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Save the Children and the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford
Statement by Michelle Bachelet,
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
19 May 2021
I am pleased to join you today.
This important report produced by Save the Children and the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford draws attention to the grave reality faced by millions of children in conflict situations around the world.
Despite the raft of international commitments and laws designed for their protection and access to justice, the harsh reality on the ground is this: we are failing them -- from Yemen to Syria, to Myanmar and beyond, in a long list of conflicts growing ever more protracted.
For many, conflict or crisis is all that they have ever known, depriving them of any hope in their future.
Globally, as many as one in five children is living in areas affected by armed conflict. The COVID-19 pandemic has made them and many other children even more vulnerable. Restrictive measures have often affected humanitarian access and school closures have left many at greater risk of recruitment by armed forces.
As the Declaration of the Rights of the Child points out, children need “special safeguards and care". The harms they suffer have an extremely deep and long-lasting impact; without strong protection and commitment for children, we undermine their future as well as that of the whole of society.
But according to the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, crimes and rights violations against children are in fact increasing. That includes sexual violence, abduction and attacks on schools and hospitals, which is particularly egregious given the pandemic situation.
It is essential that children are no longer treated as an afterthought in crises and conflicts nor excluded from accountability processes.
And they should not be seen as a homogeneous group in the pursuit of justice.
Understanding the breadth of their experiences is crucial to better understanding why they are being targeted. Children already marginalised -- because of their ethnic, religious or national origin, disabilities, migrant status or for any other reason – are usually at highest risk of harms. Girls in particular pay a heavy price.
We all know that the best way to protect children is to prevent conflicts and crises from happening in the first place. We have a range of human-rights based tools available for that, including our roadmap to sustainable development, the 2030 Agenda.
At the same time, we also know that, whenever harms have been done, accountability and access to justice, including remedy and redress, are one of the most important ways that children can begin to heal from their trauma and suffering.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child expresses powerful commitments to uphold the rights of every child, everywhere.
Yet, time and again, the world’s promises to children are being torn apart and their lives shattered.
The report launched today tells us more about where protection and accountability gaps lie and which steps we can take towards justice for children.
We must scale up good practices, applying them more systematically and adapting them across contexts.
My Office is committed to support more systematic investigation and documentation of violations and crimes affecting children, particularly through Commissions of Inquiry, other fact-finding missions and the human rights mechanisms.
Moreover, the report points out that expertise regarding justice for children should be more systematically requested and integrated in Commissions of Inquiry and fact-finding missions.
The Commission of Inquiry on Syria, for example, has demonstrated this importance.
Its child-focused report draws attention to the fact that ending impunity for violations against children, particularly through accountability and justice, is a key component for lasting peace. It also emphasizes that any processes towards durable peace should include a child-centred approach.
Justice has a powerful deterrent function.
It is urgent that we work together and address remaining gaps in our international accountability architecture.
The protection of children’s rights and wellbeing is not only an obligation under international law; it is a reflection of the state of humanity.
It is entirely unacceptable that children continue to be invisible victims of massive scale human rights violations. And that perpetrators continue to act with impunity.
There is no time for complacency.
We must all stand up for human rights, including those of children. International laws, treaties and judicial institutions need powerful advocates and ever-stronger support.
We need to build on their achievement to chart new ways to protect and ensure justice for all children, everywhere.