Remarks by Amb. Zhang Jun at Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict
28 June 2021
Your Excellency President Kaljulaid, I welcome your presence at the meeting and thank you for presiding over this meeting. I thank Secretary-General Guterres, Executive Director Fore and all other briefers for your briefings.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the UN mandate on children and armed conflict. For the past 25 years, the international community has made great efforts in protecting children from the scourge of war. The protection of children has been integrated into all aspects of peace operations and peacebuilding at the United Nations. These achievements are inseparable from the tireless efforts and hard work of the Secretary-General, his Special Representative, UNICEF and all those working on the front line of child protection.
Sadly, 25 years on, children are still the most innocent victims of war. In 2020 alone, more than 26,000 grave violations against children were recorded in the Secretary-General’s report. In Afghanistan, as foreign troops began to withdraw, the local security situation took a sharp turn for the worse, with two attacks on children in less than two weeks between the end of April and the beginning of May. In one of these two attacks, nearly 100 girls were killed on May 8. In the occupied Palestinian territories, 72 Palestinian and two Israeli children were killed in the 11-day conflict this past May. More than 30 schools in the Gaza Strip were destroyed by gunfire, and nearly 600,000 students were forced out of school. A 10 year old Palestinian girl Nadine Abdel-Taif cried over the ruins of her home. She kept asking herself: “What did I do for this? Why do I deserve this?” This is a question for the entire international community. What can we do for these children? How can we lessen the harm down to children in armed conflicts? This is precisely the problem that this meeting needs to discuss, address and answer.
Achieving peace is the best protection for children. Only ceasefire and cessation of violence can heal the wounds of war inflicted on children. If war rages on, it will only result in more violence against children. Parties to the conflict should actively respond to and implement the Secretary-General’s global ceasefire initiative and resolve their differences through dialogue and consultation. The Security Council should continue to promote the political settlement of hotspot issues and promote the protection of children throughout the entire process of conflict prevention, conflict elimination and peacebuilding, and make it an important part of good offices and mediation, peace negotiations, and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. The Practical Guidance for Mediators to Protect Children in Situations of Armed Conflict prepared by the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict is a good try. We hope it will play its due part in practice.
Grave violations against children must be stopped immediately. The six grave violations against children identified in the Council Resolutions breakthrough the boundaries of international humanitarian law, challenge the bottom line of human conscience, and should be a no-no for all parties to the conflict. China condemns all grave violations against children, including the killing of civilians and children in Afghanistan by foreign troops. We should pursue the responsibility for those who perpetrated such acts. China calls on parties to the conflict that have signed the child protection action plan with the UN to take effective measures to implement it, and those who have not yet done so to sign it as soon as possible. The Council provides robust tools for child protection. This includes the monitoring and reporting mechanism, the annual report of the Secretary-General, and the country conclusions of the Council’s Working Group on children and armed conflict. We should make good use and full use of these tools. In the final analysis, the protection of children hinges on the efforts of the state in question. The international community should urge all countries to ratify and implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and increase financial and technical support to help the countries concerned improve their child protection capacity. In the report of the Secretary-General, the listing and de-listing of parties to grave violations against children should be based on facts while adhering to the humanitarian and non-politicization principles.
It is necessary to make greater efforts to achieve comprehensive development of children. Tens of millions of children in conflict are suffering from malnutrition and pandemics. They are trapped in helpless situations of poverty and having no schools to go to. The international community should increase its assistance, and the UN development agencies should play their full role, so that children in armed conflict can enjoy a fair opportunity to astrogate themselves from difficulties and realize their potential, free from being forced to join armed groups to survive, and avoid falling into a vicious circle of violence and conflict. Unilateral coercive measures seriously violate children’s rights to survival and development and all other basic human rights. The so-called humanitarian exemptions do not work. All unilateral coercive measures should immediately be lifted. Children threatened by terrorist forces should be given the same protection. Relevant UN agencies should step up their efforts to repatriate children of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq. In the context of the current global pandemic, special attention should be given to children affected by conflict, so as to ensure that they are not left behind in vaccination and remote learning.
The protection of children is the responsibility of all states and governments, and should be the top priority under any circumstances. There is still a long way to go in this respect. The recently exposed abuse and violence of indigenous children in Canada at boarding schools that led to the loss of over 4,000 lives is shocking and horrific. We cannot let this dark page stay in history books only. We urge the Government of Canada to earnestly fulfill its responsibility to let the world know the truth, and to give justice to the victims, so as to prevent the recurrence of such tragedies.
I thank you, Madam President.