by NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller at the International Conference on Children and Armed Conflict
Thank you, Minister Reynders.
It is a distinct honour for me to speak with you today on such an important topic.
I want to begin by thanking the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for hosting this conference.
Let me make clear from the outset: NATO is fully committed to implementation of UNSCR 1612, along with related Resolutions on the protection of children affected by armed conflict.
We commend the United Nations and the Secretary General’s Special Representative for their strong leadership on this issue.
Tragically, serious threats to children in war zones are far too numerous today – too often subjecting the most innocent and vulnerable among us to indiscriminate attacks, sexual violence and recruitment as soldiers.
We must remember: These are children. Those who are most in need of protection.
Conferences like this help to call attention to a problem that is still too often overlooked and under-reported.
This attention puts pressure on countries and international organisations to do more. It’s imperative that we all do more.
NATO has done a lot to address the protection of children affected by armed conflict. And we are committed to doing even more.
Protection of children in NATO-led operations and missions was first addressed at NATO’s Chicago Summit in 2012.
That’s when NATO Heads of State and Government decided to develop practical, field-oriented measures to better prepare NATO-led troops when they encounter violations against children.
Following up on that decision, NATO adopted “Military Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict” – which provided commanders with instructions to equip deployed forces with more training on the issue.
The Assistant Secretary General for Operations was appointed the Senior NATO Focal Point on Children and Armed Conflict.
In 2013, NATO developed – in cooperation with the UN – an e-learning module on child protection. Available to all Allies and partners, this online tool provides an overview of the six grave violations against children identified by the UN Secretary General.
We took additional steps at the Wales Summit in 2014 to ensure we are prepared – whenever and wherever children are impacted by armed conflict.
Again in close cooperation with the UN, NATO prepared a policy document called “The Protection of Children in Armed Conflict—Way Forward.”
This policy was approved by the North Atlantic Council in March 2015. It provides additional guidance for integrating UNSCR 1612 and related resolutions into the Alliance’s military doctrine, education, training and exercises, as well as NATO-led operations and missions.
When training local forces, NATO ensures that the protection of children affected by armed conflict is given the necessary attention it deserves.
NATO-led operations, including in Afghanistan, are taking an active role in preventing, monitoring and responding to violations against children.
Children and Armed Conflict policies are also being incorporated into NATO military exercises. In practice, this means that NATO Commanders receive training in situations where the six grave violations are encountered.
Focal points for Children and Armed Conflict have been appointed throughout the NATO Command Structure.
The focal points support the integration of the Military Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict into training opportunities, exercises, and mission planning.
A specialized Children and Armed Conflict Adviser, Mr. Swen Dornig, who is participating in this conference and will appear on a panel this afternoon, deployed in April 2016, for the first time in a NATO-led mission, as part of our Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.
NATO officials continue to raise the issue of protection of children in their political and military engagements with senior Afghan officials – just as we have been doing in other conflict areas.
Over the years, NATO and its operational partners have learned important lessons about how to guard against civilian casualties – and specifically how to mitigate dangers posed to children in conflict areas.
We continue to learn and to adapt. And we remain committed to doing even more.
The global community must do everything possible to protect children – and indeed all civilians – from being victimized in conflict zones – whether inadvertently or otherwise.
NATO will do everything we can – working closely with the UN, NGOs and IOs – to protect the most vulnerable among us – children who through no fault of their own find themselves in areas of armed conflict.
This is a moral imperative for our time. Working together, we can make a world of difference, and a better, safer future for the children.