Text Only | Disarmament Diplomacy | Disarmament Documentation | ACRONYM Reports
Back to the Acronym home page
British Policy
South Asia
About Acronym

Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 50, September 2000

International Conference on War-Affected Children

International Conference on War-Affected Children, Winnipeg, Canada, September 10-17, 2000.

Note: the Conference was divided into three sections - a Youth Meeting (September 10-12), an Experts & NGOs Meeting (September 13-15), and a Ministerial Meeting, opening to delegates from the other sections (September 16-17). Full coverage and documentation can be found at http://www.waraffectedchildren.gc.ca/menu-e.asp.

Address by Canadian Foreign Minister

Address by Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, September 16; Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs text (2000/33).

"This conference in Winnipeg is like the final leg of a long relay race. This is not a bad comparison as the world focusses its attention on Sydney, where youth from around the world are celebrating the Olympic ideal and striving to be better than even the best. But the baton in this race is nothing less than the future and it has been handed to us by the world's children - tens of millions of them.

These children, suffering the ravages of war, have challenged us to break the old records and to set a new standard for international behaviour, action and compassion in dealing with war-affected children. Of course, people have been around this track before and the route is well marked... But this lap is for us - the senior political leaders and ministers - to run. The course is clear: from Winnipeg in September 2000 to New York and the UN General Assembly's Special Session on Children in 2001. We cannot drop this baton. We cannot lose this opportunity. We cannot let the ideals and the hopes that are focussed on our effort here become victim to fatigue or complacency. There is simply too much at stake.

The past six days have been a steady crescendo of activity, building dynamic partnerships between youth, experts and officials toward the common goal of action. There has not been a lot of understatement around this room in the past week. War-affected children were clear about what needs to be done. Non-governmental organizations doing program delivery in the field, operating in complex and often horrific humanitarian environments, know what must be done. Now it is time for us to take what has come out of these meetings and do our job by turning that into public policy. Our task here is to develop and discuss a bold and realistic framework for action:

  • Most immediately, we need to undertake efforts to gain the release of war-abducted children and child soldiers. Our duty in government is to use our resources, our reputation and our reach to achieve freedom for these children. We can lead and support efforts to free child abductees. This includes living up to our own national obligations, taking determined and ongoing bilateral and multilateral initiatives.
  • We should commit to strengthening our international obligations and work through our bilateral relationships and multilateral institutions to achieve the 120 signatures and 60 ratifications to the Rome Statute of the ICC [International Criminal Court] before December. And in time for the Special Session in 2001, we should build on the 69 signatures and 3 ratifications of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. This includes funding a ratification campaign, as Canada has done.
  • As donors, we can fund programs on child advocacy and protection, like those Canada has, where we tap our nationals...to work overseas promoting children's safety and development.
  • We should commit to improving the capacity of our international institutions, especially the UN, to deal with crises such as those affecting children. Utilizing the UN is a wise decision, especially if we give it the capacity it requires. It is a natural fit given the new spirit to deal with these sorts of issues, which seems to be infusing the organization.
This is not an exhaustive list but an important place from which to start. If this conference - this movement for children - is to be a success, we must assume our place at the fore of this agenda. This means holding individuals accountable for their actions. Ending impunity is what we can do that no one else can. We have the influence and the tools to make those who violate basic human decency accountable for their actions. We can also begin taking greater responsibility for children's rights. This means starting to come to terms with some of the most difficult issues on the international agenda and rethinking the concepts that we had taken as givens for so long - even the notion of unquestioned sovereignty. ...

There are important items coming out of Winnipeg. We must take these issues to the cabinet table; we must fight for the resources to implement these commitments; we must instruct our officials to take positions in international forums that advance the agenda for children; and we must better help the UN manage our new global agenda. ... Our challenge is to work at home, bilaterally and multilaterally, so that we arrive in New York next September with a bold and substantive action plan - with better records ourselves and commitments and undertakings that we will end abductions, and that make children an international priority."

Address by UNICEF Executive Director

Address by Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Winnipeg, September 13; UNICEF text http://www.unicef.org.

"[T]his Conference is convening at a pivotal moment. As you know, the Security Council recently approved its second Resolution on children and conflict in less than a year - and in so doing, the Council has emphatically elevated the issue to a central position on the UN's peace and security agenda. Moreover, I am pleased to note that our deliberations here in Winnipeg will be informed and immeasurably enriched by a new report by Graça Machel on The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children. It is a document that reviews the progress made and obstacles encountered since 1996, when the first, definitive Machel Report was submitted to the General Assembly - a landmark document that not only raised global awareness, but helped pave the way for steps to halt the appalling suffering that is still endured by so many children in so many countries. ...

What we hope from this meeting is that its participants - distinguished experts in the field of children and armed conflict - will address the crisis in strong and inspiring ways, and that you find ways to ensure that your words become deeds, deeds that make a real difference to the lives of children. Over the years, conferences the world over have made promises to children. Promises, made in good faith, to ease suffering and end exploitation - and to protect children from the loss of the childhood, from rape and mutilation and recruitment as child soldiers. Yet time and time again - in such places as Rwanda, in Sierra Leone, in Sudan, in Afghanistan, in Kosovo and East Timor - cruelty and indifference has prevailed. ...

[W]e need to produce recommendations on small arms and landmines and child soldiers. ... We need to talk of accountability and impunity and training. And we must find effective ways to promote peace-building and conflict prevention. There must be a recognition that, when it comes to the suffering of children in conflict areas, there are no innocent bystanders. All of us are responsible - and the commitments and recommendations that you will produce here in Winnipeg must be addressed to all sectors of society: to governments, to rebel groups, to the private sector, civil society, and to UN and regional organizations. Let me quickly highlight three key ideas that UNICEF hopes to see reflected in the...outcome of this Winnipeg Conference as a whole:

First, we all recognize and accept that too many of the promises made to children have been broken and have not been fulfilled and respected. It is time to fix those promises. It is time to usher in the 'era of application' that the Secretary-General Kofi Annan referred to in his recent Report to the Security Council on children. And we can only do this by focusing relentlessly on all those who violate children's rights or collude in such violations. Whether they be governments or rebel groups, manufacturers of, or dealers in, weapons of war, unscrupulous businessmen - all of them must be made to feel the repugnance of civilized people everywhere. They must be shamed, disgraced and held accountable for their actions. Moreover, we must ensure that our recommendations here are specific, concrete, action-oriented - and rooted in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international standards.

Let me give you an example. We all know that we must eliminate the appalling practice of recruiting children. But it is not enough to call on parties to conflict not to recruit children. We must also identify concrete actions. These include ensuring that all states ratify the Optional Protocol specifying 18 as the minimum age for voluntary recruitment; that Governments forego from selling arms to any combatants who recruit children; that the Security Council impose arms embargoes on those who recruit children; that NGOs monitor the behaviour of parties to conflict and report on incidents of recruitment; that donors and humanitarian agencies support education and vocational training to youth in conflict zones to provide an alternative to recruitment; and that companies develop voluntary codes of conduct concerning trade, including in armaments and natural resources, with parties to conflicts who are responsible for gross violations of child rights. ...

Second point: For a long time, education received little attention from the humanitarian community. It was not seen as a life-saving initiative like health and nutritional rehabilitation. But we now recognize the crucial importance of education to child survival and development - even in the midst of conflict. Education provides an environment of relative stability and normalcy for children amid the instability and unpredictability of war. It provides them with an opportunity to learn so that they have a chance to gain at least some of the most basic skills that will allow them to work, to contribute to society and in time to support their own families. And education offers an alternative to recruitment. So I very much hope that the Conference will strongly endorse the pivotal role of education - and that Governments will respond to this with more support. And in this connection, let me say how grateful we are to the Government of Canada for its assistance, which has included Canadian $700,000 for UNICEF child-protection programmes in Sierra Leone. ...

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, Graça Machel's Report makes some vitally important recommendations, recommendations that I urge you to endorse and support. Among the issues that she raises is that of HIV/AIDS. As the Report says, and I quote: 'Over the past five years, HIV/AIDS has become the single most powerful new factor compounding the dangers for children in a conflict. The chaotic and brutal circumstances of war aggravate all of the factors that fuel the HIV/AIDS pandemic.'

All of the Report's recommendations on this issue are important. But I do want to highlight one since it also links to my previous point on education - 'Schools and educational systems should be the centrepiece for HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention and care during emergencies, including expanded life skills curricula that offer nutritional support, hygiene and other domestic survival skills.' ..."

Review of the Machel Report

'Graça Machel calls for an end to impunity for war crimes against women and children,' UNICEF Press Release, September 13.

"Graça Machel, the former first lady of Mozambique and South Africa, today called on the international community to develop a new sense of urgency in protecting children affected by armed conflict. Releasing the first major review of global progress since her ground-breaking 1996 study, The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, Ms. Machel said that despite laudable efforts by various governments, national and international groups and UN agencies, no one has done enough or moved quickly enough to safeguard the millions of children suffering through wars. 'Power and greed can never be an excuse for sacrificing children,' Ms. Machel said as she released her report today in Winnipeg, Canada. 'In tolerating this scourge of war against children, every one of us becomes complicit in the violence and harm inflicted upon them,' she said.

The review highlights significant achievements of the last four years, including new measures to protect children from military recruitment and to prosecute and punish war crimes against children and women. It also describes the increased importance and emphasis on education as the fourth pillar of humanitarian relief, joining food, health care and shelter. Yet the report finds that serious violations against children continue. An estimated 300,000 children under 18 are participating in conflicts - fighting on the front lines, abused as sex slaves or used for portering. At least 20 million children have been uprooted from their homes due to conflict. More than 2 million children have been killed in the wars of the 1990s, and millions more have died from war-induced malnutrition and disease. In fact, of the 10 countries with the highest death rates of children under five, seven are affected by armed conflict.

More than a dozen critical issues are outlined in Ms. Machel's report. It calls HIV/AIDS the most powerful new threat facing children in conflict-affected countries and appeals for urgent measures to address the compound impact of AIDS and war on children. ... Overall, Ms. Machel's review conveys a growing sense of impatience at the continued harm inflicted on children through armed conflict, saying that 'humankind has yet to declare childhood inviolate or spare children the pernicious effects of war.' She maintains however, that 'children present us with a uniquely compelling motivation for mobilization. Our collective failure to protect children must be transformed into an opportunity to confront the problems that cause their suffering.'

The review, an independent study financed by the Canadian and Norwegian Governments, is a key resource document for the International Conference on War-Affected Children underway this week in Winnipeg. Its preparation was supported by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and UNICEF. It contains specific recommendations for the international community on a wide range of issues affecting children in war - including child soldiers, HIV/AIDS, landmines and small arms, sexual violence, and humanitarian assistance. It calls for a halt to the imposition of comprehensive sanctions, pointing to the overwhelming evidence of their damage to children. The review also identifies several overarching themes, such as ending impunity for those who commit crimes against children, ensuring that children are central to peace-making, and strengthening mechanisms for monitoring and reporting violations of children's rights. ...

UNIFEM Executive Director Dr. Noeleen Heyzer...praised the review, saying: 'Graça Machel highlights what we already know but continue to neglect - that women and children suffer disproportionately during armed conflict. In the case of women and girls especially, humanitarian responses are inadequate and sometimes inappropriate.' Dr. Heyzer welcomed the attention to the important role of women in peace-building. 'This groundbreaking review shows how the international community can ensure that this crucial resource - women - are at the foundation of all efforts to build peace and resolve conflicts.'"

Note:The full text of the report, The Impact of Children in Armed Conflict on Children: A Critical Review of Progress made, September 2000, is available online at http://www.unifem.undp.org/machelrep.html.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.