Free Children from War Conference in Paris, February 5./6., 2007
Speech by Austrian State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Dr. Hans Winkler
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Ten years ago the seminal report by Graça Machel emphasized that "the impact of armed conflict on children must be everyone's concern and is everyone's responsibility". Austria shares this assertion which is as true today as it was then. We therefore express our deep appreciation to the Government of France and to UNICEF for convening this landmark conference and their leadership shown in the process. This conference is a unique and timely gathering of States, of an impressive number of international and non-governmental organisations and personalities active in this field to forge a global coalition for the protection of children. Let me also stress that Austria aligns itself with the statement made by the Presidency of the European Union.
Significant progress has been achieved since the Graça Machel report and the Cape Town principles in raising awareness for the impact of armed conflict on children and in developing concrete policies and programmes for their protection. Today, we have not only a comprehensive body of international human rights and humanitarian law for the protection of children during conflict, but we can also see strong action and new mechanisms by the UN Security Council. The "Paris Commitments" build upon these achievements are a collective undertaking of all States - affected countries, as well as others to live up to our common obligations towards our children.
Far too many children become victims of armed conflict every year. We must combat effectively the recruitment or use of children by armed forces and groups; we must ensure their release and demobilization and, ultimately, their successful reintegration into society. The primary responsibility rests with the country concerned, but the entire international community has a responsibility to support these efforts: speaking out against the recruitment or use of children wherever and whenever is occurs, and by supporting programmes to help affected children and communities.
Austria attaches particular importance to redoubling efforts to end impunity for crimes committed against children, in particular the recruitment or use of children. Important developments before the International Criminal Court, but also at the Special Court for Sierra Leone will certainly serve as powerful deterrent against such violations in the future. We must send a clear message: Those who recruit or abuse children will be held accountable and responsible. At the same time, children associated with fighting forces have to be seen primarily as victims. They need our support.
For many years, Austria has been working with others to enhance the protection of children affected by armed conflict. Within the United Nations, Austria has actively supported the establishment and work of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict; and I would like to use this opportunity to thank Ms Radhika Coomaraswamy for all her important work. Within the "Human Security Network" we are a lead country on children and armed conflict. We also gave priority to this issue during the Austrian EU Presidency last year: in elaborating a comprehensive implementation strategy for the EU Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict as well as a checklist for the integration of the protection of children in EU crisis management and post-conflict operations was adopted. Today, the mandates of all relevant EU-Special Representatives include an explicit reference to the protection of children. Late last year, the first “EU-UN Specialisation Course on Child Protection, Monitoring and Rehabilitation” took place at the European Peace University in Schlaining, Austria.
At national level, efforts are being undertaken to ensure that all personnel deployed to the field - whether military, police, or civilian - undergo training in child rights and child protection in order to live up to their obligations vis-à-vis the local population and in particular children. In all these efforts as well as in the support to peace processes, the Austrian Government attaches particular importance to protect and support women and girls. Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik attaches high priority to the involvement of women: We need to fully involve them in all phases of peace processes, in particular in post conflict situations. I therefore warmly welcome the strong emphasis of the Paris Commitments and Guidelines on the particular protection needs of girls.
Upholding the human rights of children is a challenge for every country. It is particularly difficult for countries in the midst of conflict, but essential to achieve human security, stability and development. We need to protect children from physical attack and abuse; we need to ensure that they have access to education, health care and other basic social services so that they can achieve the highest attainable standard of living and develop their full capacities.
Our children deserve no less. This is a shared responsibility of all of us assembled here. I would therefore like to express the full support of the Government of Austria to the "Paris Commitments".