Children in Armed Conflict

Children in Armed Conflict: How can they be protected in a multilevel international framework? A joint commitment by national and international Institutions and Organizations together with the Academic Community

Luxembourg, 21-22 November 2022

Watch the recorded keynote address below

Your Royal Highness, Rector, distinguished speakers and participants, good afternoon to all. It is a great pleasure and privilege to address this conference today.

The world today has the highest number of violent conflicts since World War II. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said earlier this year, that 2 billion people live in conflict areas today, that is one-quarter of the world population. And in all armed conflicts, children bear the brunt of the violence.

In such conflicts, human rights abuses add to the violations of international humanitarian law. In 2021, the United Nations verified nearly 24,000 grave violations committed against children. The humanitarian assistance continues to be denied, the killing and maiming of children goes on, children are still being recruited by armed forces and groups and there is a rise in sexual and gender-based violence, abductions and attacks on schools and hospitals. The high levels of grave violations against children we see around the world are unacceptable.

The EU is committed to intensify the efforts needed to prevent and end grave violations against children, to promote compliance with international humanitarian law and to ensure accountability.

In response to intolerable abuses against children, the EU has made the effects on children by armed conflicts a priority, as recalled in the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child 2021-24.

The EU has committed to prioritise the unconditional and immediate release of children associated with armed forces and groups. Children should be with their family and community.

The EU supports the Global Coalition for Reintegration of Child Soldiers launched with UNICEF on a political level. Our political commitment is backed up by humanitarian and long-term EU development and peacebuilding projects to assist children impacted by armed violence including in Colombia, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

These projects contribute to preventing and responding to violence, provide psychosocial support, assist in family tracing and reunification, and support the release and reintegration of children associated with armed forces and groups.

We know that gender impacts the type of violations that children face. A gender perspective is therefore crucial to understand the needs and to adapt the assistance accordingly.

We also know that education can be a lifesaver – it is our smartest investment to prevent the recruitment, exploitation and use of children in armed conflict. Out of school, children are easier targets of abuse, exploitation and recruitment by armed forces and groups. Yet, a child’s right to education cannot be safeguarded in conflict zones without education itself being protected.

This is why the EU continues to increase investments in education: recently, the EU committed to increase investments in partner countries from 7% to at least 10% of the 2021-27 budget. This will be key to protect children’s right to education and bring out-of-school children back into learning.

Violations of international law, as we have seen in armed conflicts around the world, cry out for accountability — and victims demand it. The need for accountability has never been more extensive, but also, the potential for accountability has never been greater.

The EU engages in transitional justice processes around the world in countries such as, Colombia, Sri Lanka, and the Central African Republic. In many of these processes the effective protection of children and advocacy for their rights are strong components.

The EU also strongly supports measures to ensure accountability in many conflicts. For example in Ukraine, by supporting the ICC investigation and the investigations by the Ukrainian prosecutor, as well as by offering practical assistance.

With the war in Ukraine, we have seen an unprecedented mobilisation for international criminal justice, and support to the ICC. We need to capitalize on this extraordinary moment and to make of what we might call the ‘Ukraine momentum’ a standard for fighting impunity all over the world.

We are seeing a tide of atrocity and abuse, which sometime can feel overwhelming and lead to defeatism. However, it is vital that we look to the future of human rights and international humanitarian law, including the protection of children, with a greater degree of confidence, energy, determination and optimism. Your conference is looking at it in exactly that way. How things can be done better, and looking at paths in which new opportunities can be harnessed.

The EU and its Member States will live up to our commitment to contribute to the protection of children affected by armed conflict and to fight impunity, everywhere. We will do this in close collaboration with our partner countries, international and regional organisations, civil society as well as academia.

Partnership with universities and academics is very important to advance the human rights agenda globally, I would like to thank the organisers for this important event.