Statement delivered by Mr. JT Radede, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development during the UN Security Council Debate on Children and Armed Conflict – 12 July 2011
We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for presiding over the meeting today and your delegation for organising this important debate. We thank the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon; Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) for Children and Armed Conflict and Mr Anthony Lake, the UNICEF Executive Director for their respective briefings. We also welcome the resolution just adopted.
South Africa remains deeply concerned about the plight of children in armed conflict. Children involved in armed conflict are deprived of an opportunity to grow up in an environment where they can realise their full potential. South Africa is particularly concerned that thousands of children continue to bear arms as child soldiers and many also suffer as victims in armed conflict. We thus remain steadfast in our firm commitment to eradicating the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict.
Significant progress has been made since the compilation of the first UN report by Graca Machel in 1996, on children affected by armed conflict. South Africa is pleased that the issue of children and armed conflict continues to receive the attention it deserves on the agenda of the United Nations in general and the Security Council in particular.
We are encouraged that the Security Council has identified six grave violations committed against children in armed conflict. South Africa believes that each require equal weight and attention by this Council. In this regard, we welcome the expansion of the trigger mechanism for punitive measures against those committing recurrent attacks against schools and hospitals. We are concerned about the emerging trend of attacks against schools and hospitals. We call on all parties involved in conflict to abide by international humanitarian law and refrain from attacks against civilian targets, particularly those wherein children would be present.
South Africa is concerned that despite positive efforts by the international community to address challenges faced by children in armed conflict, parties continue to commit violations against children. In the DRC, Palestine, Afghanistan and elsewhere, children continue to be casualties of war and their rights violated.
We are concerned that a substantial number of countries and situations where children are involved in armed conflict are on the African Continent. We welcome the improvement of the conditions of children involved in armed conflict in some situations such as in Burundi. We call on parties that remain on the list to follow the example of those states and entities that have adopted specific action plans to improve the situation. South Africa is deeply concerned about the reported additional violations in emerging conflicts recently such as in Cote d’Ivoire and Libya.
We call upon affected Governments, with the assistance of civil society and the international donor community to develop and implement concrete plans to address the challenge of children affected by armed conflict. The international donor community should continue to provide long-term and sustainable assistance to facilitate these programmes.
On our part, South Africa has ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. The Optional Protocol sets the minimum age for direct participation in hostilities, for recruitment into armed groups, and for compulsory recruitment by governments, at 18 years.
Furthermore, our national Children’s Act, and National Defence Force policy is in line with the Optional Protocol in that it defines the age of majority as 18 years, also in line with the South African Constitution. The Children’s Act recognises the need for special care and protection from harm, abuse and neglect of children. It gives effect to South Africa’s commitments in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
It is vital that we do not forget the long-term needs of children that have been affected by armed conflict. South Africa therefore underscores the importance of adopting a broad strategy regarding conflict prevention. These should address the root causes of armed conflict in a comprehensive manner and create a conducive environment for the protection and promotion of children’s rights.
South Africa welcomes the unwavering commitment of the Office of the Special Representative and UNICEF in the implementation of the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism. These measures will go a long way in addressing the recruitment and use of children and other violations committed in armed conflict. We encourage them to work within their respective mandates and in an integrated manner with other key stakeholders including the Department of Peacekeeping Operation, concerned member states and non-governmental organizations to ensure coherence in addressing this scourge.
We also commend the work of the Security Council Working Group especially its role to review progress in the development and implementation of time-bound action plans by parties to conflict to halt the recruitment and use of children which are violations of international obligations.
In conclusion, South Africa would like to express our continued commitment to work with Council members and international community to ensure that the protection of children remains our priority.