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Strengthening International Accountability regarding Violence against Children in Armed Conflict – Side event to the UN Human Rights Council

Strengthening International Accountability regarding Violence against Children in Armed Conflict – Side event to the UN Human Rights Council

4th April 2024, Geneva, Switzerland

On 15th March, Defence for Children International (DCI) held a side event to the 55th session of the UN Human Rights Council titled “Strengthening International Accountability regarding Violence against Children in Armed Conflicts”. DCI convened a group of distinguished panellists, each bringing invaluable insights to the table. This event aimed to champion the rights of children affected by conflict, highlighting the urgent need for global commitment to safeguarding their well-being and ensuring accountability for perpetrators of grave violations.

The event, moderated by Alex Kamarotos, Executive Director of DCI was comprised of six eminent speakers; H.E. Amb. Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve (Belgium), representing the Group of Friends on Children and Armed Conflict[1], Prof. Virginia Gamba, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, Dr. Najat Maalla M’jid, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, Ms. Aurélie Lamazière, Senior Programme Manager at Save the Children, Prof. Ann Skelton, Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and Mr. Khaled Quzmar, President of the DCI Movement & General Director of DCI-Palestine.

Through their collective expertise and advocacy experience, they underscored the gravity of the situation and called for immediate action to address the plight of children caught in conflict zones. Over 440 million children live in conflict-affected situations, where over 27,100 grave violations against them were verified by the UN in 2022 alone. New and evolving conflict dynamics demonstrate the vulnerability of children in war, despite existing legal instruments, mandates, and accountability mechanisms. The discussions centred around the persistent lack of accountability for crimes against children, which continues to undermine peace processes worldwide.


Ambassador Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve highlighted the challenges in holding perpetrators accountable, difficulties in reporting, gathering evidence, and accessing justice, which are compounded by political complexities and resource constraints. However, he underscored the necessity of renewing collective commitments to prioritise accountability and justice for children.

As emphasised by Prof. Virginia Gamba, the absence of consequences for such atrocities perpetuates cycles of violence and impedes the prospects of sustainable peace. Accountability refers to both the remedy to and the prevention of such violations. Reinforcing the rule of law, alerting communities, and effectively investigating, prosecuting, and repairing crimes and violations committed against children will contribute to deterring potential perpetrators and ensuring children are safe from future violations. She urged member states to expedite the implementation and domestication of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) as a tool for prevention and accountability to protect children, and to criminalise the six grave violations.

Children caught in the midst of armed conflicts face unimaginable hardships, often becoming victims of grave violations against their rights. The international community recognises six particularly egregious violations against children in armed conflict, as enumerated by the Security Council in its resolutions: the recruitment and use of children, the killing and maiming of children, rape, and other forms of sexual violence against children, the abduction of children, attacks on schools and hospitals, and the denial of humanitarian aid to children. Despite international efforts in ending and preventing them, these violations persist in various conflict zones, necessitating a renewed commitment to accountability and justice.


Dr. Najat Maalla M’jid stressed the need for child-sensitive complaint mechanisms and access to justice for children affected by conflict. She reiterated that accountability is not just a legal imperative but a moral obligation, essential for the healing and rehabilitation of affected children.



Prof. Ann Skelton called attention to the expansive mandate provided by the CRC, which encompasses both international humanitarian law (IHL) and human rights law, thereby extending the bounds of accountability. She affirmed the importance of leveraging existing accountability mechanisms to hold states accountable for violations and ensuring the protection of children in conflict zones.




Ms. Aurélie Lamazière shed light on the challenges faced in documenting violations against children, stressing the need for child-centric approaches and greater expertise in gathering evidence. She highlighted ongoing efforts by organisations like Save the Children to mainstream child rights approaches within accountability mechanisms and advocated for broader political support to translate recommendations into action.



Mr. Khaled Quzmar brought attention to the devastating impact of conflicts on children’s rights, particularly in regions like Gaza, where Israeli authorities have deliberately blocked and severely restricted the flow of humanitarian aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Nowhere near enough food, clean water, and medicine is reaching Palestinians and now, children are starving to death. He emphasised the international community’s responsibility to ensure accountability and end impunity for violations against children in armed conflicts. He highlighted that lack of political will is standing in the way of accountability for child rights violations.






In conclusion, the side event served as a clarion call to action, urging governments, international organisations, and civil society to prioritise the protection and rights of children in conflict zones. It laid out the imperative of strengthening international accountability mechanisms, ensuring access to justice for victims, and holding perpetrators accountable for their actions.

[1] Group of Friends on CAAC : Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Guatemala, Hungary, Italy, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Uruguay.

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