I am pleased to submit this statement on behalf of the European Union and its Member States. I extend our congratulations to the briefers, the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children in Armed Conflict (CAAC), the Executive Director of UNICEF, and Mariam from civil society. I thank the French Presidency of the Council for organizing the debate.
This year, we mark the 15th anniversary of the adoption of Resolution 1612 that established the UN Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) and the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. Since then, we have seen some signifcant progress: countries criminalised recruitment, adopted protocols for the handover of children or measures to protect schools and hospitals. The resolution is an important milestone and on this occasion we also commend Belgium for their chairmanship in the WG.
Despite some progress in some areas, the report shows that there are still significant gaps, and concerns to be addressed. We expect members of the Security Council to deal with them as a matter of priority and with complete dedication. This means ensuring mainstreaming of the agenda across the work of the Council, inviting the SRSG to brief on country sistuations, raising the CAAC agenda including on child protection issues during Security Council visits, and ensure that such child protection is well budgeted for and addressed in relevant mandate discussions of all UN missions and with SRSGs who appear at the Security Council.
It is shocking that, in 2019, over 25,000 grave violations were committed against children in the 19 situations of the MRM, with continued sexual and gender based violence, which remains vastly underreported, and a worrying trend of a 400% increase of denial of humanitarian access with 4,400 verified incidents this year, and attacks against schools and hospitals. The EU urges parties to armed conflicts, state and non state alike, to ensure universal respect of international humanitarian law, to implement human rights and refugee law as well as to allow for concrete and effective protection, all more important amid the COVID 19 pandemic. The EU also calls upon Member States and Non State actors to improve access to safe and quality education, in line with the recently adopted Resolution 74/275.
This year, as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, we call on its universal ratification. We also welcome other initiatives that build on the existing framework in a complementary manner, such as the Paris Principles and commitments and the Vancouver Principles. The Safe Schools Declaration is also a valuable tool to this end.
The EU remains a staunch supporter of the UN CAAC mandate, which is equipped with essential tools that have a real impact: The Working Group, the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism, the Action Plans, and the annual report with its annex listing parties to conflicts that have committed grave violations. Considering the indispensability of these tools, it is of utmost importance to protect its integrity and impartiality. The EU places a high value on accountability, including through the International Criminal Court. Every year, EU Member States review the EU list of priority countries on CAAC, based on the description of the country situations in the annual report. We encourage the SRSG to continue to secure agreements on new action plans and support the implementation and monitoring of existing ones. In parallel, we value the Manual for Child Protection in UN Peace Operations and we actively support the Practical Guidance for mediators launched in 2020.
The protection and the promotion of child's rights is central to the EU's human rights policy. The draft EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy (2020-2024) supports the demobilisation, long-term rehabilitation and reintegration of children formerly associated with armed forces and groups. The CAAC agenda is mainstreamed in the EU common security and defence policy missions, child protection aspects are taken into account in the planning of operations, trainings, in early-warning and in peace negotiation, while there is close cooperation with the UN peacekeeping operations, UN agencies and funds as well as other actors such as civil society. The EU continues to support projects in Bangladesh, Colombia, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Sudan, providing tailor-made assistance to the release and reintegration of children associated with armed forces and groups, including access to education, psychosocial support and improved livelihood opportunities.
Our strong engagement to the conflict prevention agenda and dedication to move forward the CAAC agenda in times of crisis, such as as the one of COVID- 19, is key to ensure that the right of the child is taken into account in all our efforts in building back better.