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Statement by H. E. Mr. Margus Kolga, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Estonia to the United Nations at the Open Debate in the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict

19.09.2012

Mr President,

I would like to join the others by thanking the Security Council for organizing this open debate and by expressing gratitude to the President of the Council, for his continuous efforts as chair of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. This is an issue that certainly deserves the attention of the Security Council, the body with the primary responsibility for international peace and security. Estonia welcomes the resolution that was adopted today.

 

Estonia fully aligns itself with the statement delivered by the European Union.

 

Allow me also to convey our gratitude to the former Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms Radhika Coomaraswamy, for her valuable work and to welcome Ms Leila Zerrougui to her new post. We assure Ms Zerrougui of our full support.

 

Estonia welcomes the Secretary General’s report to which the today`s debate primarily focuses. It is of utmost importance that the Secretary General`s report continues to be delivered in its current form, with both annexes.

 

The rights of the child are one of Estonia`s human rights priorities. The United Nations has an important role in advocating and protecting the global system of human rights standards, including the rights of the child. There are a range of tools that the UN system, including its principal organs, have to either prevent or react to human rights violations – the Human Rights Council is one of the most important of them. Estonia is applying for the membership of the Council for the years 2013-2015 and looks forward to advancing the agenda of children’s rights as member of the Human Rights Council.

 

Estonia strongly condemns all kinds of violence against children and violation of children`s rights. We are very concerned about the reports of children being tortured and targeted in Syria. According to the Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry, Mr. Paulo Pinheiro, who presented the Commissions last report only 2 days ago in Geneva, “the gross violations of human rights have grown in number, in pace and in scale. Civilians, many of them children, are bearing the brunt of the spiraling violence”. He also pointed out that half of the 1.2 million internally displaced persons are children. Estonia calls upon all parties involved in the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and protect children.

 

Often perpetrators of grave violations against children in situations of armed conflict enjoy impunity. Currently 53 parties are listed in the annexes to the Secretary-General’s report on Children and Armed Conflict. We are alarmed that this year the number of persistent perpetrators doubled to 32.

 

However, there is also reason for hope. In addition to the progress on signing action plans to end the recruitment of child soldiers, we welcome the two milestone verdicts on Thomas Lubanga Dyilo and Charles Taylor. In its first ever judgment, the International Criminal Court found the rebel leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo guilty for recruiting and using child soldiers in hostilities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The hybrid Special Court for Sierra Leone, for its part, found Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia, guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes including the use of child soldiers. These convictions are important steps in advancing the rights of children by lending credence to the international community’s commitment to end impunity for the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict.

 

Moreover, these verdicts are a powerful warning signal to perpetrators, having thus a deterrent effect. Ms Coomaraswamy, already stated in 2010, when she gave her testimony as expert witness before the ICC, that the ICC’s prosecution of the crime of child recruitment encouraged many groups to approach the UN to negotiate action plans for the release of children from their ranks. This illustrates the important effects criminal proceedings against perpetrators of worst human rights violations can have. Estonia agrees with the Secretary-General that amnesties should not be applied to individuals who recruited or recruit children.

 

While Mr Lubanga's conviction is a landmark, more must be done to address the problem globally. We call on all States that have not yet done so to join the Rome Statute of the ICC. States should also extend their full cooperation to the ICC, including by identifying and locating witnesses, arresting and surrendering accused persons in their territories, and cooperating in the implementation of reparations to the victims.

 

Even in ideal circumstances, international courts and tribunals can only hope to prosecute a small number of perpetrators. And while effective investigations and prosecutions at the national level are potentially powerful tools to deter future crimes by closing the impunity gap, they are often stymied by lack of resources, willingness and capacity. We must therefore strengthen national judicial systems to investigate and prosecute grave violations, including those against children. We support the Secretary-General’s recommendation to States to enact appropriate national legislation to criminalize grave violations against children. We call upon the international donor community, UN agencies and other partners to support Member States in developing and strengtheninf national capacity for this purpose.

 

We also welcome Ambassador de la Sablière’s action-oriented report on the Security Council engagement on the Protection of Children in Armed Conflict and strongly support his recommendation that the Security Council should pursue a complementary approach with the ICC, which would exert strong pressure on certain individuals and entities. We are pleased to be able to note that the basis for increased cooperation between the Court and the UN was created by testimony of the former Special Representative in the Lubanga trial.

 

Raising awareness at the local level towards the association of children with armed groups is of the utmost importance. We cannot achieve tangible success if children`s rights are not considered to be universal norms globally. The role of civil society and local non-governmental organizations cannot be underestimated in this context. The local community plays a key role in collecting information on possible violations. NGOs ought not impeded in their work nor be instrumentalized by states.

 

In disseminating information on children`s rights and especially on the issue of children in armed conflict, social media and modern information and communication technology should be used more broadly. A good example of this is the Children and Armed Conflict Smart-Phone Application, which was launched today by the Mission of Liechtenstein in cooperation with Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict and the SR SG for Children and Armed Conflict.

 

Mr. President,

I would like to finish with the quote of the former Sierra Leonean child soldier and the author of the published memoir, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier Ishmael Beah: “[....]We as the human beings, as nations, as the international community, have the capacity to end the use of children in war. We must not waste another minute [....]”.

 

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