The UN Special Representative spent most of her visit interacting with children. Like children everywhere, they were playful and resilient but she underlined that she was disturbed by their expressions of fear, anxiety, anger and revenge coupled with hopelessness. "It is imperative that peace come to the Middle East for the sake of the children", she said.
According to official sources, approximately 400 children were killed in Lebanon in the recent hostilities. In OPt, 124 were killed in 2006 and today, almost 400 are still in detention. In addition, 8 children were killed or injured on the Israeli side. "Researchers are pointing to the fact that many children in the conflict areas need psycho-social care. Over 30% of children in Northern Israel from all communities suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to research conducted there", she added. She also met many Palestinian children who showed visible signs of being affected by the war.
Ms. Coomaraswamy met with Israeli officials including the Foreign Minister Tzipi Livini and the Minister of Social Affairs. She recognized the very real security concerns of Israel. However, she was still very concerned about the barrier erected to separate Palestinian territory from Israel and raised its humanitarian consequences on children's health, education and right to freedom of movement. "The present route and procedures associated with the barrier are unconscionable", she said. She urged Israeli authorities to appoint an independent civilian committee to look into the humanitarian consequences of the barrier. In the interim, she stressed that urgent attention should be given to the route of the barrier and the permit procedures system. She lauded the efforts of the Israeli Supreme Court as well as Palestinian and Israeli civil society to address the humanitarian impact of the barrier. She further called the Israeli Government to release the customs and taxes revenues due to the Palestinian Authority for health and education expenditures.
Ms. Coomaraswamy also raised the issue of Palestinian detained children, stating that the large number (398) of children detained was only feeding the cycle of violence. She urged that a different approach be taken for children who engage in minor offenses. She emphasized the need for IDF to establish transparent, credible and independent mechanisms of national investigation to provide for accountability and to ensure effective redress to victims of killings and violence against children. She also urged the need for settler populations to be held accountable for acts of violence and harassment against Palestinian children.
The Special Representative also met with President Abbas and Dr Rafiq Husseini, Chief of Staff of President's Office and spoke with Dr Ziyad Abu Amr, Minister of Foreign Affairs. She raised concerns about the use of minors for political and armed violence. She said that she listened to many children who spoke of being engaged in such violence. She welcomed the response of President Abbas and Foreign Minister Abu Amr to revive the code of conduct among Palestinian groups not to involve children in political violence and to engage with UNICEF to devise a plan of action to prevent the use of children in such violence. She also noted the need to ensure security for children both in the oPt and Israel as well as the need to stop rockets being fired indiscriminately into civilian areas from Gaza.
She was pleased to note that both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government were ready to review school curricula to prevent incitement to violence and hatred and to explore ways of reviving the Tripartite Commission to ensure co-operation in this field, including the integration of peace education.
Finally, Ms. Coomaraswamy indicated that she requested the Israeli Government to hand over to the UN Mine Action Center in southern Lebanon strike details with regards to the cluster munitions dropped on Lebanon during the July 2006 war. She stated the she was concerned about rules of engagement in this region and she urged all sides to follow basic principles of international humanitarian law, in particular the importance of separating civilians from combatants and in using only "proportionate" force against any provocation.
The objective of this field visit was to ascertain first hand the situation of children and to report to the Security Council, the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. As a moral independent voice, the UN Special Representative held constructive meetings with Officials, with members of the civil society, NGOs and children affected by conflict.