NEW YORK, 29 JUNE 1998
STATEMENT BY AMBASSADOR ANTÓNIO MONTEIRO, PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF PORTUGAL, TO THE SECURITY COUNCIL 3896th MEETING (Children and armed conflict)
The President: I shall now make a statement in my capacity as the representative of Portugal.
Portugal fully subscribes to the statement made earlier by the Presidency of the European Union.
The Graça Machel report on the impact of armed conflicts on children, submitted to the General Assembly in 1996, revealed to the international community the extent of the suffering of child victims of armed conflicts throughout the world. The painful awareness of this scourge led the Members of the United Nations to request the Secretary-General to name a Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Ambassador Olara Otunnu. I thank him and welcome his presence among us here today.
The need for collective action to overcome this scourge led Portugal to propose that members of the Security Council hear the Special Representative, which occurred in informal consultations last 11 June; and it was the impact of what he reported to the members of the Council that gave birth to the idea to hold this debate here today, open to all Members of the United Nations. My delegation listened carefully to Ambassador Otunnu's forceful statement today and will spare no effort to translate his specific proposals into action.
The Security Council is called upon on a daily basis to deliberate on situations and conflicts that illustrate the perverse development in the conduct of war in recent years, namely, that civilian populations above all women and children are increasingly affected by armed conflicts and transformed into the targets and tools of war. It is disheartening to compare, as Ambassador Otunnu did, the numbers of victims of current conflicts with those of the world wars of this century.
On the one hand, technological advances explain that abhorrent development by permitting, for example, the production of small arms, which are easily manipulated by child soldiers, and stimulates the recruitment of children into armies and armed groups. Those same technological advances permit the manufacture of mines and chemical and biological weapons, which blindly victimize the non-combatant population.
On the other hand, despite the existence of normative international instruments the Geneva Conventions, their respective Additional Protocols and the Convention on the Rights of the Child drawn up by the United Nations and the extremely important role played by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the minimum standards of respect for human rights in situations of war are systematically ignored and violated both by governmental forces and by non-State actors. Ambassador Otunnu has also called our attention to the failure of the local systems of traditional values that have always prevailed in any society, culture or region in defence of the innocent and the most vulnerable, especially children.
We have, however, made some significant progress. The convergence of the efforts of all allowed us to take a major step in this struggle by adopting the Convention on the indiscriminate use of landmines, to which my country has the honour to have subscribed. Alongside other countries, and in a similar partnership with various non-governmental organizations, Portugal is now committed to bringing about the adoption of a convention to control the use of small arms.
It is, however, paradoxical that practically every Member State of the United Nations has subscribed to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most inclusive of all instruments of international law, ratified by 191 countries; and yet, every day, we see a rapid increase in the number of children killed, injured, violated, exploited, uprooted and without support, in great part due to the effects of armed violence. At the threshold of the new millennium, despite the achievements of our species in many fields, that which distinguishes us from other creatures is at risk: the very essence of humanity, respect for the dignity of the human being and in this case, the most vulnerable of all human beings.
We in the United Nations have to act to stop or to minimize the suffering of children in armed conflict. We cannot continue to overestimate certain principles of relations between States and Governments at the expense of the rights of citizens whom those very States and Governments are supposed to protect and, indeed, exist to protect. Peace and security, stability and prosperity, even national sovereignty: these goals are attainable only if human security is also assured, including that of children especially that of children.
The effect of armed conflict on children is one of those problems that, because of its seriousness, scope and nature, is relevant to the entire United Nations system and, directly or indirectly, falls into the area of competence of various departments, organs, programmes, funds and agencies. Taking the lead is the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), which has carried out notable efforts to alert us to the dimensions of the problem and to promote actions designed to counter it. But we also have the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and other Secretariat departments, such as the Department of Political Affairs and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations; as well as programmes, funds and agencies such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Food Programme (WFP); and, finally, the international financial institutions, namely, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The Security Council, in the exercise of its functions and responsibilities, and when deliberating what action it will take in any conflict, cannot fail to participate in this collective effort by the United Nations system. It must participate through reaction against the abuse and violations of the rights of children committed by the parties. Through the adoption of measures appropriate to each case, the parties should be led to respect effectively their obligations under international law, particularly under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Council should condemn the involvement of children in armed conflict, particularly their mobilization by regular forces or armed groups. It should watch over the protection of and respect for the rights of children, specifically through the mandates it gives to peacekeeping and peace-building operations. Within United Nations missions, priority should be given to programmes for national reconstruction and the social rehabilitation of children and youth. The Council should seek to assess in advance the impact of any sanctions regime on the situation of children and vulnerable groups, such as pregnant and nursing mothers, thus ensuring the necessary humanitarian exemptions to minimize their negative effects. Above all, however, the Council should combat, through its action, the sense of impunity in those belligerents responsible for the atrocities and abuses committed against children, whether they happen to be acting on behalf of Governments or not. The Council can concede neither credibility nor legitimacy to such criminals, regardless of the part they might play in the resolution of the conflict.
Here I am referring to concrete situations under consideration by the Council: the monstrous child mutilations committed by the leaders of the FARC/RUF in Sierra Leone; the cruel abduction of Ugandan children to reinforce the ranks of the Lord's Resistance Army; or the decisions taken in Afghanistan to prevent girls from attending school or having access to hospitals.
The Security Council clearly has a political and ethical role to play in putting a stop to this impunity a role complementary to the action of tribunals which must be assured at the national and international levels. In this context, I recall a joint statement issued on 17 June 1998 by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ambassador Otunnu, the Executive Director of UNICEF, the High Commissioners for Refugees and for Human Rights and the Emergency Relief Coordinator:
The perpetrators of these atrocities are deaf to appeals from the international community ... We believe that much of the criminal violence in armed conflicts and rebellions is the result of impunity.
To that end, the creation of an international criminal court, which Portugal wishes to see come to fruition in Rome, will be of decisive importance an independent and well-equipped court to try and punish war criminals and those responsible for crimes against humanity, a court that will have the protection of the rights of children as an integral part of its statute and mandate, one that will take into account as a mitigating factor the young age of the accused while considering it an aggravating factor in the behaviour of adults when children have been involved in committing the crime.
The exposure of children to the consequences of armed conflicts is made banal by the recruitment of individuals under 18 years of age into their regular armies. These are young men and women who are not allowed to vote but are considered fit to enter combat. This is what Ambassador Otunnu told the Council on 11 June, defending his belief that it is necessary to establish internationally a minimum age of 18 years for military recruitment, through the optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Portugal hopes that the working group of the Commission on Human Rights established for that purpose will soon complete its work successfully.
It is a fortunate coincidence that this debate among Members of the United Nations promoted by the Security Council precedes by one day the launching by a coalition of non-governmental organizations of a global campaign entitled Stop Using Child Soldiers. This coalition includes Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Jesuit Refugees Service, the Quaker United Nations Office, the Radda Barnen Save the Children and the Terre des Hommes. The general mobilization required to combat the use of children in armed conflict will obviously need to awaken public opinion from those sitting in front of their television sets to those who are grass-roots combatants. The partnership of the United Nations and its Member States with civil society namely, the non-governmental organizations and the media is vital to eradicate this scourge.
As the Nobel Prize-winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu said,
It is immoral that adults should want children to fight their wars for them ... There is simply no excuse, no acceptable argument for arming children.
I conclude by reaffirming the strong support of Portugal for the mandate of and the action being developed by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General. I hope that this open debate and the presidential statement to be delivered later on will represent useful tools to assist his endeavours to protect children in situations of armed conflict all over the world.
I now resume my functions as President of the Council.