Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Unbroken: An Exhibition of Hope and Determination

(photovoice.org)

(photovoice.org)

Among the most vulnerable children in the whole wide world, has to be, when you think about it, children and young people who are exposed to war. Think about it, hat the kind of wars we are talking about are not wars that last a week, or two months or even a year. Think of war more than forty years in Columbia of non-stop war, close to thirty years of the present phase in Angola, maybe some twenty-five years in Sri Lanka, and so on and so forth. It is sort of decades of war. And to be born a child in that situation, to grow up in that situation, is the worst kind of nightmare one can think about. You know UNICEF estimates that the worst place for a child to be born today and to grow up, the most dangerous, the most vulnerable, is Angola, to which I go next week. Think about it... Angola happens to be one of the richest countries on the earth. It's got diamonds, oil, soil, sea ...everything. So how is it that it would be the most dangerous, the worst place for a child to be born and to grow up in? The answer is war. War turns everything upside down. And that is why the United Nations, following the very first summit (this is the second summit on children) identified this area of vulnerability as one that especially needed focus and systematic response. When we speak of children being affected by war, what in fact are the kinds of victimization that children suffer? Well they are displaced. The largest group of displaced persons within their own country, the so-called internally displaced, or those who cross borders, so-called refugees, are children. They lose out on schooling and health, things we take for granted. Increasingly we see that young people are forced and enticed, deceived and enrolled to fight the wars of adults... child soldiers, so called. Increasingly we see a very systematic use of sexual violence in situations of war directed especially at young girls. And the trauma, you know even when war has formally ended like in Sierra Leone today, maybe in Angola as we speak, or in East Timor, or in Kosovo...can you imagine the trauma that young people carry with them well after the guns have gone silent? And in many of these places, like Sierra Leon and Afghanistan today, there are barely any trained psychiatrists. In a society deeply traumatized, and within that generalized traumatization, the particularly strong traumatizaton of children, you see. The orphans, the maimed, those who step on landmines for example...I visited one village in the month of March, and in that one village on one fine morning like today in New York, eight kids were playing kites, like kids might play anywhere. And they all stepped on the landmine fields. Four of them died on the spot; four are maimed for life. In Afghanistan, it is estimated some huge number of landmines and the victims of landmines...ten thousand people...most of them children. You know this is a kind of fate to which we subject our children in situation of conflict. And that is why the United Nations decided to focus on this issue. And the kind of work we do in terms of programs, one of course is to raise greater awareness among all, so we know what we do to children, and then use the base of that awareness to mobilize for action. Second, we work with key decision-making bodies, beginning with the Security Council of the United Nations, to make the protection, the well-being of children, an integral part of the peace and security agenda of the world. How can we talk of promoting, much less maintaining, peace and security if we are not concerned by the fate of those who suffer worst when there's a breakdown of the of peace and security? And similarly, engaging the European Union, the organization of American States, the OAS, the OAU...let them bring their weight and their political influence to bear on the side of the protection of children. We have been working thirdly, to make sure that standards, norms, rules, that explicitly provide for the protection of children and women in situations of conflict are strengthened. And the latest installment in this effort is the treaty banning child soldiery. This came into force in the middle of February, after about ten year of negotiations and work, which means, as we speak now, no young person below age of 18 may be allowed to go into hostility. Period. No young people below the age of 18 may be conscripted into an army. And no insurgency group may recruit or deploy any person below the age of 18. And for national armies that have voluntary recruitment, the minimum age at which they can recruit is 16, but even then they can't send them into hostilities below 18. This is a major victory for children., a major victory for children. And then we visit situations of conflict...go to Sri Lanka, Sierra Leon, Congo, Kosovo...I am going to Angola next week as I said...and in these situations, not only to raise awareness about situation of children, but engage the parties in conflict directly. The government, the rebel groups...engage them to commit to certain measures for the protection of children...that they will not use landmines, that they won't attack schools and hospitals, locations where children predominate, that they won't recruit, and they will release abducted kids who are within their ranks, and so on and so forth. And then follow up with the building of pressure to bear on them to observe the commitments they have made. And of course, in the context of post-conflict, Northern Ireland, Sierra Leon, Kosovo, East Timor, our preoccupation is to make sure that children, to begin with, are on the peace negotiations agenda, that they are in the peace accord, and that when we begin to plan the programs for reconstruction, for healing, that the well being of children is essential, and that resource will follow accordingly. And this what we're planning to do, for example now in the context of Afghanistan. What can this group and other young people around the world do? Young people who are producing wonderful photographs? There are a number of challenges we're seeking to face together. One is, I spoke earlier about the very impressive body now of norms, of rules, of standards, of treaties...much less impressive is the application of those norms on the ground. So we have a challenge to take what has been developed internationally, agreed upon, and make them practical measures for protecting children and women exposed to conflict on the ground. And this means monitoring, reporting, naming, shaming those who continue to abuse children and women on the ground. Secondly, we've been working to see how the young people in different parts of the world learn about each other, and in particular young people in a country like the United States. If we leave aside the horrific nightmare experience of 11 September, young people in countries which are at peace, democratic, in many cases are prosperous, are learning about the experience of other young people who are not so fortunate, building solidarity among them, and making them advocates for each other. And this is why I think the exhibition that we have today is very interesting...to see the experience of young people in Vietnam and other parts of Asia, and how it compares with the experience here, and awaken the young people to reach out to each other. Just last week we launched at the United Nations a program called Global Schools for Global Peace, which is really providing materials for curriculum that teaches young people about the experience of children exposed to war in conflict situations, and making them enact those experiences, learn about them, and become advocates on behalf of those young people. We also very much promote what we call "children telling their own stories," exactly what we're seeing here today. These are children telling their own stories. We very much would like children in situations of conflict, through radio, through the camera, through photography, to tell their own stories to the world. And then let me mention that it's very important for us to ensure in everything we do the participation of young people. The Convention of the Rights of the Child speaks about participation, and this is why I am so delighted to be here for this program. And finally let me just say that I am very pleased that the theme of this program is: Unbroken: Hope and Determination. Our work, the exhibition, is about hope, and without hope there is no future. So hope and determination is what we should all strive for. Well thank you very very much. As I said, it's just to warm up for Dr. Sadik. Thank you.