MORNING / MIDDAY
Concludes Interactive Dialogue on Foreign Debt and on the Right to Food, Hears Statements in Observance of International Women’s Day
GENEVA (8 March 2016) - The Human Rights Council today held a clustered interactive dialogue with Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, and Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict. It also concluded its clustered interactive dialogue with Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt, and Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the right to food.
Speaking in observance of International Women’s Day, the President of the Council, Kate Gilmore, Deputy United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Canada, speaking on behalf of 116 countries, emphasized the importance of gender equality and eliminating violence against women for the realization of the Sustainable Development Agenda.
Ms. Santos Pais welcomed that the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda included a clear target to end all forms of violence against children. It was high time to address the root causes of such violence. In 2014, over one billion children aged 2 to 17 were exposed to violence, which weakened the very foundation of social progress. Thousands of unaccompanied and separated children had reached Europe seeking refuge, and were in need of special protection measures. She referred to the issue of cyberbullying, which could cause profound harm to children.
Ms. Zerrougui drew attention to the continuation of the plight of children in armed conflict in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine, Israel, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Afghanistan. Those conflicts had led to an increasing number of child casualties and recruitment, and of refugees and internally displaced persons, almost half of whom were children. Obligations of States of origin, transit and destination should not be discarded on the basis of national security, or even just due to popular opinion. Responses to extreme violence perpetrated by armed groups that did not comply with international law risked inflicting further harm on civilians. Emphasis had to be put on the right to education.
In the ensuing dialogue, speakers welcomed the inclusion in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of a specific target to end all forms of violence against children. They emphasized the importance of implementing this Agenda through legislative measures and cooperation. Despite important progress, the human rights of children were still systematically threatened. Violence, sexual violence both online and offline, corporal punishment, the effects of the economic and refugee crises, and ill-adapted justice systems were just a few of the obstacles that needed to be overcome. Speakers acknowledged that information and communications technologies provided new opportunities to children, but noted that they also posed serious risk of harassment and abuse, including cyberbullying. The private sector should play an important role in preventing such online violence against children.
Turning to the situation of children and armed conflict, speakers noted that children in armed conflicts and in territories under occupation faced serious threats. They condemned the recruitment of children by extremist groups, and insisted on the need to consider these children as victims rather than perpetrators, and to rehabilitate them. Speakers highlighted the importance of the right to education in conflict situations and the far-reaching negative impact of attacks on schools, teachers and students during armed conflicts. They agreed on the necessity to prevent recruitment by extremist groups through education, and asked what the private sector could do in that regard.
Speaking were Brazil on behalf of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries, European Union, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Kuwait on behalf of the Arab Group, Dominican Republic on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Croatia, also on behalf of Austria and Slovenia, South Africa on behalf of the African Group, Belgium, Georgia, Republic of Korea, France, Namibia, El Salvador, United States, Estonia, Russian Federation, Qatar, Switzerland, Norway, Portugal, Israel, Council of Europe, Tunisia, Italy, Syria, Côte d’Ivoire, China, Iran, Australia, Malaysia, Libya, Sudan, Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Bulgaria, Brazil, Bolivia, Egypt, Angola, Panama, South Africa, Viet Nam, New Zealand, Spain, Thailand, Ecuador, Pakistan, Botswana, Algeria, Colombia, Maldives, Paraguay, Venezuela, Cuba, Nigeria, Germany, Afghanistan, Liechtenstein, Indonesia, Luxembourg, Malawi, State of Palestine, Kyrgyzstan, Benin, Iraq, Morocco, Zambia, Azerbaijan, and Mexico, as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations Children’s Fund.
The following non-governmental organizations also spoke: Defense for Children International, Colombian Commission of Jurists, Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausliatrice, Association for Defending Victims of Terrorism, Organization For Defending Victims Of Violence, Child Foundation, International Humanist and Ethical Union, International Catholic Child Bureau, Iraqi Development Organization, Liberation, Khiam Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture, Global Network for Rights and Development, Imam Ali’s Popular Students Relief Society, Al-Khoei Foundation and Association Miraisme International.
Earlier this morning, the Council concluded its clustered interactive dialogue with Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, and Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the right to food. They presented their reports to the Council at noon on Monday, 7 March and a summary of their comments and the first part of the interactive dialogue with them can be found here.
In the interactive dialogue, speakers expressed concern about the fact that armed conflict was one of the main obstacles for access to food. They added that economic inequalities had led to severe hardship for citizens of the global South, which had been adversely affected by the financial crisis, followed by the Ebola crisis. Speakers expressed concern at violations of women’s right to food, particularly in the context of climate change, and condemned violence against women’s rights defenders working on land-related issues. They noted that the undemocratic nature of major financial institutions contributed to the inequalities.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Bohoslavsky said that the right to development posed a limit to what could be considered an acceptable level of inequality from a human rights perspective. It was worth exploring and developing the idea of human rights impact assessments regarding tax policies and tax reforms. A rigid interpretation of the principle that contracts had to be respected was not consistent with legitimacy and international human rights law standards.
Ms. Elver said the right to food was not just related to the sovereign right of States, but that all kinds of financial institutions should be respectful about States’ economic and social responsibility to their citizens. Development aid projects were important as regards the right to food, but had to respect governments’ social and economic policies. Fighting powers trying to use food systems to help their war machine were committing crimes against humanity.
Speaking in the interactive dialogue were Libya and Sierra Leone.
Also taking the floor were Temple of Understanding, Foodfirst Information and Action Network, Human Rights Advocates, International Muslim Women’s Union, International Commission of Jurists, International-Lawyers.org, Asian Legal Resource Centre, Villages Unis, Arab Commission for Human Rights in a joint statement with the Independent Research and Initiative Centre for Dialogue, International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations, Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development, Espace Afrique International, Liberation, Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy, and World Barua Organization.
The Council is holding a full day of meetings today. A 2:30 p.m., it will hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment and the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Foreign Debt and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
Libya expressed concern about the fact that armed conflict was one of the main obstacles to access to food, and called upon the international community to bear responsibility and respond to humanitarian needs in Libya such as basic food needs. Sierra Leone said that the statistics cited on the right to food were startling, adding that the implications of economic inequalities had led to severe hardship for citizens of the global South, who had been adversely affected by the financial crisis, followed by the Ebola crisis.
Temple of Understanding, on behalf of severals NGOs1, echoed the need to transform the patriarchal social structures and practices in agricultural and other extractive industries that made women and girls particularly vulnerable to deprivation of their right to food.
Foodfirst Information and Action Network expressed concern at the criminalisation of women defenders of the human right to food and nutrition, the right to land and other related rights, including those who combatted environmental destruction, adding that the assassination of the Lenca indigenous leader Berta Cáceres was deeply troubling. Human Rights Advocates called attention to the degradation of traditional land resources as a result of projects instituted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and asked the panel whether the right to food should include the responsibility to resolve uncertainties surrounding land tenure and creating a mechanism around the mitigation of adverse environmental impacts? International Muslim Women’s Union expressed dismay at the repression and discrimination faced by women in conflict zones and occupied territories, such as in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, due to continued conflict in the region.
International Commission of Jurists said that tax evasion and tax avoidance were forms of business’ misbehaviour facilitated by inadequate legislation and the lack of an international framework and cooperation on tax matters. It asked the Special Rapporteur on the right to food about the kind of action required by the Human Rights Council to address problems linked to women’s access to food. International-Lawyers.org said the undemocratic nature of major financial institutions contributed to the inequalities linked to foreign debt. What action could United Nations bodies take to better secure the right to food of women in the context of climate change? Asian Legal Resource Centre said that the recommendations by the Special Rapporteur for policies that support more women to enter the labour market were misdirected because public and justice institutions were dysfunctional and corrupt. Villages Unis called for urgent and appropriate responses, including deep reforms of agricultural policies, to address malnutrition, and said that land grabbing undermined the right to food and the vital interests of local populations. Arab Commission for Human Rights, in a joint statement with the Independent Research and Initiative Centre for Dialogue, asked what measures should be adopted to regulate vulture funds, and what measures could be adopted to ensure that persons living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories had access to food? International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations regretted that the Special Rapporteur had made only a limited effort to analyse how the existing fishery and trade agreements with the European Union were impoverishing local fishermen in Western Sahara.
Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development noted that conditions on loans and grants had forced many African countries to be in a constant debt cycle. In defiance of the Millennium Declaration, former colonisers and international institutions had forced African governments to limit many rights, including economic, social and cultural rights. Espace Afrique International emphasized the gender dimension of the right to food. In many countries of the South, inequalities eroded women’s contribution to the production of food. The elimination of gender inequalities would therefore benefit all. Liberation reminded that more than six million children died every year from malnutrition or related diseases. In India the malnutrition of children was unlikely to change any time soon as the recent introduction of the National Food Security Bill threatened to continue market inefficiencies in food supply. Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy reminded that States had committed themselves to halving the population suffering from hunger by 2015. Nevertheless, India still had more malnourished people than any other country and 42.5 per cent of children under five were underweight. World Barua Organization noted that many countries faced inefficiencies in food supply. For example, in India high consumer prices, and limited quantity and quality of food created a chain of inefficiency, affecting particularly the Dalits.
Concluding Remarks by the Independent Expert on Foreign Debt and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
JUAN PABLO BOHOSLAVSKY, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, said that he remained open to contributing to framing the problems regarding Greece in a human rights perspective, adding that he would be undertaking a mission to Brussels, as the European Union was an important stakeholder in Greece. The right to development posed a limit to what could be considered an acceptable level of inequality from a human rights perspective. Bangladesh had raised a question on how the Sustainable Development Goals and inequality were linked to the debt burden. The main argument, he said, was that if countries reduced inequality, there would be less of a financial crisis, and if there were less of a financial crisis, inequality would decrease. His proposal was the recommendation that in the classical, technical analysis, the international community should incorporate an essential variable, which was the level of inequality which was tolerable in terms of human rights. It was worth exploring and developing the idea of human rights impact assessments regarding tax policies and tax reforms. The Arab Commission for Human Rights had posed fundamental questions on whether human rights should prevail in the case of disputes. A rigid interpretation of the principle that contracts had to be respected was not consistent with legitimacy and international human rights law standards.
HILAL ELVER, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, said the right to food was not just related to the sovereign right of States, but that all kinds of financial institutions should be respectful about States’ economic and social responsibility to their citizens. Regarding the question on the 2030 Agenda, the question of how the international community was going to deal with the 17 principles from the perspective of gender was very important. She said she had several recommendations in her report on how to make gender equality more effective. Regarding Luxembourg’s question, which had mentioned development aid projects and asked how her mandate cooperated with the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Labour Organization, she said that development aid projects were important as regards the right to food. Projects should not go against governmental good policies, but had to be respectful of governments’ social and economic policies. On Burkina Faso’s question about whether norms were sufficient to remove barriers, she said that they were not, and that was why the international community had several rules about gender equality. Women were not equal to men in any areas, specifically in agriculture. As regards the right to food in situations of armed conflict, she said that women and children were suffering, and fighting powers that were trying to use food systems to help their war machine were committing crimes against humanity.
The Council has before it the Annual report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children (A/HRC/31/20).
The Council has before it the Annual report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (A/HRC/31/19).
Presentation of Reports by the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children and on Children and Armed Conflict
MARTA SANTOS PAIS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, presenting her annual report to the Council, said that the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda recognized as a priority the dignity of children and their right to live free from fear and violence, and included clear targets to end all forms of violence against children. It was time to close the gap between the commitments and the actions needed to translate this goal into a reality for all children. It was high time to address the root causes of such violence and to adopt zero tolerance policies. A new initiative, the High Time to End Violence against Children, would be launched on 9 March to galvanize political will and mobilize social support for children’s protection from violence. Realizing the vision of the 2030 Agenda could help build a world as big as children’s dreams. She welcomed the adoption of a National Development Plan by Indonesia which identified children’s protection as a priority, and the adoption of similar agendas in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Ghana and Norway. She commended Nigeria for launching a national survey on violence against children, which was a remarkable example of how research could bring to light the hidden scale of violence against children. She noted that Ireland, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mongolia, Peru and China had recently adopted legislation for the protection of children from violence.
Challenges remained, however. Recent research had shown that in 2014, over one billion children aged 2 to 17 were exposed to violence, which represented more than half of the world’s children. Besides the impact on victims, violence against children weakened the very foundation of social progress, generating huge costs for society and eroding nations’ human and social capital. As the world was facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II, thousands of unaccompanied and separated children had reached Europe seeking refuge. These children faced turmoil and distress at every step of the way, with constant risks of exploitation and abuse. They needed special protection measures, and had to be placed in a friendly and appropriate environment where care and protection could be effectively secured while their status was resolved. Continuing, she referred to the challenges and benefits of information and communications technologies, and raised specific concerns regarding the issue of cyberbullying, which could cause profound harm to children. Children needed to be at the heart of efforts to combat this phenomenon. Legislation preventing cyberbullying, protecting the victims, combatting impunity and ensuring effective remedies was another crucial tool. The world must work towards ending violence against children now even as it dealt with other pressing emergencies.
LEILA ZERROUGUI, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict, drew attention to the continuation of the plight of children in armed conflict, due to the continuation of the conflicts and fighting in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine, Israel, Nigeria and the neighbouring countries, South Sudan, and Afghanistan. Those conflicts had led to an increasing number of child casualties and recruitment, and of refugees and internally displaced persons, almost half of whom were children. It was the responsibility of the United Nations to remind States of their obligations to protect children displaced by conflict. There was a prevalence of extreme violence perpetrated by armed groups which had committed unspeakable atrocities against children. Whilst recognizing the challenges that States faced in addressing the threats posed by such armed groups, responses that did not comply with international law risked inflicting further harm on civilians and aiding the very groups that governments sought to combat. Holistic approaches were the only way to sustainably address the challenge. Education was a key factor in countering extremist discourses. That right was compromised for millions of children affected by conflict. Ensuring quality education for all was one of the Sustainable Development Goals and thus the international community had to use all opportunities, such as the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit, to ensure that funding for education and healthcare for children affected by armed conflict was not forgotten.
Deprivation of liberty of children on national security charges and without due process was another area affecting thousands of children in today’s conflicts. It was worrisome that children allegedly associated with armed groups were increasingly treated as security threats rather than as victims, particularly in the context of counter-terrorism operations. Ms. Zerrougui urged the Human Rights Council to ensure that the plight of those children was given due attention, particularly in the context of the Universal Periodic Review. Failing to treat children primarily as victims of recruitment would only create legitimate grievances, prevent reintegration and ultimately, could lead to further instability. Accountability was critical to prevent further violations and provide redress to victims. The Council’s special procedures, commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions were essential tools for accountability. The Council should also support national authorities to pursue accountability. Despite the daunting challenges children had faced over the past year, important progress had been achieved, namely the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign, that was ongoing with strong support of Member States, regional organizations, United Nations partners and civil society.
Interactive Dialogue on Violence against Children and on Children and Armed Conflict
Brazil, speaking on behalf of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries, asked the Special Representatives which suggestions of good practices they would give, and in which ways the Community could support their important mandates? European Union asked how States could best collaborate with the private sector to put an end to online recruitment of children by extremist groups, and asked Ms. Santos Pais how Governments could make sure that measures aimed at protecting children who faced special risks online did not contribute to further excluding them from the online world? Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, asked both Special Representatives for their views on practical measures to be taken by the international community to protect children in occupied territories. Kuwait, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that the Arab Charter and various provisions including article 10 addressed the importance of not using children in armed conflict or in slavery or trafficking. Dominican Republic agreed with the Special Representative on the need for solid data as a basis to measure progress toward the achievement of goals, also taking note of actions against cyberbullying. Croatia, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, asked Ms. Zerrougui how the use of children as spokespersons for terror could be curtailed, and what lessons could be drawn from contemporary cases of the recruitment of children in that role? Ms. Santos Pais was asked how the Council’s Special Procedures could enhance the implementation of target 16.2 and other violence-related targets of the 2030 Agenda?
South Africa, speaking on behalf of the African Group, noted that the complexity, the sensitivity and the often invisible nature of violence against children considerably restricted the impact of the measures taken to eradicate it. That situation induced the imperatives of accelerated national and international action backed by the sharing of best practices in that field. Belgium said that it had been actively mobilising the private sector about the rights of the child. As for children and armed conflict, Belgium shared the Special Representative’s analysis that prevention through education had to be a key component in addressing extreme violence. Georgia noted that areas controlled by non-State actors and terrorist groups, as well as territories under foreign occupation, continued to represent zones of grave risk for children. The occupation of Georgia’s two regions by the Russian Federation prevented the Georgian Government from protecting the rights of the child there. Republic of Korea shared the view of the Special Representative that children, especially those associated with armed groups, should be treated as victims rather than as perpetrators, and accordingly protected against an excessive deprivation of liberty and the risk of being recruited. France underscored the importance of taking into account the young age of children recruited by armed groups. It warned that while information and communications technologies provided new learning opportunities to children, they also posed serious risk of harassment and abuse. Namibia reminded that combatting violence against children was a distinct priority for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with its specific target of ending all forms of violence against children, and targets on ending abuse, neglect and exploitation of children. El Salvador said that the inclusion of the protection of children from violence as a clear priority of multisector character in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development represented a very important advancement.
United States asked Ms. Santos Pais for recommendations for Member States to protect children with non-traditional sexual orientation and gender identity? Ms. Zerrougui was asked how Member States could work together to promote cross-border coordination on monitoring, reporting and response? Estonia asked Ms. Santos Pais to elaborate on principles to protect children from the coverage of violence in the mass media, and Ms. Zerrougui how international and national human rights organizations could protect the rights of children in a time of armed conflict more efficiently? Russian Federation said that Ms. Zerrougui’s report was only indirectly related to the mandate of the Council, and that meetings between the two should be moved to briefings on the sidelines. The considerations of Ms. Santos Pais on cyberbullying were read with interest. Qatar had enacted national legislation as well as launched a programme which aimed to give children knowledge and skills to use information and communications technologies. Switzerland expressed concern about the situation of children deprived of liberty, and asked the panellists how the facets of the problem of the situation of children displaced because of armed conflict could be looked at. Norway asked what Ms. Zerrougui believed needed to be done to overcome the problem of fragmentation of responsibility within the United Nations which had led to the failure to take seriously the allegations of sexual abuse of children in the Central African Republic?
Portugal welcomed the inclusion in the new Sustainable Development Agenda of a specific target to end all forms of violence against children. It highlighted the importance of the right to education in conflict situations and the far-reaching negative impact of attacks on schools, teachers and students during armed conflicts. Israel warned of the challenges that information and communications technologies posed to children, and to that end Israel had worked to increase public awareness on online child abuse. It voiced concern over the young age of Palestinian terrorists, noting that more than 100,000 children graduated from Hamas’ paramilitary camps in which they trained to become suicide bombers. Council of Europe noted that despite important progress, the human rights of children in Europe were still being systematically threatened. Violence, sexual violence both online and offline, corporal punishment, the effects of the economic and refugee crises, and ill-adapted justice systems were just a few obstacles that needed to be overcome. Tunisia welcomed the inclusion of the protection of children from violence in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a political priority for all States. It asked the Special Representative to what extent adult pornography contributed to the demand for paedophile pornography. Italy stated that it was important that children were aware of the risks posed by information and communications technologies, and that parents and teachers were trained and sensitized. As for children and armed conflict, prevention had to be a key component of all response strategies. Syria recalled the importance of prevention to tackle extreme violence, which was based on hate speech that justified the use of children as targets. The credibility of international initiatives to protect children in Syria was compromised by the presence of various armed groups in Syria, financed by certain States. Côte d’Ivoire said that armed conflict continued to create tragedy for children, threatening their right to life, liberty and education. The physical and psychological violence they suffered could not leave anyone indifferent, and Côte d’Ivoire thus called on Member States to dedicate their resources to end the violence against children.
China said that the international community should unite to create a peaceful environment and prevent armed conflict in order to tackle the root causes of children being dragged into armed conflict. Iran said that the international community had witnessed the proliferation of extremist groups which systematically violated the rights of children in Palestine, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and elsewhere. Australia detailed national achievements on violence against children, and urged those States that had not yet done so to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict. Malaysia detailed national priorities in the field of child protection, and said that the level of violations of children’s rights in armed conflicts was unprecedented and deplorable, adding that concerted action by the international community was needed. Libya said that Daesh activities were spreading along with other criminal groups, adding that children in Libya had been deprived of education for months for many reasons, and that the degradation of the security situation should be a memento for the international community to provide support. Sudan said that domestically, efforts were ongoing in coordination with the Commission on Disarmament in providing additional services to child combatants, and that family reunification programmes had been expanded to include services to unaccompanied children.
Sovereign Military Order of Malta said that considering the complexity of ensuring the respect for children’s rights to be protected from violence in any kind of situation and the multitude of actors concerned, it was important to adopt a comprehensive view. It underlined the value of restorative justice and the role of faith-based organizations in the reinsertion, education and professional training of children. Bulgaria stated that its national legislation included all relevant rights and protection measures for children. As for the protection against bullying and violence, it had undertaken collaboration with expert groups on protection from domestic violence, training of experts, school psychologists and magistrates. Brazil noted that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development presented a unique opportunity to enhance efforts towards the full realization of the rights of the child. It called attention to approximately 168 million child labourers around the world and the numerous children separated from their families due to conflict, migration or extreme poverty. Bolivia called attention to the root causes of violence which were presented in the global social order, including the consequences of colonialism, neo-colonialism, apartheid and all forms of racism and discrimination. The elimination of violence against children as part of the Sustainable Development Goals could only take place if those factors were taken into account. Egypt noted that the protection of children in armed conflict was the primary responsibility of States. It welcomed the focus of the Special Representative on the strategic priorities of consolidating the legal protection, implementation and mainstreaming. Angola commended the initiatives that had contributed to preventing grave violations of the rights of the child in order to guarantee their rights and reinforce international and regional cooperation, particularly within the United Nations system in the area of the fight against extreme violence, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against children.
Statements Commemorating International Women’s Day
CHOI KYONGLIM, President of the Human Rights Council, said that as the international community celebrated International Women’s Day, he wished to pay tribute to all women who were in the front line of the struggle for human rights in the world. Much had been achieved since the first International Women’s Day had been celebrated in 1911, but many challenges remained ahead.
KATE GILMORE, Deputy United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the international community should not forget that International Women’s Day was about discrimination. The underlying purpose of discrimination was to legitimise human rights abuse. No basis for identity-based discrimination was acceptable, as all humans were born equal in dignity and rights. The persistence of discrimination was a sign for the international community to step up, as discrimination exacted a cost it could ill afford. Gender parity opened doors to talents and skills of populations, not just fractions of them. Rights were not a zero-sum game, she said, adding that her own recognition of others’ rights did not diminish her own. Upholding rights for each person was in the interest of all.
Canada, speaking on behalf of 116 countries, said that the Sustainable Development Agenda requested that gender equality be achieved by 2030. Empowerment was about much more than breaking barriers, but about ensuring that girls and boys, women and men had the same opportunities and their voices were heard. Achieving quality education and decent jobs were also part of the empowerment process. Empowering women to participate fully across all sectors of the economy was the key to improving lives for women, men, families and communities. Women should not be token participants, but meaningful contributors and leaders in peace-making and peace-building processes. Many women around the world faced adversity because of their courage and determination and ought to be helped.
Responses by the Special Representatives on Violence against Children and on Children and Armed Conflict
MARTA SANTOS PAIS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, said that many of the topics addressed were complementary. The valuable contribution of Member States to the Sustainable Development Agenda was appreciated. The Human Rights Council had many mechanisms which could be fundamental contributors supporting that high-level political forum on assessing the implementation process. Regional organizations also had an instrumental role to play in that process; for starters, they needed to agree on the importance of combatting violence against children and creating regional fora for monitoring and sharing best practices. The private sector should be kept in the forefront of promoting and protecting children’s rights related to information and communications technology. Children’s rights had been barely on the agenda of the Forum for Business and Human Rights, which should change. There was no single global initiative to discuss the promotion and implementation of the digital agenda addressing the situation of children online. Ms. Santos Pais stressed that children with disabilities or those with different sexual orientation were very often subject to bullying and cyber-bullying, so they needed special protection measures, including protection against stigmatization and ensuring accessible reporting mechanisms.
The promotion of the use of information and communications technologies in a responsible way by children was very important, so that they could use it safely. Schools ought to work jointly with parents and pupils to assess the progress made and the positive impact of measures. Domestic legislation was essential in that regard, and the majority of countries were yet to adopt legislative frameworks on cyber-bullying, stressed Ms. Santos Pais. A study on children deprived of liberty was a matter of urgency, as there was a shared concern about the invisibility and stigmatization of such children. The majority of children deprived of liberty were there because their countries did not have appropriate child-protection systems. Member States were indispensable for documenting best practices, collecting data and helping mobilize support for that initiative. Above all, better data and better evidence was necessary.
LEILA ZERROUGUI, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict, responding to questions from delegations, noted that States had an obligation to protect children in armed conflict, despite the multiple challenges they faced. The worst scenario was the denial of the responsibly to protect children. A great deal had already been done within the Council in order to address legislative gaps. The Special Representative particularly commended cooperation with the African Group. Addressing cross-border violations of children’s rights, she said there had been many examples that spanned borders due to armed conflicts. It was very difficult within the national framework to respond to such occurrences, such as in the case of the fight against Boko Haram in West Africa. The major challenge for States was to combat the recruitment of children by armed groups. There was a need to ensure that national troops were trained to act appropriately when they encountered children on the battle field, in order to ensure that children did not end up in military barracks. The broader family sector also had to be taken into account when countering violence against children. The Declaration against the Military Use of Schools was extremely important for States affected by conflict. Countries affected by conflict were those with the predominance of children in the population. Occupying a school was a harmful act, and particularly so because it did not bring any military advantage. The consequences were highly dramatic, such as the destruction of school materials and fleeing of teachers. As for the mandate of the Special Representative, Ms. Zerrougui explained that it had not been established by the Security Council but by the General Assembly. It enjoyed the support of the General Assembly to approach the protection of children from violence and military recruitment in a holistic way. As for the propaganda of terrorists and the use of children in online settings, Ms. Zerrougui said that a child used in such a way experienced utter horror. Examples from the Central African Republic had testified to the horrors such children had experienced. Children were treated as objects and bartered for survival. She underlined that children who were recruited by armed groups should always be treated as victims and should be socially reintegrated because they could again experience childhood free from stigma. The international community could not allow armed conflict to be children’s reality.
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children and on Children and Armed Conflict
Panama said that 2016 marked the beginning of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030, and the attention of the Special Rapporteur to cyber-bullying was very timely. Awareness-raising and empowerment of children were needed in that regard. Panama had conducted a number of safe schools and say-no-to-bullying programmes. South Africa stated that children were the most vulnerable and susceptible to misfortunes in the difficult times of terrorism and human trafficking. Each State should set up its own measures aimed at protecting its children to grow up free from violence and exploitation. Building equal opportunities for all children was important. Viet Nam recommended that States focus on improving laws and policies to better protect children against all forms of violence; raising awareness of families and society to educate children in a way that benefited their health and full development of their potential; and improving life skills of children to help protect themselves from violence. New Zealand supported the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign and would like to know if the campaign could be extended to include non-State actors. New Zealand was particularly concerned about the rise of attacks on schools and hospitals. In 2015, New Zealand had enacted the Harmful Digital Communications Act, introducing new offences. Spain stressed the need for reintegration and education of children who had been affected by armed conflicts, as violence left severe aftereffects on children. There was a clear need for international cooperation and the need for the universal ratification of the Optional Protocol. Spain asked for examples of success stories. Thailand said that its National Policy and Strategy on the Elimination of Violence against Children and Youth had enhanced prevention, protection, rehabilitation and prevented revictimization of child violence survivors. Thailand was coordinating ASEAN efforts in the drafting of its regional plan of action on elimination of violence against children.
Ecuador had taken measures to address child online abuse; only six per cent of the online content was age appropriate. It called for national and international efforts to end violence against children as the priority of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Pakistan noted that violence against children was a scourge which had an adverse effect on children’s development and wellbeing. To that end the Government of Pakistan had taken a number of legislative and administrative measures. Botswana agreed that significant headway had to be made in national, regional and international efforts to end all forms of violence against children. As for children and armed conflict, the intensity of ongoing conflicts had only led to the increased violation of children’s rights. Algeria shared the recommendations made by the Special Representative to treat children recruited by armed groups as victims. It was particularly concerned by the use of children by non-State armed groups. Colombia paid tribute to the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign and commended the recommendation of the Special Representative that children used by armed groups be treated as victims, and that their rights be reinstituted. Maldives warned that sexual abuse, cyberbullying and exploitation were leaving scars on countless children. Collective efforts and heartfelt commitments were needed to protect children from such abuse.
Paraguay said that it was taking significant steps to ensure the full protection of children’s rights and to ensure inter-ministerial coordination in that regard. Paraguay agreed that the deprivation of liberty of children was highly counterproductive, and called on the international community to continue its cooperation to support access to education. Venezuela said that children in Venezuela enjoyed broad public protection, including through the work of the Ombudsman. The trials of children should be in line with international standards and with the best interest of the child in mind. Cuba was concerned that millions of children continued to be victims of violence and remained outside of the school system. Cuba had effective mechanisms to protect children’s rights and prevent child mortality. There were no street children in Cuba. International Committee of the Red Cross expressed concerns that the minimum safeguards for children in detention in the context of armed conflicts were too often not respected. Children were deprived of education, subjected to unfair trials and even sentenced to death. Children associated with armed groups should be seen as victims, not as perpetrators, and should be rehabilitated. Nigeria said that it had instituted various measures for child protection from violence. It condemned the use of children in armed conflict, and condemned the use of “child bombers” by Boko Haram. Germany asked how could Member States better support efforts to prevent detained children from human rights violations. What measures could be taken to further promote the application of juvenile justice standards in trials involving children who had been associated with armed groups?
Afghanistan said that while extreme violence against children might make it to the headlines, children were suffering on a daily basis. Afghanistan had made significant achievements regarding the rights of children, including the adoption of a plan to prevent child recruitment in the Afghan National Security Forces. Child mortality had also declined. Liechtenstein stated that it was unacceptable that violence against children remained a prevalent plague throughout society. How did the Special Representative intend to make international and regional cooperation even more efficient in order to end all forms of violence against children by 2030? More information was asked about making the delisting process fairer and more impartial. Indonesia continued to implement comprehensive national legal frameworks to promote the rights of children through a national strategy to eliminate violence against children. A website had been launched to monitor, improve and synchronize data collection on violence against children, and efforts were being undertaken to combat cyber bullying. Luxembourg believed that the right to education was one of the children’s rights under threat in times of armed conflicts. Children were often deprived of that fundamental right. Luxembourg shared the concern over the deprivation of liberty of numerous children in armed conflict; their rapid reintegration was of paramount importance.
Malawi had taken some legislative measures to check against early marriages by prohibiting marriage before the age of 18 under a 2015 Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act. The Government was now working towards popularizing the law through sensitization campaigns and translating it into various local languages. State of Palestine stated that Israel systematically committed crimes against Palestinian children, its actions contravening its obligations under human rights law. Children as young as 12 were regularly arrested and beaten. What could be done to ensure accountability when crimes were persistently committed against children as part of State policy?
Kyrgyzstan said that paedophiles were often recidivists, and asked for information on best practices and mechanisms for monitoring violence against children. Benin expressed concerns about the enrolment of children in armed conflict and their use as sexual slaves. Benin had undertaken initiatives to promote the rights of children, including through the adoption of a decree setting norms applicable for the reception of children arriving in Benin. Iraq sought to provide protection to all refugees, including children, who were forced to flee the atrocities by Da’esh, which was using children as workers, human shields, soldiers and sexual slaves. Morocco said that it was committed to protecting the rights of children, and to combat violence against them, through public policies and Government programmes, reforms of the justice system and measures to combat and prevent sexual abuse. Zambia remained committed to combatting violence against children, ending child marriage, and advancing these issues at the international level. Azerbaijan condemned the recruitment, training and use of children by armed groups, and condemned attacks on schools and hospitals. Azerbaijan drew the Council’s attention to violence against children as a result of the occupation by Armenia.
Mexico supported the work of the Security Council’s Working Group on children in armed conflict. What actions had the Special Representative taken to address the issue of sexual abuse of children by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic? What actions could the Mexican State take to strengthen its efforts against cyber-bullying? United Nations Children’s Fund said that children in situations of armed conflict ought to be treated as victims first and deprived of their liberty only as a measure of last resort. The United Nations Children’s Fund supported efforts to deliver on the promise in the 2030 Agenda to end all forms of violence and exploitation of children in all settings.
Defence for Children International encouraged Member States to support the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty through voluntary contributions and to actively be involved throughout its effective realization, in collaboration with other stakeholders. Colombian Commission of Jurists said that the war continued to affect the lives of children and adolescents in Colombia. While peace was just around the corner, there was a need to prioritize the situation of children and adolescents. Parties to the conflict should not fail to address all issues affecting children and youth. Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice delle Salesiane di Don Bosco, in a joint statement with International Volunteerism Organization for Women, Education and Development – VIDES was concerned that in some regions of the world gender discrimination experienced by female children began even before their birth. Child marriage should be considered a violation of child protection rights and relevant domestic legislation ought to be clearly modified accordingly. Association for Defending Victims of Terrorism said that terrorism did not target only military targets, but victimized civilians and children. Human communities had been deprived of development and made victims on a daily basis because of terrorism. Clarity in international bodies was necessary for fighting terrorism.
Organization for Defending Victims of Violence said that in June, 900 Iraqi children had been taken from their families to serve in the ISIS military, adding that her organization invited all non-governmental organizations to engage in awareness-raising campaigns to stop the recruitment of children. Child Foundation said that the international community needed to intensify its campaign to dissuade warring parties from intentionally targeting civilian areas, thus ruling out the possibility of collateral damage involving civilians. International Humanist and Ethical Union said that in Calais, France, 400 unaccompanied minors were vulnerable and at high risk of sexual exploitation. Also in Europe, the Vatican advised that it was not necessary to report suspected child abusers to the police. The protection of the vulnerable was a mark of society’s civilisation and it was currently lacking. International Catholic Child Bureau noted that 93 per cent of videos involving minors involved the filming of girls, adding that there was a need for proper reporting techniques. Iraqi Development Organization’s speaker said she was the mother of a martyr. Her son had gone out with his friends to participate in peaceful demonstrations, but the police had shot him with three bullets and when the ambulance arrived it was too late. The case was never brought to court. She urged the assembly to make recommendations to the Government of Bahrain. Liberation drew the attention of the Council to the public debate in India on its human rights situation, requesting that representatives of the Committee on Violence against Children visit Manipur.
Khiam Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture called upon Member States to do their utmost to stop financing terrorist groups in Syria, and to push for peace efforts there. It expressed concerns about the situation of Palestinian children and about the situation of children in Yemen and Bahrain. Global Network for Rights and Development voiced concerns about atrocities against children in the context of the conflict in Yemen, including their recruitment as child soldiers, forced and early marriage, lack of access to education and malnutrition. Imam Ali’s Popular Students Relief Society drew attention to the situation of children in detention in Iran, and the lack of support to women and children of addicted fathers. Al-Khoei Foundation referred to disturbing violence against children by Da’esh, and emphasized the need to counter extremism material in schools. It called for an investigation into Da’esh’s funding. Association Miraisme International stressed the need to support injured, threatened and displaced populations in order to achieve their full reintegration, and to deploy plans to combat poverty and improve the living conditions of children.
Concluding Remarks on Violence against Children and on Children and Armed Conflict
MARTA SANTOS PAIS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, said she hoped to be able to discuss bilaterally with States issues they had raised. Noting two side events her office would be holding, on support for the Sustainable Development Agenda and also on a global study of children deprived of liberty, she added that the United Nations needed support to advance the process on children deprived of liberty. The proposed study would capture the magnitude of the problem as well as help countries find custodial measures and establish mechanisms of oversight and monitoring so children did not suffer violations of their rights.
LEILA ZERROUGUI, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict, said that the issue of accountability had been raised, and that she had also received questions on follow-up to the panel on the Central African Republic. She emphasised that the Secretary-General had put in place mechanisms and tools to follow up, and that her office with other mechanisms were part of the steering committee working on that. The most important thing for her mandate was to ensure that information was channelled through monitoring and reporting mechanisms, she said, adding that she was ready to discuss with Member States, and that her Office was working on how to strengthen the team on the ground. With regard to accountability, she emphasized that some information regarding that was in her report. She noted that she wanted to see all Member States join efforts to mainstream child protection work.
1. Joint statement: Temple of Understanding; Franciscans International; Society of Catholic Medical Missionaries; Sisters of Charity Federation; Sisters of Mercy of the Americas; and Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd.
For use of the information media; not an official record