It is the season of renewal, of anticipating the year to come. It is a time for revelry, but also for reflection. And reflection on this past year forces one to confront the grim reality of harms humans have wreaked upon other humans – on women, men, and children.
It is this last group of victims on which I have focused, in my service as International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda‘s Special Adviser on Children in and Affected by Armed Conflict. Bensouda’s office has worked this year to prepare a Policy Paper on Children, and this year the ICC Appeals Chamber sustained the court’s first conviction, against a militia leader responsible for child-soldiering crimes. But this year also saw untold crimes against children – not only tragically quotidian crimes of domestic abuse, but also spectacular outrages like last week’s lethal attack on a school in Pakistan, and the several instances of girls’ abduction or enslavement by groups like ISIS and Boko Haram.
It is this last group of victims, moreover, that this year spurred digital artist Corinne Whitaker to publish “Cradle Song,” an online book featuring images and poetry that she created. (As I’ve posted, Whitaker is the longtime publisher of a monthly webzine, Digital Giraffe, as well as the sister of colleague Ed Gordon.)
“Cradle Song” features pages of images like the one above, juxtaposed with verse-form text. “How can I face a child / today / knowing what I know?” it begins, then continues with angry, taut descriptions of what she knows – of, that is, the awful ways that armed violence affects children. Her refrain of questions – among them, “Why doesn’t someone / anyone / care?” – reminds us that we do, we must, care. And in this time of renewal, we must resolve to act.
Efforts 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 violent 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.
The 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 for 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.’