Violence against girl children in armed conflict – Keynote Address

Commission on the Status of Women 65 side-event

Violence against Girl Children in Armed Conflict

and the Role of the International Criminal Justice System

17 March 2021

Keynote address by EU Special Representative for Human Rights Eamon Gilmore


Ministers, excellences, distinguished speakers and panellist participants. Good morning/afternoon to all. It is a great pleasure to be with you and I would like to thank the co-organisers for this timely event.

I am delighted to join once again with Special Representative Virginia Gamba as a keynote speaker.

With the EU-GRULAC lead resolution, the UN has declared 2021 the international year for the elimination of child labour. The forced recruitment and use of children in armed conflict is a worst form of child labour.

Tens of thousands of girls and boys are fighting in wars driven by adults around the globe, taking direct part in hostilities, and being abused for sexual purposes. In 2019, over 7000 children were recruited and used in armed conflicts.

Violence against girls in armed conflicts takes many forms, such as attacks on their schools that prevent girls from getting an education; being maimed and killed and being subjected to sexual violence as a tactic of war. Girls are disproportionately affected by conflict.

To protect girls in armed conflicts, prevent violations and hold perpetrators to account, we need to take different actions on many levels. Let me give you three examples of what the EU is currently doing.


1. The EU’s new Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy (2020-2024) sets out concrete objectives to protect children in armed conflict. This political commitment is supported by development and humanitarian programmes, which focus on prevention and response to violence and the recruitment and use of children. Some examples include:

  • In Rakhine State, a programme to promote access to legal aid for children.
  • In West Africa, a programme on access to justice for children on the move, which seeks to improve children’s access to child-friendly justice in Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria.
  • In Colombia, projects funded by the EU to support the reintegration, education and protection of children from further recruitment. I have seen this at first hand.

2. The EU is determined to end all forms of gender-based violence against women and girls. We are implementing this policy through political, financial and technical support not least within the framework of the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative.


In addition, the EU is currently co-leading the new Action Coalition on gender-based violence within the Generation Equality Forum. Actions in the Coalition include objectives to ensure accountability for gender-based violence, to improve access to justice for women and girl survivors and to expand legal aid and rights awareness.


3. The EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy has a strong focus on the promotion of respect for international humanitarian law, accountability and the fight against impunity. So too do the EU Guidelines on promoting compliance with international humanitarian law. The Guidelines set out a list of measures the EU can take in this regard.


This includes supporting in-country initiatives to combat impunity, For example:

  • In 2020, the EU provided support to strengthening national criminal justice systems of a number of countries, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Georgia, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Myanmar and Uganda.

Other measures include strengthening links with international and hybrid criminal tribunals and with UN mechanisms mandated to support the collection, consolidation, preservation and analysis of violations. As an example, the EU supports the international mechanisms for Syria, Libya and Myanmar.


The EU conducts global démarche campaigns and the systematic inclusion of a clause in EU agreements with third countries encouraging the ratification of, or accession to, the Rome Statute.


In December 2020, the EU established a global human rights sanctions regime. For the first time, the EU has equipped itself with a framework that will allow it to target individuals, entities and bodies – including state and non-state actors – responsible for, involved in or associated with serious human rights violations and abuses, no matter where they occurred.


But, we need to find other ways to enhance practical action on the ground to protect children.  In a moving testomony from a girl in the Central African Republic, she captured her terrible experience and a plea for justice, in the follwing words: “I forget exactly when it was that they came, they destroyed everything, we went through the bush before the captured us and raped us. They said we were their slaves. I wish there was a way to file a complaint against the leader of those fighters who did this to us.”


How do we do that? How do we create a way for this girl and other girls to file a complaint?


– States must establish effective investigative and prosecutorial measures at the national level, since the primary responsibility lies with states.

– States need to cooperate; as grave violations against children often transcends borders, this includes sharing data and evidence.

– We should continue to improve the collection of gender-disaggregated data to strengthen and develop gender-responsive policies and gender-sensitive justice mechanisms.

– We should involve children when designing and implementing our policies.


There must be an end to impunity for the recruitment and abuse of children in armed conflicts and everyone must be brought to know that whenever and wherever a girl is recruited in to conflict and is sexually assaulted and abused, the perpetrator will be made accountable.


That is why we must continue to promote the universality of the Rome Statute and support the ICC and other courts/tribunals.


Childhood is not only the early years of our life.  It is also the foundation for the future, a foundation that can determine peace and justice in our societies.


As we meet here today, tens of thousands of girl children are trapped in armed conflict. Our mission is to free them back to their childhood.