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Children and armed conflict: protecting and rebuilding young lives


Workshop 2, 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Geneva, 2 to 6 December 2003

 Note : The present report doesn't necessarily reflect the views of the ICRC.  

The workshop was organised by the Human Security Network Austria, Canada, Chile, Greece, Ireland, Jordan, Mali, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Switzerland, Thailand and South Africa as an observer. in cooperation with the Canadian Red Cross and chaired by Amb. Georg Mautner-Markhof, Director – Human Rights and IHL, MFA of Austria. The following experts made presentations: Ms. Sylvia Ladame, Policy Adviser on Children in War, ICRC; Mr. Eric Laroche, Deputy Director, Office of Emergency Programmes, UNICEF; Ms. Judie Fairholm, Canadian Red Cross; and Ms. Anica Mikus-Kos, Director, Slovenian Child Rehabilitation Centre TOGETHER. More than 100 people participated.

The intended aim of the workshop was to identify new challenges and opportunities for the Movement and State Parties to the Geneva Conventions in enhancing protection and rehabilitation of children in armed conflicts, including through more streamlined and better coordinated action by the humanitarian community.

Children belong to the most vulnerable groups in our societies, particularly in wartime. While the last decade has seen remarkable progress in the development of legal instruments pertaining to the protection of children, more specifically the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child concerning the involvement of children in armed conflict, much remains to be done when it comes to the systematic implementation of these standards.

The ensuing discussion centred on the achievements and limitations in effectively addressing child protection issues. Participants pointed to the need of solid knowledge-transfer and accountability. This entails training on child rights at headquarters level and in the field. It was underlined however that the international community is lacking a global strategy for training. International humanitarian organisations self-critically stressed the need for a more comprehensive strategy for staff selection and training. Codes of conduct have to be developed, if not already existent, and observed.

Humanitarian work and a rights based approach are complementary. It was pointed out that the ability of humanitarian organisations to report on and monitor child rights violations as witnesses is an extremely complex task and is clearly limited in situations of armed conflict.

The panellists as well as the participants agreed that in any rehabilitation programme to be successful the local communities have to be closely involved and that for such programmes to be successful the often necessary expertise of expatriates should be limited to the initial phase. The overall aim is to achieve sustainability by involving the local communities and building their capacity through participation.

A sensitive issue discussed was the question how the international community should create disincentives for children used or recruited, or both, in situations of armed conflicts. In this context, reasons were given why adolescents volunteer for armed groups: war, poverty, lack of education and jobs and violence in the family. Also the problems stemming from statelessness were mentioned.

Finally, the importance of technical assistance for the development of national legislation pertaining to the protection of children was discussed (ICRC, ILO, OHCJR, SRSG-CAAC, UNICEF, etc.).