Paris, 5 February 2007 - "From its birth, every child has the right to protection and support from adults in order to be able to develop and reach its goals. Likewise, every child is entitled to protection from violence and exploitation in war," emphasised State Secretary Hans Winkler today at the Free Children from War Conference in Paris. "Only those who protect the rights of children are making an investment in a peaceful future. The protection of children in armed conflicts has therefore always been a major concern of Austrian foreign policy," stated Winkler.
"Child soldiers suffer the gravest physical and psychological damage. They are deprived of their childhood and all chances of a better future. Close international cooperation and long-term support for the countries concerned, above all in fighting the recruitment of child soldiers, is therefore indispensable," emphasised Winkler.
In the past ten years more than two million children have died in armed conflicts. According to estimates more than 300,000 children are currently forced to use arms in more than thirty conflicts worldwide. As a result, they are not only the victims of violations of international law but also victims of brute force, murder, mutilation and rape.
According to Winkler the situation of girls gave rise to particular concern and required special attention. He therefore called for particular consideration of the situation of girls in demobilisation and re-integration programmes.
Within the framework of development cooperation Austria was actively supporting concrete projects for the protection of children, particularly in Northern Uganda. Here, promoting the long-term re-integration of former child soldiers in the community to prevent renewed recruitment was a priority. Moreover, Austrian participants in international missions were specially prepared and trained to deal with children.
Winkler identified the fight against legal impunity as an important strategy in the efforts for the protection of children in armed conflicts. "Those who recruit children and send them into combat must be called to account," said Winkler. In this context Winkler paid tribute to the important role of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and other special tribunals.
The conference will include a meeting of the State Secretary with the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy. The conference, which is being organised by France and UNICEF, will bring together more than 50 states, including states directly affected by this issue, as well as representatives from international and non-governmental organisations. At the end of the two-day conference the participating states will reaffirm their commitment to the protection of children in the "Paris Principles" and lay down detailed guidelines for future work and better coordination.
Ministry for Foreign Affairs
Office of the State Secretary
Mag. Katharina SWOBODA
Tel.: ++43 (0) 50 1150-3469
Fax: ++43 (0) 50 1159-3469