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Source: Department of Public Information (DPI)
15 October 2008


General Assembly
GA/SHC/3920

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Sixty-third General Assembly
Third Committee
12th & 13th Meetings (AM & PM) Despite positive and precedent-setting developments to protect the rights of the child, emerging challenges -- such as the changing nature of armed conflicts and the global financial, energy and food crises -- were posing new and challenging threats to children, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) was told today. Opening the Committee’s discussion on the rights of children, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, described the changing nature of warfare and its increasingly negative impact on children.  Terrorism, which disproportionately targeted civilians, dominated the security discourse in many parts of the world, and both terrorist actions and counter-terrorism measures seriously violated the rights of the child.

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Earlier in the day, the Committee concluded its general discussion on the advancement of women, in which all speakers noted the close link between improving the lives of women and overall sustainable development.  Delegates touched upon specific areas of concern for women, such as the situation of women living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the feminization of poverty, the effects of urbanization on women, cultural attitudes created by traditionally patriarchal systems, and ongoing issues related to sexual and gender-based violence. 

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Improving the socio-economic situation of women, especially in rural areas, and legislating gender equality were among the strategies proposed to help women meet the many challenges they faced.

Speaking on the advancement of women were the representatives of Israel, Bahrain, Myanmar, Zambia, Guatemala, Panama, Ethiopia, Norway, Argentina, Jordan, Tonga, the United Republic of Tanzania and Cameroon, as well as the Observer Mission of Palestine.  The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) also spoke on the subject. 

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 18 October, to continue its discussion on the rights of the child.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to conclude its discussion on the advancement of women (documents before the Committee on that topic are summarized in Press Release GA/SHC/3918), after which it will take up the promotion and protection of the rights of children.

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Statements on Advancement of Women

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NADYA RIFAAT RASHEED, observer for Palestine, aligning herself with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that women must be allowed to enjoy their full fundamental human rights, since a denial of those rights would not only limit opportunities for women but would also handicap the development of societies.  One of the most tragic human rights situations for women was occurring in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem.  Occupation compounded the pressures and constraints that already existed within societies in regards to the advancement of women.  Like all other women, Palestinian women fought gender inequalities and discrimination within their own society.  However, 41 years of occupation, and the ills that had accompanied it, remained the major obstacle to their social, economic and political advancement.

For example, the increase of restrictions on the movement of Palestinians within the occupied territories had forced 69 women to give birth at Israeli checkpoints since 2000, she said.  Thirty-five of those women had miscarried, and many more pregnant women in the territories had died due to inadequate medical care.  Indeed, lack of proper medical care during pregnancy was the third highest cause of mortality among Palestinian women of reproductive age in the Occupied Territories.  Occupation had also placed the Palestinian economy in a disastrous state, and poverty and unemployment within the occupied territories was rampant.  Urgent attention and assistance must, thus, be given to Palestinians living under occupation and, in particular, to women and their children.  The international community must demand that Israel, as the occupying power, abide by its obligations under international humanitarian law towards the civilian population in the occupied territories, especially in Gaza.  In spite of all the challenges they faced, Palestinian women continued to be resilient in their quest for peace, since only then would they be able to make real progress towards securing a promising future.

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Debate on Rights of Children

RADHIKA COOMARASWAMY, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said that...

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The main challenge facing children and armed conflict lay in the changing nature of warfare, where civilian life was far less protected, she said.  Recent visits to Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories had shown that those countries, as in many others, faced what had been termed a “terrorist problem”, where insurgent groups mobilized children in their political and military activities and, at times, used them as child suicide bombers.  Some groups attacked schools where children studied and were particularly brutal with regard to female students.  In response to those developments and insurgencies, children were now being found in military detention, held without due judicial process.  As well, there was an increased use of aerial bombardments and precision bombing, where collateral damage was an increasing factor and children were often innocent victims.  The fundamental principles of international humanitarian law --the separation of civilian from combatant and the rule of proportionality -- were often breached and Member States must, therefore, make it clear that the rules of engagement, as defined by international law, must be implemented.

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Questions and Answers

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Referring to statements made by Ms. Coomaraswamy, regarding children being detained in military prisons and the indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas, the representative of Lebanon highlighted the fact that those were both challenges that faced the children living in the occupied Palestinian territories.  Yet, neither the situation of Palestinian children, nor the obligations of Israel, an occupying power, had been discussed in the report of the Special Representative.  He asked the Special Representative why that was the case.


A similar question was asked by the Observer of Palestine, who highlighted the number of children who had died -- more than 1,000 since the year 2000 - in the occupied territories.  He asked how the Special Representative would address that issue in the future, and what she and the international community could do to address both that issue and the situation of Palestinian children being held in Israeli detention centres.


Also on the subject of children under detention, the representative of Egypt noted the seriousness of the problem, and asked Ms. Coomaraswamy what she thought needed to be done to help those children, particularly in terms of their release, rehabilitation and reintegration into society...

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Responding to questions regarding violations against children, as a result of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Ms. COOMARASWAMY said the annual report did not deal with specific country situations.  Instead, she referred Member States to a separate report on her Office’s visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel.  Her Office was indeed concerned by the killing and maiming of children in that region, and voiced hoped that the current ceasefire would hold.  It was also concerned about the effects of public sector strikes on children’s education, since that meant schools were closed.  Delays in accessing medical care also posed worries -- most recently, 11 children were reported to have died because of such delays.


On children in detention, she pointed to a set of guiding principles of juvenile justice put forward by the Secretary-General, which posited that the Members of the United Nations would always operate in the best interests of the child.  Detention should be the last resort, and alternatives to detention should be used wherever possible... 

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For information media • not an official record

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