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Children and armed conflict
Letter dated 6 July 2006 from the Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General (S/2006/494)
The meeting resumed at 2.40 p.m.
The President (spoke in French ): I now give the floor to the representative of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
Mr. Anzola (Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela) (spoke in Spanish ): ...
Lastly, Venezuela cannot fail to express its deep concern for the situation of boys and girls in Lebanese territory and in the occupied Palestinian territories, given the tragic events that threaten their physical integrity. We call on all the States and international agencies to fulfil their obligation to protect the lives of those who are unjustly swept up in this outbreak of violence in the Middle East.
In recent events in the Middle East, we have seen photos of children being used to support activities of destruction and war. That is no more than a reflection of how the warlords use even the innocence of children who are swept up in traumatic situations around the world.
The President (spoke in French ): The next speaker on my list is the Permanent Observer of Palestine, to whom I give the floor.
Mr. Mansour (Palestine): Palestine welcomes this open Security Council ministerial debate on children and armed conflict, and we extend our deep appreciation to the French presidency for having convened such a timely debate. We firmly share the belief that the protection of children in armed conflict is a matter of immense importance. The interest shown by the Council is both appropriate and necessary, and we hope that it will continue to give it priority attention until sufficient and serious protection of children in armed conflict is granted in all cases, without selectivity or inaction based on political considerations.
Before continuing, Palestine would also like to take this opportunity to welcome Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. We congratulate her and wish her success in her task of furthering the cause of protecting children affected by armed conflicts. We are hopeful that her efforts will greatly contribute to ensuring that the plight of children exposed to violations and abuses during armed conflicts will be more vigorously addressed by the international community. In this connection, we would like to thank her for her recent statement, issued on 20 July 2006, calling for the protection of children in the Middle East. We would also like to thank Ms. Ann Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF, for her attendance and for her participation in this debate. We thank them both for their thought-provoking statements and hope that their ideas and proposals are given careful consideration. We also welcome the presence and participation of the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
For more than 39 years, Israel, the occupying Power, has been committing serious violations and grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in its policies and practices against the Palestinian people, including Palestinian children. It continues to flagrantly and systematically violate their human rights, in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Israeli occupation has permeated every level of their lives, affecting even their most basic rights and gravely impairing and endangering their lives and their very future.
I regret to state that it is very difficult for the Security Council to assert credibility, or claim success, in dealing with the issue of the protection of children in armed conflict when it has repeatedly failed to effectively respond to the protection needs of Palestinian children and other children in our region. Here I refer to the increased need for urgent action in that area during the past several years, and most recently, over the past several weeks, during the latest Israeli aggression against the besieged Gaza Strip and its captive civilian population, including children, many of whom have been killed, injured, maimed, left homeless, left motherless and fatherless, terrorized and traumatized by the occupying forces. The death toll among the Palestinian people — devoid of protection by the international community — has, just in the past few weeks, surpassed 100 people, at least 16 of them children. Even more tragic is the fact that, since September 2000, the number of Palestinian civilians killed by the Israeli occupying forces now total s more than 4,000 Palestinians, including over 800 children.
These staggering figures do not include the thousands of innocent and defenceless children seriously injured by the Israeli occupying forces. Sadly, the lives of Palestinian children under Israeli occupation are under constant threat, for there is no refuge or safe haven, when even their homes, classrooms, playgrounds and hospitals are not safe from the excessive and indiscriminate assaults carried out by the occupying Power.
In that connection, we continue to call on the international community, especially the Security Council, to fulfil its obligations and to take the necessary measures to ensure the protection of the Palestinian civilian population, including in particular children, in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and not to leave them any longer at the mercy of the brute force and illegal policies and practices of the occupying Power.
Another important issue that must be brought to the attention of the Council is the fact that the deaths of Palestinian children at the hands of Israeli occupying forces are usually given only a cursory investigation, if any. Indictments of members of the Israeli occupying forces for the killing or injury of civilians are rare, and convictions are almost unheard of. That has fostered a culture of impunity among the occupying forces and heightened their perception that they are immune from the law and will not be held accountable for their illegal actions. It is scarcely surprising, then, that Israeli occupying forces act with an air of moral immunity, often shooting excessively, unnecessarily and indiscriminately.
One stark example of the occupying Power’s indifference to the right of Palestinian children to life is an Israeli military court’s decision of 15 November 2005 to clear an Israeli occupying force commander of a range of charges, including illegally using his weapon after he fired a stream of bullets into the body of an already-injured 13-year old Palestinian schoolgirl in Rafah. At the time of the incident, in October 2004, transcripts of the occupying Power’s radio communication exchange revealed that occupying forces in the watchtower had quickly identified Iman Al-Hems — who was dressed in a school uniform issued by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East — as “a girl of about 10 [who was] scared to death”. As Iman was running away from the army post, she was shot in the leg and fell to the ground. At that point, the occupying force commander moved in and, standing over the helpless Iman, shot her twice in the head, walked away, turned back and fired a stream of bullets into her body, “confirming the kill”, as he termed it.
Indeed, such horrifying actions are a blatant violation of the right to life — the fundamental right of any human being and a right which States parties must expressly recognize under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. But it is not just the right to life that Israel deliberately denies Palestinian children. The policies and practices of the occupying Power violate a countless number of the rights set out in the Convention and other binding international legal instruments, including the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949. Accordingly, it is imperative that measures ultimately be taken to hold the perpetrators of such crimes accountable and to bring them to justice, for without such measures the culture of impunity that we are now witnessing will only grow, with even more disastrous consequences.
I would like to acknowledge that the concept paper regarding this debate suggested that we remain focused on the subject matter and make suggestions. In our opinion, the issue is clear and can be summarized in one word: compliance. That includes compliance with relevant instruments of international humanitarian law and human rights law and compliance with the Security Council’s own resolutions. That will ultimately provide the most comprehensive protection for children in armed conflict. We add to that, once again, the need to avoid selectivity, be it with regard to enforcing compliance or in dealing with the matter as a whole.
In conclusion, we believe that the establishment of the reporting and monitoring mechanism, as well as the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, as outlined in resolution 1612 (2005), is a good start in providing the foundation for addressing the issue before us. We invite Ms. Coomaraswamy to visit the occupied Palestinian territory, as we have requested in the past of former Special Representative Olara Otunnu, to examine the absence of protection for Palestinian children under Israeli occupation and to make concrete suggestions on ways to ensure the protection they so desperately need, as is accorded to them under international law. The Security Council Group should also play a leading role in that regard. Serious and urgent efforts must be undertaken to put an end to the dire situation facing Palestinian children. They, like all children of the world, deserve to live in a world in which they can grow, play and learn in freedom, peace and security.
The President (spoke in French ): I now give the floor to the representative of Egypt.
Mr. Abdelaziz (Egypt) ( spoke in Arabic ): ...
While we reiterate our support for all the Council’s efforts to promote ways and means of protecting children in the above-mentioned armed conflicts, as an expression of our African and our international responsibilities, Egypt is astonished at the Council’s exclusion of a group of most unfortunate children, those under foreign occupation and in particular the children in the occupied Palestinian territories. Those children are killed every day due to the oppressive and inhuman acts committed by Israel against them. They are punished for the mere expression, with their faint voices and stones, of their refusal of the occupation of their lands, the imprisonment of their families and the blockade and prevention of access to supplies and humanitarian assistance that is leading to the denial to them of all means of a decent life.
Last Friday, Mr. Nambiar, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, briefed the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East. Among other things, he correctly stated that the latest military actions by Israel had resulted in the killing of 147 Palestinians thus far, at least 15 of whom were children killed in their houses and villages as the result of a series of attacks. The most recent such incident was the killing of a large number of children who were spending their summer vacation on the beach of Gaza, by bombarding them from the sea.
There is no doubt that the Security Council’s neglect of the suffering of the Palestinian children under occupation has encouraged Israel to widen and expand the scope of its military operations to include the children in Lebanon, within the context of its current ongoing military operations.
Under-Secretary-General Jan Egeland stated to the Council last Friday, and reaffirmed during his subsequent visit to Lebanon, the magnitude of the humanitarian tragedy confronting one million Lebanese, due to the disproportionate and arbitrary Israeli military attacks that have resulted in a huge number of children losing their lives or being maimed or disabled. In addition, other Lebanese children are suffering from severe humanitarian crises and tragedies as a result of the military operations and blockade that have led to the lack of food, water, medicine and other essential needs of life.
I was delighted to see Ms. Coomaraswamy interviewed this morning on an Arab television station, where she reaffirmed her readiness to make all necessary efforts to protect children in Lebanon. I hope that we will soon see practical steps in that regard.
Egypt demands that the Security Council immediately take a decision to broaden the scope of the work of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict to include the children in the occupied Palestinian territories and Lebanon. Egypt requests the Council to take the necessary effective measures to guarantee equality between the Arab children in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, African children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire and Burundi, who are duly protected by the Council and the United Nations from such inhuman acts.
Egypt requests that all measures be taken at the level of both the Security Council and the General Assembly to prevent Israel from attacking children and to ensure that it respects, as an occupying Power, its legal commitments, as well as to guarantee that a comprehensive and just solution to the Middle East crisis is achieved exclusively through the final status negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations as soon as possible. That would provide the necessary protection for Palestinian, Lebanese and Israeli children alike.
The President (spoke in French ): ... The next speaker on my list is the representative of Israel, to whom I give the floor.
Mr. Sermoneta (Israel): ...
We note with particular interest the observation of the Council’s Working Group that the majority of conflicts today occur within national boundaries. Many of the most infamous civil conflicts of recent decades have been in Africa. But Israel also bears the burden of a neighbouring failed State: the failure of Lebanon to fully extend its sovereignty over the whole of its territory and the growth of an ingrained terrorist infrastructure and ideology that has moved into that vacuum. We can sympathize with the inhabitants of those areas who are held hostage to an ideology of hate and death, because we too are held hostage to Lebanon’s failure.
In the north of Israel children are the victims of wave after wave of rockets and mortars — thousands of them by now — launched indiscriminately by Hizbollah terrorists. May I remind the Council that Israel completely withdrew from that area more than six years ago.
Israel must further note the cynical and dangerous exploitation by the State supporters of the Hizbollah terrorist infrastructure, Syria and Iran. By deliberately embroiling the civilian population of Lebanon in this conflict, they have reduced these innocents to mere pawns in their regional strategy.
In the south of Israel children have also been subjected to an ongoing barrage of Qassam rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, an area administered by the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. Israel disengaged from that area almost one year ago.
Hundreds of thousands of children in my country have no summer vacation — no time to play in the fields and playgrounds with their friends in what should be a time in their lives free of stress and anxiety. Instead they hear the wail of sirens and know the look of fear on their parents’ faces as they scoop them up in their arms and run to bomb shelters. And they are the lucky ones who have not personally experienced the damage and death visited by terrorists’ rockets.
Palestinian children are victims of a culture of hate and violence. They are indoctrinated from a tender age by their teachers and by textbooks and learn to denigrate and delegitimize the other. Finally, in the ultimate act of hate, they are brought to the point where they are willing to embrace their own early deaths for the sake of other people’s deaths. What more shocking abuse of children could one imagine than to strap bombs around them and send them on suicide missions to kill other innocent civilians — when they have probably not had an opportunity to play football with other children and school mates more than a few times?
Schoolbooks from all over the region, including from Member States that took the floor only minutes ago, similarly call on children to sacrifice themselves. In a typical example, one text instructs schoolchildren that martyrs have nothing to fear and nothing to be sad about. We must put an end to such virulent indoctrination if there is to be any hope for our future generations to live together in peace. This is probably the most extreme example of the opposite of education.
The reality on the ground has created difficult questions for us as a nation, such as how States are effectively to fight terrorist organizations that deliberately endanger both the civilian population they target and those they use as human shields. How can States exercise their legitimate right to take defensive measures against terrorism without causing undue harm to the civilian population? We wrestle daily with the strategic and ethical complexities of this balancing act. It is, we have observed, a debate that has not entered the halls of government of some of our neighbours, especially those of Lebanon, Syria and Iran.
Our foremost obligation as a nation is to protect our civilian population from violence. That is not only an obligation, it is a right recognized by the Charter of the United Nations. Yet we must also take great pains to minimize any harm to other civilian populations, thereby preserving the fundamental values, principles and the democratic rule of law that defines Israel as a nation, which we proudly embrace. We grieve for all civilian casualties on all sides. We hold those who have knowingly and deliberately precipitated this violence fully responsible.
We must emphasize the difference between terrorists that deliberately target innocent civilians — especially children — including the States that sponsor them, and those States that, acting defensively, target these lawless terrorists. Not to make that distinction is to lend equal legitimacy to terrorists who carry out unprovoked terrorist acts and States acting in self-defence. That would run counter to all international precedent and the Charter of the United Nations itself and would serve to encourage terrorists to commit ever greater numbers of terrorist acts.
We have heard today of Israel’s alleged indifference to the lives of children in the region. I must say here emphatically that we want nothing more than to ensure the safety of all children, in Israel and throughout the region. The most direct path to that goal is the cessation of terrorist acts emanating from these areas. We have shown time and again that when there is peace on our borders we have no interest in interfering in the internal matters of our neighbours. On the contrary, the terrorist organizations of Hamas and Hizbollah, the Governments of Syria and Iran and the Palestinian Authority have all shown callous indifference to all children in the region by instigating and perpetuating terrorist acts against Israel.
Finally, we must ask: What of the children who survive these conflicts around the world? Who can gauge how they will grow up? We cannot sit idly by while these vile, callous terrorists and their sponsors and purveyors of death around the world create countless more lost generations. We have finally learned the lesson of the past that implores us to resolutely resist the creeping ideology of hatred and violence that threatens us all. All nations here must recognize the danger posed by this terror to their own States and, ultimately, to their own children, whom they have the most sacred duty to protect. We ask the entire international community to stand with us and against the devastation visited on children by wanton, indiscriminate terrorism and violence.
The President (spoke in French ): There are no further speakers inscribed on my list. The Security Council has thus concluded the current stage of its consideration of the item on its agenda.
The meeting rose at 4.20 p.m.
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