education

ibc_chad_7093-1Looking forward to this week’s exploration of issues related to children in and affected by armed conflict – the subject on which I have the honored of serving as a Special Adviser to Fatou Bensouda, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. (My prior posts on this issue here.)

The occasion is a 2-day event entitled “Children and Armed Conflict: Strengthening Implementation of the UN’s Children and Armed Conflict Agenda,” cosponsored by the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at New Jersey’s Princeton University and by the New York-based nongovernmental organization Watchlist on Children & Armed Conflict.

The program begins at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, December 12, 2013, with a public, plenary session – a panel discussion on “UN Efforts to End Grave Violations against Children in Conflict Situations.” Speaking will be:

► Ambassador Sylvie Lucas, Permanent Representative of Luxembourg to the United Nations and Chair of the Security Council Working Group for Children and Armed Conflict.

► Under Secretary-General Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.

► Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sablière, formerly the Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations.  The first Chair of the Security Council Working Group for Children and Armed Conflict, de la Sablière is the author of a pivotal report on this subject.

Jo Becker, Advocacy Director of the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch.

Then on Friday,  December 13, will be a closed workshop, at which representatives of states and intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations (as well as academics like myself) will examine the issue of children and armed conflict. Particular emphasis will be placed on the monitoring and reporting process launched U.N. Security Council Resolution 1612 (2005) and succeeding resolutions, overseen by the Special Representative Zerrougui, and watchdogged by NGOs.

At the core of the U.N. process are efforts to combat the 6 Grave Violations, a half-dozen offenses against children deemed especially reprehensible. Commission of these offenses, by state and nonstate actors alike, may result in action within the U.N. framework. The 6 are: killing or maiming of children; recruitment or use of children as soldiers; sexual violence against children; attacks against schools or hospitals; denial of humanitarian access for children; and abduction of children. (credit for AP photo)

Classroom-destroyed-300x225Percolating into global consciousness is the armed conflict that’s ravaged the Central African Republic this past year. Fighting began last December, and in March rebels entered the capital, Bangui, and ousted the President who’d ruled for 10 years, François Bozizé. A transitional government eventually was put into place. But that has not eased fighting. Just yesterday, fighting was reported in the capital following the assassination of a judge and his aide.

Estimates that “more than 1.6 million people need urgent humanitarian assistance” – nearly a third of the country’s entire population – prompted  Louise Arbour, President of the International Crisis Group and formerly the top U.N. human rights official, last week to urge the Security Council to “take decisive action.”

As in many conflicts, the months of violence have taken a severe toll on children. Underscoring this is the image with which Foreign Policy‘s Peter Bouckaert began a recent report:

‘In the schoolrooms of the northern Central African Republic (CAR), the blackboards still show dates from late March — when Seleka rebels seized power in the country and a nightmare began.’

The statement jibed with an October report by UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund:

‘Seven out of 10 primary school students in the Central African Republic (CAR) have not returned to school since the conflict started in December 2012 …’

Blocking the return of children and their teachers to school: attacks, destruction, and occupation by armed groups. (credit for photo by Save the Children) Many families remain in camps like those that drew attention because of a visit by Mia Farrow, the actor who serves as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. (See the child’s drawing that Farrow posted here.)

Among the many offenses that Fatou Bensouda, the International Criminal Court Prosecutor, denounced in an August statement was the recruitment of child soldiers – a crime that’s reportedly doubled in the last year.

And last week, concern focused on allegations of stepped-up killings of civilians, particularly children.

Much to be discussed during the Security Council’s scheduled consideration, later this month, of the crises in the country.

unesco‘And so UNESCO is in the midst of a budget crisis, and the USA is poised to lose a great deal of influence over an organization that runs Tsunami warning systems, teaches literacy to the same Afghan police officers that are being trained by American soldiers, runs education programs for girls around the world, and has conferred “World Heritage” status on 22 American monuments and sites.’

– Mark Leon Goldberg, in a UN Dispatch post on events earlier today in Paris: having refused to pay its dues since UNESCO admitted Palestine as a member state in 2011, the United States lost its voting rights in that body, formally known as the United Nations Economic Social and Cultural Organization. (credit for (c) UNESCO photo of Afghan schoolchildren)

Goldberg decried the federal  legislation that required the United States to become a UNESCO deadbeat. (See § 414(a) here and § 410 here.) And he worried what could happen, to the United States and to U.N. agencies with “more obvious connections to American security” (he named the International Atomic Energy Agency, the World Health Organization, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons), if such agencies likewise were to admit Palestine to membership.

girlchildlogoEfforts to put an end to attacks on education receive high marks this week – especially today, the 2d annual International Day of the Girl Child, the theme for which is “Innovating for Girls’ Education.”

Just yesterday, in Resolution 2120 on Afghanistan, the U.N. Security Council focused on threats to education amid armed conflict:

Expressing its serious concern with the high number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, in particular women and children, the increasingly large majority of which are caused by Taliban, Al-Qaida and other afgviolent and extremist groups and illegal armed groups, condemning in the strongest terms the high number of attacks targeting schools, including their burning and forced closure, their use by armed groups, and the intimidation, abduction and killing of education personnel, particularly those attacks targeting girls’ education by armed groups including the Taliban ….’

It reiterated that concern in a later paragraph devoted to the harms children endure in armed conflict – a child-protection paragraph that is both welcome and new to the Council’s Afghanistan resolutions. (h/t David Koller of WatchList; credit for 2009 AP photo, above, of Afghan schoolgirl) Addressing matters outlined in the U.N. report on which I previously posted, the inclusion reflects a concerted effort by multiple U.N. entities – including the Council’s own Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict and the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict – and nongovernmental organizations – including those that form the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack.

fbThe education of children, particularly girls, is a goal that the International Criminal Court Prosecutor underscored in a statement she issued last year, on the 1st Day of the Girl Child. (photo credit) Speaking of her intention to continue to consider the experiences of children in and affected by armed conflict (since December, the mandate on which I have the honor of advising her), ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said:

‘The women of the future, the young girls of the world, should not be deprived of their fundamental human right to play and learn and enjoy being children.’

Giving eloquent voice to that thought earlier this week was 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai, victim of an assassination attempt a year ago, in her home region in Pakistan – an attempt made because she had blogged and spoken out in favor of girls’ education. She survived and has thrived as a forceful, global advocate for this worthy cause, as recognized by her new book and her receipt yesterday of the European Union’s Sakharov Prize malalafor Freedom of Thought. In a Daily Show interview Tuesday, she spoke of some of the world’s ills – war, repression, child labor – and then concluded:

‘Issues and problems are enormous. But the solution is one. And that is education.’

unamaThe cover photo of a new U.N. report speaks a thousand words: more and more, the protracted conflict in Afghanistan is claiming children as its victims. A reader hears these running children’s screams viscerally – much as she felt viscerally the life of a photographed 8-year-old child soldier in Syria.

Sadly, this visceral impression is confirmed by the text of the 94-page Mid-Year Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, issued yesterday by UNAMA, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. The report begins with a boy’s account of his mother’s killing in a Kabul suicide attack, then sets out grim statistics:

‘Escalating deaths and injuries to Afghan children, women and men led to a 23 percent resurgence in civilian casualties in the first six months of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012. UNAMA documented 1,319 civilian deaths and 2,533 injuries (3,852 casualties) from January to June 2013 ….’

This growth, the report continued,

‘reverses the decline recorded in 2012, and marks a return to the high numbers of civilian deaths and injuries documented in 2011.’

Increasingly, killings caused by improvised explosive devices and gunfights affect children (up 30%) and women (up 61%). The UNAMA report stated that international forces’ handover of security responsibility to national forces had “met with increased attacks by Anti-Government Elements” –  elements to whom 3/4 of the deaths were attributed.

Other documented offenses against children included:

► Attacks on education; that is, attacks on students and their teachers, destruction or occupation for military use of school buildings

► Recruitment and use of children into the government’s armed forces and into armed anti-government groups

► Attacks on hospitals, other health-care facilities, and medical personnel

► Displacement, within or without the country

Recommended to stem this tide? Compliance by all parties with the law, including international humanitarian and human rights treaties aimed at protecting children. A simple answer, difficult to implement.