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Rights of the Child, children in armed conflicts

16-04-1998 Statement

54th Annual Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Agenda item 20 - 16 April 1998. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross

Mr Chairman,

The statement of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will focus today entirely on one issue regarding which we feel particularly strongly, namely children in armed conflicts.

For the fourth consecutive year, the ICRC has been invited by this Commission [1 ] to participate in the open-ended Working Group on a draft optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflicts. During that session, the ICRC reiterated its commitment in favour of the minimum age for participation and recruitment being raised to 18 years, in conformity with the Plan of Action of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement concerning children affected by armed conflict.

With a view to facilitating the debates of the Working Group, the ICRC submitted this year a document setting out in detail the analysis underlying the ICRC's position, based on International Humanitarian Law, International Human Rights Law and, very importantly, experience acquired in the field. This paper is reproduced in document E/CN.4/1998/WG.13/2, paragraphs 53 to 105.

Having in mind both its commitment to raising the minimum age for participation and recruitment to 18 years, as well as ensuring that the provisions of the draft optional protocol are in harmony with the rules and principles of humanitarian law, the ICRC can sum up its position as follows:

1.The optional protocol must prohibit all recruitment of children under 18 years of age, whether voluntary or compulsory;

2.The protocol must prohibit any participation in hostilities by children under 18, whether direct or indirect; and

3. It must apply to all parties to a conflict, including armed groups.

The ICRC is therefore not satisfied with the results of the latest session of the Working Group, which made limited progress on these issues. For this reason, the ICRC is not in favour of the adoption of either of the two texts included in the Working Group's report (E/CN.4/1998/102), namely that contained in its Annex I, or the so-called " Chairman's Perception " contained in Annex II. The ICRC believes that this Commission should not rush into adopting a text which does not enhance protection of children to the appropriate level, or which is not in harmony with existing law. More discussions and consultations are needed. In this context, the ICRC would be interested in participating in the dialogue with all interested parties, and in particular with the Chairman of the Working Group.

Clearly, the adoption of new rules is not enough in itself. The current efforts to raise standards should not detract from the need to pursue vigorously the effective implementation of existing law, including by establishing better mechanisms to prosecute suspected perpetrators of violations. The practices of recruiting children into armed forces or armed groups and of allowing them to take part in hostilities constitute war cr imes, whether they occur in the context of international or internal conflicts. They must be punished accordingly. This is why the ICRC has argued that these practices must be included in the list of war crimes falling under the jurisdiction of the international criminal court.

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

1. Resolution 1997/78.

 Ref. LG 1998-031-ENG