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Remarks by Ambassador Zhang Jun at the UN Security Council Briefing on Children and Armed Conflict

2023-02-13 14:55

Madam President, 

I thank you for chairing today’s meeting. I thank Special Representative Virginia Gamba and Special Representative Najat Maalla M’jid for their briefings. I also listened carefully to Ms. Divina’s statement. 

In armed conflicts, children are the most innocent group and the most vulnerable victims. The 2022 report of the Secretary-General alone documents nearly 24,000 verified grave violations against children. There is little doubt that in the real world, more children are paying dearly for the conflicts. The international community must swing into action and shore up defenses to shield them from harm, so that every child can, at a minimum, grow up healthily in an environment of peace and calm. In that connection, I wish to make three points. 

First, conflict prevention and resolution must be the primary and ultimate means of protection. Prevention is the best protection, and the most definitive approach to prevention is to eliminate armed conflicts. Earlier, SRSG M’jid mentioned in her briefing that conflicts have inflicted the greatest harm upon children. According to a relevant agency’s report released at the end of 2022, about 449 million children worldwide, or one in six, were living in a conflict zone in 2021. In conflict areas, millions of children wake up to the sound of guns and artillery on a daily basis. They are dogged by and languish in violence, displacement, poverty, and hunger. As long as the flames of war remain ablaze, children shall forever be stuck in peril, terrified and wide open to harm. They need more than crisis response or humanitarian relief. What they really need is peace that is truly durable. 

And to have that peace, it is imperative to continue seeking a political solution, which is the most conclusive way to resolve conflicts, and invest more efforts in negotiation, good offices, and mediation, instead of resorting to sanctions and other coercive measures, much less fanning the flames or adding fuel to the fire, which would only serve some parties’ self-interests by prolonging and spreading conflicts. To have that peace, it is imperative to act in accordance with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter in good faith, and that entails respecting other countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity, refraining from interference in their internal affairs, opposing maneuvers aimed at government change, and opposing the practice of creating chaos and exporting unrest in the name of counterterrorism or democracy. To have that peace, it is imperative to uphold true multilateralism, strengthen dialogue and cooperation, work together to build the architecture of common security, and unequivocally reject and oppose unilateralism, the Cold War mentality, bloc politics, and confrontation between “us and them”. The choices we make are a matter of war and peace, bearing on the well-being of the next generation. As the children of the world are watching, so is history recording. 

Second, the rule of law must be the fundamental guidance for prevention. In the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the more than 10 Council resolutions on children and armed conflict, the responsibilities and obligations for the protection of children in conflict situations are clearly defined. To effectively prevent violations against children, we must enhance the spirit of rule of law, and put into practice the requirements of international law on the protection of children in armed conflicts. Here on this occasion, we call on the last country in the world that has not ratified the CRC to act without delay, so that this vital Convention can truly achieve universal coverage. 

The sixth grave violations, including the killing of children, sexual violence against children, and attacks on schools, are explicitly prohibited by Council resolutions. But these red lines prescribed in international law are being repeatedly breached. If the violations that have already occurred are not effectively addressed and punished, how can we deter and prevent new violations? Turning to Haiti, where our colleagues from UNICEF are telling us that acts of armed violence against schools in the country, including shooting, ransacking, looting, and kidnappings, have increased nine-fold over the past year. In the face of such heinous, outrageous acts, fighting gang violence pursuant to law is a matter of great urgency. In Afghanistan, what we find concerning is the fact that foreign troops killed civilians indiscriminately and committed violations against children for the past 20 years, creating a slew of horrific tragedies. But to this day, there has been no full investigation into those incidents, no accountability established, and no necessary compensation made pursuant to law. We are equally concerned to note the Secretary-General’s report states that in Iraq, killing and maiming of children have persisted, with explosive remnants of war and IEDs being the leading cause of child casualties. In this regard, there is no doubt that the countries that started the war back then have an unshakable legal and moral responsibility. 

Third, supporting children's development must be the overarching direction of our endeavors. Preventing violations against children is admittedly an onerous job. But it is only a reactive goal. A proactive goal is about development, about the all-around development of children. A person's childhood often shapes their destiny throughout their lifetime, and changing the childhood of a generation may also change the future of a nation. The UN must coordinate humanitarian and development resources in a way that prioritizes the eradication of poverty, zero hunger, universal education, and physical and mental health in its work to protect children. 

However, the harsh reality that we are confronted with is that unilateral sanctions are decimating the economic foundations and development capacity of the countries affected, robbing many children of their right to development and right to survival, which are the most fundamental of all rights. At the largest children's hospital in Kabul, where many children are languishing from disease and severe malnutrition, we hear the distressed and indignant appeal of the hospital's president, Dr. Muhammad Haseeb Wardak, for the unfreezing of Afghanistan's overseas assets, which he said “is our hope”. In Syria, in the aftermath of the powerful earthquake, we have seen that the unlawful unilateral sanctions have led to a severe shortage of heavy equipment and search and rescue tools in Syria, leaving many local people with no choice but to dig with their bare hands. How many more children under the rubble may have perished as a result of untimely rescue or insufficient rescue capacity? Once again, we urge the countries concerned to lift all their unlawful unilateral sanctions immediately without conditions, not to become accomplices to the natural disaster, not to rob Syrian children of their hope of survival, and desist from their hypocritical political grandstanding. 

Madam President, 

The working group on children and armed conflict is an important Council body for the protection of children in conflict areas. I congratulate Malta on taking over the chairpersonship of the working group, and look forward to the working group further improving its methodology, enhancing planning, keeping abreast of all conflict situations on the Council’s agenda, and advancing its deliberations and consultations on country-specific conclusions in a balanced manner. We support the efforts of SRSG Gamba to protect children in conflict areas, and highly commend her visit to Palestine and Israel last December. We look forward to her briefing the working group on her visit and providing advice and recommendations to strengthen child protection. 

Saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war is what the UN set out to achieve at the time of its founding. And protecting the next generation is an abiding moral responsibility of humanity. The discharge of the Council’s responsibilities is not just about holding the meeting. We must take concrete action. Let us tell every child in conflict situations with our actions: We are not failing you. The future is and should be something we can all look forward to. 

Thank you, Madam President.

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