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Promotion and protection of the rights of children

26-10-2001 Statement

United Nations General Assembly, 56th session, Third Committee, Item 115 of the agenda, Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 26 October 2001

Mr. Chairman,

Allow me to begin by emphasizing the importance that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) attaches to the effective protection of children, at both the normative and operational levels.

Last year, this Assembly was apprised of the approach underlying ICRC's efforts in favour of children affected by armed conflict. In essence, while children require special attention and activities, given their particular vulnerability, the ICRC deems it just as important, in order to ensure their adequate protection and assistance, that their families and the communities in which they live also be supported.

This approach is reflected in international humanitarian law. It is necessary to promote all applicable norms - that is, provisions of a general scope as well as those specific to children-- to effectively protect the integrity and dignity of children, their families and communities. In this respect, it should be noted that the responsibility for the implementation of international humanitarian law lays mainly with States, as well as with the parties to an armed conflict.

The existing rules must be promoted not only among bearers of weapons, but among as wide a public as possible, including youths. The launch of the " Exploring IHL " project, elaborated for the ICRC by the Education Development Centre and a number of experts, was announced last year. " Exploring IHL " uses an interactive method to teach young people international humanitarian law, and to encourage reflection on dignity and humanity, the principles upon which this body of law is based. Beyond factual knowledge, the discussion of current issues -- such as the protection of civilian s in war time, the role of combatants, the displacement of populations, or child soldiers -- serves to awaken students'awareness.

About 50 countries have committed themselves to using and/or integrating the material into their academic programmes. Initial reactions to the course appear promising, to tell from the handful of those first implemented with the ICRC's support. Adolescents show interest and seem to take to heart the principles of humanitarian law: one student who participated in Bosnia-Herzegovina's pilot programme stated, " Neutrality is extending a friendly hand to all those in need, not because we're on their side but because we respect them as human beings " .

Mr. Chairman,

The recruitment and use of child soldiers represents one of the most dramatic aspects of contemporary conflicts. To effectively address it, our efforts should center just as much on preventing children's recruitment as on their demobilization and reinsertion into society. For the humanitarian community each of these phases represents a challenge of major complexity and magnitude, requiring the involvement of multiple actors and institutions. The National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, their International Federation, and the ICRC all contribute to this far-reaching enterprise through their programmes in a number of war-affected countries. For example, the Movement has undertaken projects notably in the fields of psychological and social rehabilitation of children affected by violence. For its part the ICRC, in the context of its protection activities in favour of unaccompanied children, helps demobilized children re-establish contact with their relatives.

To conclude, Mr. Chairman, the ICRC expresses its hope that the special session of the General Assembly on children will lead to effective measures to improve the plight of children in war.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.