Outgoing Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, visits children affected by the armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo by: The Office of the SRSG

On July 13, 2012, the UN Secretary-General formally appointed Ms. Leila Zerrougui as his next Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG-CAAC). Ms. Zerrougui, of Algeria, will replace outgoing SRSG Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, who will be leaving her post on July 31 2012.

Watchlist’s Press Release on the appointment of the new SRSG

The swift and inclusive appointment of Ms. Zerrougui not only demonstrates a recognition of the importance of the SRSG’s mandate, but will also allow for a more direct handover between the current SRSG and the incoming appointee.  Both of these factors were key components to Watchlist’s advocacy campaign on the selection of the new SRSG conducted earlier this year.

Almost seven months prior to the announcement of Ms. Zerrougui’s appointment, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon formally announced on January 25, 2012 that his Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, would be leaving her post by the middle of this year. Ms. Coomaraswamy was the second individual to hold the position of the SRSG-CAAC since the establishment its mandate by the General Assembly in 1996. Following her appointment by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2006, Ms. Coomaraswamy has tirelessly dedicated herself to serving as a global advocate for the millions of children affected by armed conflict around the world. In acknowledgement of Ms. Coomarawamy’s dedication and effectiveness, as well as the indispensable role played by the SRSG-CAAC in global efforts to protect children in situations of armed conflict, the General Assembly requested a renewal of the SRSG-CAAC’s mandate for a further three years during the 66th UN General Assembly in 2011. With more than two years left to work under the current mandate,  selecting the next SRSG-CAAC became an immediate priority for Watchlist and other NGOs.

Unfortunately, the departure of Ms. Coomaraswamy came at a time when several Special Mandate-holders, assigned to monitor and report on child protection-related issues, were facing political pressure that could negatively impact on valuable progress made. Watchlist believes that the UN system requires continued strong leadership and action from a dedicated SRSG-CAAC to address the continuing violations against children in armed conflict and other situations of concern. Therefore, we urged UN member states, UN Agencies and other NGOs to support this objective, as well as to protect the SRSG-CAAC’s mandate in its current form, and ensure that the momentum around the Children and Armed Conflict agenda remained strong through a joint advocacy campaign.

The campaign, centered around advocating for the timely and transparent selection of a new SRSG-CAAC as well as pushing back on the political pressures threatening the SRSG-CAAC’s mandate, brought a strong collective message to the Secretary-General that the selection of the next SRSG-CAAC must be made an immediate priority and that the current mandate is essential to efforts to protect children in armed conflict and to defend their rights at the highest level.

Watchlist Background Note: Selecting a New SRSG-CAAC

Joint NGO Letter to the Secretary-General re: SRSG-CAAC Appointment, January 2012

Watchlist’s Letter to the Secretary-General, April 2012

Following these actions, the United Nations released an official vacancy announcementfor the SRSG-CAAC on May 8, 2012. The announcement reflected the responsibilities of the SRSG under the current mandate, including raising awareness and promoting the collection of information about the plight of children affected by armed conflict, fostering international cooperation to ensure respect for children’s rights in these situations and contributing to the coordination of efforts by Governments, relevant United Nations bodies and NGOs. The formal call for candidate nominations for the position of SRSG-CAAC was also  sent to member states. Watchlist was also invited to share its views on the qualities and skills required for the mandate with the Office of the Secretary-General during its recruitment process.