FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thank you, Mr. President. I want to thank you and Foreign Minister Espinosa for your leadership in hosting today’s very important debate.
I’d like to begin by also thanking the Foreign Minister for her very timely comments on Mexico’s handling of the Swine Flu crisis. Here in the U.S., Mr. President, our hearts are with the people of Mexico in this time of trial and we very much applaud Mexico’s efforts to confront and contain the crisis. My government stands hand-in-hand with our friend and neighbor, Mexico, as we work together to deal with what is a shared challenge, one that is affecting both of our countries and indeed many other parts of the world.
With that, Mr. President, I also want to welcome Mexico as the new Chair of the Security Council’s Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, and thank France for its leadership as Chair of the Working Group over the last several years.
I also want to thank Special Representative Coomaraswamy for her briefing and for her steadfast advocacy on behalf of the world’s children. You continue to have our fullest support.
And I also want to just say how moved I know we all were by the testimony young Grace Akallo whose story and experience reminds us of our obligations and the importance of what we are discussing here today.
The United States is deeply committed to the welfare of children, and that includes protecting children from the scourge of war. Every day, hundreds of thousands of children find themselves caught in the clutches of armed conflict—unprotected, exploited, abused, raped and terribly vulnerable.
The Security Council and its Working Group have telegraphed strong political will to help these children and helped shine the international spotlight on their suffering. So the United States welcomes the Secretary-General’s report.
It includes invaluable monitoring and reporting information that highlights both real progress and ongoing tragedies, and it outlines thoughtful recommendations for future action. Before turning to the rest of the report, allow me to comment on a few specific situations.
There is good news from Uganda.
As the report notes, we have no evidence, at present, that the Uganda People’s Defense Forces has recruited child soldiers since August 2007, and Uganda’s strictly enforced laws and regulations now prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers. We commend the Government of Uganda for its efforts—and for signing an action plan last December. We urge other governments and non-state actors to follow Uganda’s example by developing, signing, and implementing action plans of their own.
However, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, however, the situation remains dire. During the reporting period, MONUC documented 554 new cases of children recruited by armed groups, 26 of them girls. We’re also deeply troubled by what the Secretary-General’s report calls “widespread sexual violence” by armed groups in the DRC.
In particular, two foreign armed groups operating in the DRC—the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and the Lord’s Resistance Army—continue to abduct children to serve as soldiers, porters, and sex slaves. And some of these innocents have been murdered in cold blood.
We’re also deeply concerned by the situation in Sri Lanka, where fighting between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has led to a growing and grave humanitarian crisis. Unconfirmed reports that the government continues heavy shelling in the conflict zone causing large numbers of civilian casualties are alarming indeed.
The LTTE has reportedly increased its forcible recruitment of children, and the Tigers are said to threaten families that seek to disclose information about their children to the United Nations. The LTTE also uses civilians as human shields, putting children at even greater risk. Both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE must abide by their commitments to prevent further loss of civilian life. We remain frustrated and concerned that the government of Sri Lanka has not yet allowed a UN humanitarian team into the conflict zone to facilitate relief operations and the safe evacuation of civilians, including children.
We also continue to be deeply troubled by events in Sudan, where close to 500 children—some as young as 12—have been recruited since February 2008 by a range of armed groups, including government forces.
Moreover, attacks and restrictions on humanitarian workers have hindered the delivery of humanitarian aid to children, and the Government of Sudan’s recent expulsion of 13 international humanitarian non-governmental organizations has put the children of Darfur and the three areas at ever more grave risk. My government is also extremely concerned by the 53 verified cases of child rape by armed government elements in Darfur—something that I hope we can all agree is utterly unacceptable.
Madame President, the situations in Sudan, Sri Lanka, the DRC, and elsewhere remind us how much more still remains to be done. One worthwhile step would be expanding the list of triggers for the monitoring and reporting mechanism authorized by Security Council Resolution 1612 to include rape and sexual violence against children, as well as killing and maiming. As the Secretary-General’s report shows, the rate of such crimes against children in combat zones has increased alarmingly.
The United States fully supports such an expansion of these triggers. We applaud the Security Council for soon endorsing today’s Presidential Statement pointing toward the same goal and we look forward to the Council’s further action on this matter.
Finally, the Secretary-General’s report reminds us that some governments and militias are repeat offenders—entities that persist in illegally recruiting and using child soldiers in defiance of the will of the international community.
Where armies and militias that depend on children to fill their ranks do not change their ways, this Council has the authority and the responsibility to consider taking appropriate measures.
The U.S. is determined to do its part. Our support for international organizations such as UNHCR, UNICEF and the ICRC helps meet the needs of refugees and others whose lives have been uprooted by conflict, including the youngest victims of war.
We are also working with our NGO partners to provide education and other programs to meet the needs of children and adolescents in conflict zones and give them hope for a better future.
Madame Minister, the Security Council and the international community have made noteworthy progress together, but we must not stop now.
We share the responsibility to protect all of the world’s children and provide them with a future of promise and opportunity, not one of war and abuse. We have heard the moving stories of such former child soldiers as young Grace—who was here today—Ishmael Beah, and Emmanuel Jal. Let their escapes from terror and despair become the rule for children in armed conflict, not remarkable exceptions. Let their survival and success motivate us all—and spur us to do more.
Thank you, Madam President.
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