The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG CAAC), Ms. Virginia Gamba, witnessed the signature by the Government of South Sudan of an Action Plan to end and prevent all grave violations against children, the most comprehensive Action Plan signed to date by parties listed in the annexes of the Secretary-General Annual Report on CAAC. The Action Plan covering all grave violations is the first of its kind since the creation of the Children and Armed Conflict mandate.
“This long-awaited commitment to South Sudanese boys and girls by the authorities is the culmination of months of engagement with the principal parties to conflict and comes with a significant decrease in grave violations against children and steady child releases over the past year,” said the Special Representative during a four-day visit to South Sudan, her second to the country since she took office. “The Action Plan comes at a crucial moment for South Sudan, as it has the potential to build confidence between the parties in the context of the peace process and because it carries a strong message of prevention. Ultimately, peace remains the best protection possible from hostilities for boys and girls and the only road to sustainable development.”
She commended the thorough consultations and positive cooperation between the Government of South Sudan and armed groups signatory to the Revitalized Peace Agreement in the development of the Action Plan. The armed groups committed to the Action Plan, which will apply to them as their forces unify with the government forces following the expected formation of the transitional government later in February. This will include the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO) led by Riek Machar, listed for child recruitment and use, killing and maiming and abduction of children. It will also include the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA), which committed itself to better protect children although they have not been listed.
Since April 2019, the United Nations has worked very closely with the Government of South Sudan and these armed groups in a joint verification committee established to identify and release children associated with government forces or armed groups and to raise awareness with their members on child protection. So far, the committee has screened troops in 24 barracks, bases and cantonment sites all over South Sudan, identified and released 53 children and delivered training and sensitization sessions to over 5,000 elements of the armed forces and groups. This comprehensive effort was fully supported by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and UNICEF who are the co-chairs of the Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting on violations against children and armed conflict in the country.
In addition, the Special Representative met with the Government, including the First Vice-President and members of the Cabinet, civil society including religious leaders, the United Nations partners and the diplomatic community, and representatives of armed groups. The Special Representative also launched the campaign “Act to Protect Children Affected by Conflict” in Juba supported by the authorities. “Act to Protect” is a global campaign focusing on all six grave violations and aiming to support public awareness efforts to end and prevent these violations. Furthermore, she formally opened together with UNMISS the new office building of the Child Protection Unit at the Headquarters of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) in Juba.
Throughout her visit, the Special Representative called on all parties to conflict to continue their efforts to put an immediate end to all violations against children, especially the recruitment and use, killing and maiming and sexual violence against children. She further called on all parties to continue releasing children that have been recruited or abducted. She reminded the importance of providing sustainable reintegration support to all released children and called on the international community to support long-term reintegration programmes, including through backing the Global Coalition for Reintegration of Child Soldiers; such efforts have led to the release of at least 280 children from armed groups in 2019 in South Sudan.
Additionally, the Special Representative commended the work child protection advisers and other humanitarian partners, including international and local NGOs, are undertaking for children and called on the international community to continue to support adequate child protection capacities in South Sudan, both politically and financially.