On August 3, 2017, the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict adopted its fourth conclusion on the situation of children and armed conflict in the Philippines based on the Secretary-General’s (SG) report (public document of the conclusions is forthcoming). The overall tone of the conclusions is positive towards the Government’s efforts to better protect children, as well as its role in facilitating the full implementation of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) action plan with the United Nations (UN). The Working Group condemned all violations and abuses committed against children in the context of the armed conflict in the Philippines, and called upon all parties to respect their legal obligations under national and international law, and to put in place measures to end and prevent further violations.
Prior to conclusion negotiations, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict (Watchlist) provided Working Group members with a policy brief with targeted recommendations based on up-to-date field inputs from network partners on the following topics of concern: integrating child protection into peace negotiations, detention of children on security charges, attacks on and military use of schools by all parties to conflict, and opportunities for strengthening Government engagement with the UN.
Echoing Watchlist’s recommendations, the Working Group urged parties to include child protection issues on the agendas of peace talks, with the UN’s support. Watchlist was particularly pleased that the Working Group urged the Government to continue to support and facilitate dialogue between the UN and armed groups for the purposes of ending and preventing violations and abuses against children.
With respect to the detention of children on security charges, Watchlist welcomes the Working Group’s call on the Government to accelerate the review and passage of a law on Children in Situations of Armed Conflict that would ban any provisions for the arrest, detention and/or prosecution of children solely for their association with armed groups, and would provide for timely and appropriate programs and services to facilitate reintegration of children formerly associated with armed groups. This was one of Watchlist’s key recommendations to the Working Group. Further to this, Watchlist evoked Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), asking the Working Group to urge the Government to guarantee due process for all children detained for their alleged association with armed groups, stressing that children should be treated primarily as victims whose deprivation of liberty should be used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible time. The adopted text of the conclusions fully integrates these recommendations.
Watchlist and its partners expressed concern regarding the operational guidance the Government passed on the protection of schools in conflict-affected areas, which creates loopholes in contravention of relevant Security Council resolutions. Watchlist is pleased that the Working Group noted concern that schools continue to be used for civil-military activities in the Philippines, especially in remote areas. However, Watchlist would like to have seen the Working Group take their mention of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ letter directive No. 25 and Circular No. 1 further and ask the Government to clearly define the terms ‘civil-military activities’ and ‘lawful purposes,’ among others, with the view to removing any inconsistencies with international standards.
In terms of encouraging greater engagement of the Government with the UN, Watchlist welcomes the Working Group’s encouragement of the Government to continue to use mechanisms, such as the Inter-Agency Committee on Children in Armed Conflict it created, to provide appropriate assistance to all children affected by armed conflict, including through ensuring independent, prompt, and thorough investigations into alleged violations against children. Watchlist was also pleased to see the Working Group stress the importance of access to education and health care for all children in the Philippines.
The risk of continued armed conflict remains high in the Philippines, potentially exposing children to further violence and abuse. Watchlist and its partners will continue to monitor the situation and urge all relevant parties to swiftly implement the recommendations in the letters transmitted to them by the President of the Security Council.
Read more about Watchlist’s work on the Philippines: https://watchlist.org/countries/philippines/