict to be held in 2014. A second Open Debate will occur following the publication of the Secretary-General’s 13th Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict. Four United Nations officials, including the Secretary-General, and a former Sierra Leonean child soldier briefed the Council, after which 61 delegations, representing over 82 countries, participated in the debate.
The debate was generally positive and manifested broad support for strengthening implementation of the Children and Armed Conflict (CAC) agenda. Participants expressed support, in particular, for the joint campaign of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG-CAAC) and UNICEF to end recruitment and use of children by Government security forces, “Children not Soldiers”. Support was also expressed for the following: ending attacks on schools and military use of schools; pre-deployment training for UN peacekeepers; enforcement of the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy in relation to violations against children; and mainstreaming child protection issues into security sector reform, including through military training and standard operating procedures at the national level, and age verification through birth registration. Seven States (Colombia, Myanmar, Philippines, Russia, Sudan, Syria, and Thailand) made statements that affirmed their commitment to protect children in armed conflict but criticized some elements of the agenda, such as the inclusion of “situations of concern” in the Secretary-General’s annual report, a lack of clear criteria for listing and delisting purposes, and an alleged lack of accuracy of information included in the Secretary-General’s annual reports.
During the debate, SCR 2143 (2014) was adopted unanimously and endorsed by 34 States. The adopted resolution has an omnibus approach, but the most prominent issue is the more advanced language on attacks on schools and military use of schools. SCR 2143 encourages the development of measures to deter the use of schools by armed groups and forces. Other successes of the resolution include enhanced preparedness of the security sector. The resolution emphasizes the importance of mainstreaming child protection issues in security sector reform, including by developing age assessment mechanisms to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers. It also commends the work of child protection advisers in UN peacekeeping missions and calls for pre-deployment training in child protection for UN peacekeepers.
Accountability and ending impunity also enjoy a strong backing in the resolution. The resolution acknowledges the important contribution of the International Criminal Court to ending impunity for grave violations against children. Another element is the language encouraging vetting mechanisms to ensure perpetrators of grave violations against children are not included in the security forces. The resolution also urges the need to incorporate child protection provisions in peace negotiations and conflict mediation.
On March 6, a day prior to the Open Debate, SRSG Zerrougui and UNICEF launched their joint campaign, “Children not Soldiers”, to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers by government forces by 2016. Eight governments are listed in the Secretary-General’s 12th Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict for the recruitment and use of children. In contrast, 44 non-State armed groups are also listed for recruitment and use of child soldiers. Watchlist regrets that SCR 2143 did not mention the need to conduct a humanitarian dialogue with non-State armed groups for the purpose of adopting action plans.
In sum, the March Open Debate reflected the current positive consensus on the CAC agenda. Small gains were achieved in the normative framework, but there is room for much more improvement. The favorable composition of the Security Council offers a real opportunity to further advance rights of children in armed conflict.
 Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.