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Item 3: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict
September 16, 2009

Statement delivered by Melanie Khanna
Legal Adviser
U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva

UN Human Rights Council – 12th Session
Geneva, September 16, 2009

Thank you, Mr. President.

The United States thanks Special Representative Coomaraswamy for her comprehensive report, and we commend her for the progress she has achieved this year in addressing the situation of children in armed conflict. You have our full support.

The United States is deeply committed to addressing issues regarding the welfare of children, and we are demonstrating our commitment by actively participating in the Security Council’s Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.

The United States welcomes the Special Representative’s report and agrees with many of its recommendations. First, we share Ms. Coomaraswamy’s concern about the disturbing increases in the number of rapes and other acts of sexual violence committed against children. Second, we support her call to end impunity for violations and abuses committed against children in situations of armed conflict. Third, we strongly urge all parties to follow through on their agreements with the Special Representative and to devote themselves to ensuring children are protected from violations and abuses in armed conflicts.

The report includes some encouraging information from country visits. The United States would like to note the progress made in a number of situations. We commend the government of Uganda for signing an action plan in 2008. We hope that other affected countries will take Uganda’s lead by adopting and implementing strategies to combat sexual violence in armed conflict.

We note that the Government of Sri Lanka is engaging proactively with UNICEF and we encourage more attention to the plight of child soldiers. Specifically, we urge the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure an end to under-age recruitment by pro-government paramilitary groups. We urge the government to work closely with UNICEF, IOM and other international organizations and NGOs to support the rehabilitation and reintegration into society of former child combatants.

As noted in the report, however, progress has been sometimes mixed. For instance, 223 child soldiers were released in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the week after the January 2009 peace agreement between the Government and the CNDP rebel group. However, an overall lack of command-and-control enabled some commanders to continue using unlawfully recruited child soldiers with impunity. In addition, the “rapid integrating” of former militia members into the DRC army has not allowed for sufficient screening to prevent the inadvertent inclusion of unlawful underage fighters. We understand that SRSG Coomaraswamy herself identified several such child soldiers during her time in the eastern DRC in June of this year.

We urge governments to implement legislation to address children and armed conflict. In December 2008, the United States Congress passed the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act and the Child Soldiers Accountability Act. These laws, among other things, prohibit certain foreign assistance to countries whose armed forces or government supported armed groups that unlawfully recruit or use child soldiers and request our missions overseas to report on the use of unlawfully recruited child soldiers.

Mr. President, hundreds of thousands of children are caught in the middle of armed conflict through no fault of their own. In most cases, they cannot ensure their own safety, protection and dignity. The United States looks forward to continuing to work with the international community to protect them.

Thank you.