-- Translation of advance text --
I have the honour to speak in my capacity as Presidency of the EU.
First of all, I wish to express my sincere appreciation to the government of France and to UNICEF for convening this important conference. The EU welcomes and fully supports this timely initiative to re-energize international efforts to further discuss and seek answers to the many challenges posed by the issue of children and armed conflict.
I would also like to thank the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on children and armed conflict for her dedicated work in taking this agenda forward.
The EU attaches utmost importance to the promotion and protection of the rights of children in general.
Particular attention is given to those affected by armed conflict.
Their situation continues to be most serious: In the past decade alone, armed conflicts are estimated to have claimed the lives of over two million children and physically maimed six million more.
Conflict deprives children of parents, care-givers and basic social services, such as health care and education. At any given time, there are estimated to be at least 300,000 child soldiers participating in armed conflicts.
As a result of unlawful recruiting practices, tens of thousands of children are killed, maimed, raped or abducted from their homes every year.
The consequences are dramatic: these children are not only robbed of their childhood and deprived of basic human rights – they are often left traumatized, stigmatized and psychologically and physically scarred for life – while the perpetrators of these persistent violations mostly go unpunished.
The EU appeals to all countries:
- to take action against such practices and to actively support international efforts to end the use of child soldiers,
- to improve the situation of children affected by armed conflict in a comprehensive and coordinated fashion and
- to end impunity for those who forcibly recruit children into armed groups and who coerce them into sexual exploitation.
In this context, it is also a great success for the international community that the first trial also dealing with the crime of forced recruitement of children will be opened by the International Criminal Court shortly.
The EU welcomes all recent positive steps to improve the situation of children affected by armed conflict and supports relevant international actors, most notably the UN and its special mechanisms – in particular the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict and the UN Security Council, the Council of Europe and the OSCE but also UNICEF, OHCHR, UNHCR as well as many human rights and civil society organizations.
It is the EU´s declared objective to take effective measures to protect children from the effects of armed conflict, to end the use of children in armies and armed groups and to end impunity.
In 2003, the EU adopted foreign policy guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict to underline the importance it attaches to this issue and to define concrete measures to help these children.
In applying these guidelines, the EU aims to work with third countries and non-state actors to implement international human rights norms and standards and humanitarian law as well as regional human rights instruments with regard to children.
However, we can and must not stop here:
Children affected by armed conflict suffer a multitude of problems and have special needs ranging from short term to long term post-conflict needs. Disarmament and demobilization are as much part of a comprehensive approach as are social reintegration and physical and psychological rehabilitation.
To address these needs in a coordinated manner, sustained and systematic action on the basis of the existing international safeguards is required from all stakeholders.
Such a comprehensive approach is pursued by the EU on the basis of its guidelines. And the approach of this conference is similar, in providing detailed guidance down to the country level – including aspects such as prevention, monitoring, release and reintegration of child soldiers.
I am therefore convinced that this conference can give an important new impetus to ongoing international efforts to end the use of child soldiers as much as it can very usefully complement existing efforts to this end.
The EU welcomes the draft “Paris Commitments” as well as the “Paris Principles” as a basis for a more coherent international approach and further harmonization of programmes and funding activities for children in armed conflict.
The EU will actively support the implementation of these principles and calls on other states, civil society and other relevant human rights actors to also adhere to these principles and commitments and to integrate them into national policy and development frameworks. For it is at the level of national governments, states and non-states actors that these policies have to be translated into concrete action and where the success of our endeavours will be ultimately measured.
The EU looks forward to the further consideration of these issues and will continue to make every effort to ensure better protection of the rights and well-being of children affected by armed conflict.
On behalf of all EU partners I wish this conference every success.
Thank you for your attention.