United Nations Security Council: Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

Statement delivered by Chargé d’affaires a.i., H.E. Mr. Justin Fepuleai.

Mr President,

New Zealand thanks Brazil for organizing today’s important Open Debate. We also extend our gratitude to The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, the Executive Director of UNICEF, Catherine Russell and Patrick Kumi, Executive Director of Similar Ground for their highly informative briefings.

It has been 26 years since the Graça Machel Report was released, drawing global attention to the devastating impact of armed conflict on children.

The Secretary-General’s latest report on Children in Armed Conflict makes it clear that children and young people are uniquely - and often disproportionately - affected by conflict and atrocities.

New Zealand thanks and commends the Secretary-General and his Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict for their tireless work and advocacy. We are all horrified at the way children are used, abused and manipulated; their lives upended, their futures destroyed.

The Secretary-General’s latest report is harrowing reading. We wish to highlight a few issues that demand urgent attention.

Both schools and hospitals have special protections as civilian objects under International Humanitarian Law. Yet in its latest report, the UN verified 116 attacks on schools and hospitals.

New Zealand has endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration – as have 113 other Member States. We urge others to do the same.

In 2016, at the initiative of New Zealand and four other elected members, the Security Council adopted resolution 2286 on health care in armed conflict which unequivocally condemned attacks on health care workers and health care facilities.

The resolution is very simple: the wounded and sick, medical personnel, facilities, transport and equipment must be respected and protected. The delivery of medical assistance must not be obstructed. And yet attacks on hospitals have continued, with children frequently amongst the casualties. Russia’s illegal and unprovoked attack on Ukraine has seen further egregious examples.

These attacks are an affront to our common humanity. They must stop.

Girls in situations of armed conflict face unique risks. In 2021, almost one in three child victims of grave violations were girls, a sharp increase from 2020. 98 percent of sexual violence was perpetrated against girls. 30 percent of abductions affected girls, another significant increase from 2020.

Sadly, we know that these numbers are just the tip of the iceberg, and that the true numbers are far greater. New Zealand will continue to advocate strongly for the rights of children, and especially girls, to be protected in armed conflict.

Finally, we note that climate change is driving conflict through competition for scarce resources. It is inevitable that this will have negative impacts on children.

Climate change is the most pressing issue for our region, the Pacific, and we remain deeply concerned about the impacts on children that are already occurring. Adding conflict to this mix is not a welcome development. We commend the Special Representative and the Secretary-General for committing to further investigate the links between climate change, conflict, and the impacts on children.

In closing, Mr President, let me reiterate New Zealand's full support for the work of the Special Representative and her office; the rigour and integrity of the monitoring and reporting mechanism; and the Secretary General’s comprehensive reporting and recommendations.

We urge all member states to continue to support their vital work, and to help them translate the global consensus on the need to protect the rights of children in conflict settings into a much better reality than we see today.

Thank you.


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