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EU guidelines on children and armed conflict
Through these guidelines, the European Union (EU) highlights the issue of children in armed conflict and undertakes to promote respect for the rights of these children in non-EU countries.
Update of the EU guidelines on children and armed conflict . General Affairs Council of 16 June 2008 [Not published in the Official Journal].
In the last decade, armed conflicts have, on estimation, claimed the lives of over two million children, physically maimed six million, orphaned one million and created up to 20 million displaced or refugee children. It is estimated that there are at least 300 000 child soldiers in the world. These guidelines are intended to highlight the issue of children in armed conflict and to give more prominence to European Union (EU) actions in this area. Promotion of and respect for children’s rights is a priority of the EU’s human rights policy, within the context of the Common Foreign and Security Policy as well as policies on development cooperation and humanitarian aid.
The EU undertakes to address the short, medium and long-term impact of armed conflict on children. To this end, it aims to persuade non-EU countries and non-state actors to apply international humanitarian law and human rights norms, standards and instruments, as well as to effectively protect children from the effects of armed conflict. These guidelines also aim at preventing the recruitment of children into armed forces and groups and impunity for crimes against children.
Practical measures taken by the EU
The Council Working Group on Human Rights (COHOM), in collaboration with other relevant working parties, identifies situations where EU action is necessary on the basis of:
- periodic reports from EU Heads of Mission, Heads of Mission of civilian operations, Military Commanders and Special Representatives that include an evaluation of the effects of conflict on children and the impact of EU action;
- ad hoc reports on country situations from Heads of Mission that may include the issue of children and armed conflict;
- information from the Commission on EU-funded projects aimed at children and armed conflict and post-conflict rehabilitation;
- reports and recommendations from the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, the UN Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, UNICEF, UN Special Mechanisms and human rights Treaty Bodies, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
To promote and protect children affected by armed conflict, the EU uses a variety of tools in its relations with non-EU countries:
- political dialogue, which should include the issue of children’s rights in pre-conflict, conflict and post-conflict situations;
- demarches and public statements that encourage non-EU countries to take effective action to protect children from the effects of armed conflict, to end the use of children in armed forces and groups and to end impunity;
- multilateral cooperation, which includes funds for projects relating to children and armed conflict, and humanitarian aid;
- crisis management operations, where particular attention is given during the planning phase to the protection of children;
- training in child protection.
International legislation in this area includes the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which has been ratified by virtually all countries in the world, but is not applied everywhere. In particular, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the involvement of children in armed conflicts aims at countering situations where children are affected by armed conflict.
The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict and the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict are other especially important mechanisms in this field. Together with its countries, the EU aims to take account of and to coordinate, as far as possible, their actions with these mechanisms in order to maximise their impact. Other relevant international and regional human rights norms and standards and humanitarian law that guide EU action to protect children affected by armed conflict are listed in the annex to these guidelines.