On August 1, 2019, Watchlist welcomed the UN launch of the Implementation Guidance for the Vancouver Principles (IGVP) on Peacekeeping and the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers. Canada’s Deputy Permanent Representative Ambassador Richard Arbeiter moderated the launch event, which featured remarks by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG-CAAC) Virginia Gamba; Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF Omar Abdi; Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law in the UN Department of Peace Operations Alexander Zuev; Commander of the Canadian Defence Academy Rear-Admiral Luc Cassivi; Executive Director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative Shelly Whitman; and Watchlist’s Program Director Adrianne Lapar.
Watchlist highlighted the role of civil society in the development of the IGVP; the importance of child protection in peacekeeping operations and the need to mainstream children and armed conflict concerns in peace processes; and recommendations for Member States, including endorsement of the VP, Paris Principles, and Safe Schools Declaration, as a package of child protection. The event was at full capacity, with many attendees standing at the back of the room.
See full remarks below:
Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is my honor to speak on behalf of civil society today at this launch of the Implementation Guidance for the Vancouver Principles. I would like to thank the Government of Canada for its steadfast commitment to children affected by armed conflict, as well as its thoughtful collaboration and longstanding support for civil society.
As a network of human rights and humanitarian organizations that works daily to strengthen the protection of children affected by war, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict is very happy to have been part of the consultation process to develop this Guidance. We hope our collective efforts will help to prevent the recruitment of children by armed actors.
Over the past twenty years, Member States, the United Nations, regional organizations, and other stakeholders have made great strides to strengthen normative frameworks for the protection of children in war. These include the Security Council’s 12 thematic resolutions on children and armed conflict, the Paris Principles and Commitments, and the Safe Schools Declaration. The Vancouver Principles identify key ways that peacekeeping can contribute to and enhance efforts to prevent child recruitment. In this way, the Vancouver Principles and the accompanying Implementation Guidance serve as an important complement to existing frameworks and tools.
Peacekeepers have an important role in ending and preventing child recruitment, as well as other grave violations. Oftentimes, they may be the first to identify children associated with armed forces or groups, or those at risk of being recruited. This information is key for informing early warning and prevention efforts, as well as child protection interventions. But they need the mandate, directives, and appropriate training to do so effectively. The Vancouver Principles rightly recognize this, and its Implementation Guidance provides clear direction to help inform national and regional military doctrine, operating procedures, and trainings to ensure peacekeepers are equipped to respond effectively.
The Implementation Guidance describes tools that effectively contribute to efforts to prevent child recruitment, and to illustrate, I’d like to highlight a few in particular that have been central to Watchlist’s advocacy.
The first Vancouver Principle highlights the importance of integrating child protection provisions, including the prevention of child recruitment, into all peacekeeping mandates. By clearly articulating appropriate child protection tasks in peacekeeping mandates, the Security Council can bolster the protection of children and enable efforts to end and prevent child recruitment and use, along with other grave violations.
Another principle I’d like to highlight is number 14, which calls for the integration of child protection into peace processes, peace agreements, and post-conflict recovery and reconstruction efforts. The inclusion of specific provisions on children in peace processes is vital to ensuring their rights are protected and supported. It ensures children are recognized and treated as victims of conflict and helps create conditions not only for the release and reintegration of child soldiers, but also for the protection of all children.
Principle 15 looks at sanctions against those that recruit and use children. When crafted and implemented appropriately, sanctions can exert powerful pressure on perpetrators and serve as a deterrent to other potential violators. There are already a number of Security Council sanctions regimes that include child recruitment and other grave violations as designation criteria, including in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, and Somalia, to name a few. Council members should carefully consider these designation criteria in other contexts where children are recruited or otherwise targeted, or where attacks on schools and hospitals are employed as tactics of war.
Before closing, I would like to leave you with three key recommendations to help us move forward in our collective efforts to end and prevent child recruitment and other grave violations.
First, UN Member States should prioritize children’s rights by supporting child protection within UN peace operations, as well as political missions. For Security Council members, this means including specific language on child protection in mandates. But the truth is – for any mandate to be implemented, peace operations must be appropriately resourced, with the necessary budget and staff. All Member States have a role to play in this, vis à vis budgetary discussions in the Fifth Committee.
Secondly, Member States, the UN, mediators, and other stakeholders should ensure children’s rights and needs are considered throughout all peace discussions and post-conflict transitions. This has been a centerpiece of Watchlist’s advocacy, including through our development of a checklist for integrating child protection provisions into peace processes. We look forward to seeing special guidance on this topic from SRSG Gamba’s office, as requested in Resolution 2427. And yet, we need to do more, as children continue to be excluded from most peace discussions around the world. Member States and the UN also need to make sure that appropriate measures and systems are in place to respond to grave violations and protect children, during and after peacekeeping missions’ drawdown, as in the cases of MONUSCO and UNAMID today.
Thirdly, Member States, the UN, and other policymakers must make effective use of existing tools for accountability to end and prevent grave violations against children. Tomorrow, Member States will discuss the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict. This report not only informs the work of the Security Council and other stakeholders, but through the process of listing perpetrators, it serves as a foundation for the UN’s engagement with parties to develop and operationalize action plans and to negotiate the release and reintegration of child soldiers. Tomorrow, Member States should express their support for the Secretary-General in these efforts and encourage him to apply the same standards to all perpetrators, whether they are government forces, non-State armed groups, international coalitions, regional forces, or even peacekeepers themselves.
In closing, I strongly encourage those States that have not yet done so to endorse the Vancouver Principles, as well as the Paris Principles and Commitments and the Safe Schools Declaration. Together, these documents form a strong package for the protection of children’s rights in armed conflict. I would also urge those who have not yet done so to sign and ratify OPAC, in order to create a global consensus that children should be protected and never recruited or used in war.