Over the last several years, I have led a UN-based campaign to mobilize international action for the protection of children exposed to war. I am now pleased to pass on the baton for this important challenge.
Our initiatives and advocacy have yielded significant advances and innovations, most notably: the protection of war-affected children has been firmly placed on the international peace-and-security agenda; a comprehensive body of protective instruments and standards has now been put in place; a systematic practice of obtaining concrete commitments and benchmarks from parties to conflict has been developed; children’s concerns are being included in peace negotiations and peace accords, and have become a priority in post-conflict programmes for rehabilitation and rebuilding; Child Protection Advisers (CPAs) have been integrated in peacekeeping operations; key regional organizations have incorporated this agenda into their own policies and programmes; this issue has been integrated and mainstreamed in institutions and mechanisms, within and outside the UN; and war-affected children are coming into their own, through their active participation in rebuilding peace and ‘voice of children’ programmes. These efforts have also led to greater awareness and visibility, and created strong momentum.
Above all, with the adoption by the Security Council of Resolution 1612 this week, we have now entered the ‘era of application’. For the first time, the UN is establishing a formal, structured and detailed compliance regime of this kind. This brings together all the key elements we have developed, to ensure accountability and compliance on the ground. This is a turning point of immense consequence.
With the establishment of the monitoring and reporting system, the ‘naming and shaming’ list of offending parties, and time-bound action plans, the UN now has a unique and urgent opportunity to redeem our promise to the children, by ending this trend of horrendous crimes against millions of vulnerable children. I believe that few missions could be more compelling for the UN and the world today.
I thank the Secretary-General for the opportunity to contribute to the important work of the United Nations, an institution which continues to play an indispensable role in a troubled world. I pay special tribute to Madame Graça Machel, whose seminal report laid a strong foundation for this work. I am very grateful to UN colleagues and agencies, delegations, donors, and civil society organizations, for their support and collaboration. I can never thank enough my outstanding staff - - their remarkable commitment and sacrifice, under the particular constraints of a very small office, has been very moving.
As I look back on the road we have traveled, my thoughts go particularly to many people that I have been very fortunate to meet during my visits to zones of conflict - - these ‘ordinary’ people, doing extraordinary things, in impossible circumstances. Out of the ugliness, hatred and desolation visited upon them by the lords of war, these unsung heroes have reclaimed the core and beauty of the human spirit. I have been deeply inspired and humbled by their example of faith, selfless giving and sacrifice, and sheer courage, in the face of overwhelming odds. Let us learn to walk more closely by their side.
I will remain actively engaged in the public campaign in support of the ‘era of application’ - - to ensure compliance with child protection instruments and norms where it matters most, on the ground. Words on paper alone cannot protect children and women in danger.
Olara A. Otunnu
Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict