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Promotion and protection of the rights of the child

12-10-2000 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 55th session, Third Committee, agenda item 110 – Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 12 October 2000

Madam Chair,

As we all know, the plight of children affected by armed conflict has become a priority for the international community. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has been faced with the problem for many years, is pleased to note that considerable efforts are being made in this area. Developments in international law, Security Council resolutions 1261 (1999) and 1314 (2000) and the many conferences on the issue, notably those convened by the Ghanaian and Canadian governments, bear witness to this. The ICRC earnestly hopes that the special session of the General Assembly in 2001 for the follow-up to the World Summit for Children will prompt States to make firm and tangible commitments in this regard. It wishes to reiterate here its resolve and its readiness to cooperate in this task with States, international organizations and other humanitarian agencies.

At the normative level, the Geneva Conventions and their Additional ProtocolsConvention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts, the Statute of the International Criminal Court, which in Article 8 attach great importance to the protection of children, both through provisions relating to the protection of the civilian population in general and through provisions specifically concerning children. In the field of human rights, there are many treaties that refer specifically to children. The ICRC took an active part in the drafting of these instruments, notably the defines the conscription or enlistment of children under the age of 15 as a war crime.

Today efforts must focus on ratification and implementation of these treaties. The ICRC Advisory Service is at the disposal of States to help in the drafting of national legislation for the implementation of international humanitarian law, and is ready to offer its support in regard to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol.

It is also vital to step up efforts to spread knowledge of the rules. In 2001 the ICRC will be making available to States and educational organizations a training module especially designed for young people, as part of an initiative entitled " Exploring humanitarian law " , launched in cooperation with teachers and experts from about 20 countries. This ambitious project aims at convincing adolescents of the fact that even in war, not everything is permitted. It seeks to inculcate the basic elements of humanitarian law and to explain the action taken by individuals, organizations and States to limit the effects of armed clashes, in the hope of making young people aware of their individual responsibility in this regard. Furthermore, in 1999 the ICRC and UNICEF jointly published an educational module regarding the use of child soldiers and implementation of the law.

Madam Chair,

At the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, held in Geneva in 1999, the States party to the Geneva Conventions and the components of the International Red C ross and Red Crescent Movement - that is, the ICRC, the 176 National Societies and their International Federation - pledged to ensure better protection for children affected by armed conflict.

At the operational level, children benefit from the ICRC's comprehensive programmes for the civilian population, which provide protection and assistance for their families and their communities. In conducting these programmes the ICRC pays special attention to the specific needs of children, notably in the areas of nutrition and health.

The ICRC also carries out protection activities specifically for children. For example, wherever circumstances permit, it seeks to prevent their recruitment and participation in hostilities by making representations to the parties in conflict. Within the Movement, it lends support to psycho-social reintegration programmes for children run by National Societies. Finally, when visiting persons deprived of their freedom, the ICRC asks the detaining authorities to keep children in separate quarters from adults, and if possible to release them. 

Children are also at the core of the ICRC's activities to trace missing persons, arrange for the exchange of family messages and reunite dispersed families. The magnitude of this task means that no single organization could hope to carry it out alone. Cooperation with other humanitarian partners is therefore essential.

Since the early 1990s, in all the situations in which it works the ICRC has been setting up databases to record information about missing persons and unaccompanied children. During the crisis in Rwanda and the Great Lakes, for instance, the Institution centralized and made available all the information on unaccompanied children gathered by over 150 organizations.

The report of the Secretary-General to the Millennium Assembly mentions a project of the International Rescue Committee ent itled " Child Connect " , which relies on the use of a database to trace missing children. The ICRC, together with other humanitarian organizations, takes part in a working group set up to examine this project, which has been under discussion since 1999. It has shared with the group its experience in managing personal data, in particular the question of the protection of data and of the individual. Needless to say, it will continue to cooperate in this endeavour in accordance with its principles and working methods.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

 Ref. LG 2000-104-ENG