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LEBANON: Interview with SRSG for children and armed conflict

NEW YORK, 1 Aug 2006 (IRIN) - The United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General for children and armed conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, oversees the implementation of the UN Security Council resolution that deals with violations against children in times of war. She told IRIN that it was very apparent that grave violations were taking place by both sides in Lebanon today. This type of warfare had to stop, she said, as it was resulting in so much violence against children and civilians, with repercussions for future generations.

Question: What's your view on the situation in Lebanon now, particularly in light of the attack in Qana [where 37 children were killed by an Israeli strike on July 30]?

Answer: I think the images from Qana are absolutely shocking; and I think that perhaps gives expression to what we feel about the war generally. But I think from our office, our perspective is interesting because as you know we are the implementers for the Security Council Resolution 1612 which deals with the issue of grave violations against children during times of war. There are many [violations] listed, including the killing and maiming of children, denial of humanitarian access, attacks on schools and hospitals, recruitment of children into the armed forces.

These are listed in resolution 1539 and reiterated in 1612 and then measured as grave violations against children in general International Humanitarian Law (IHL). The Security Council resolution goes on to say that it should take note of those who continue to commit these kinds of acts and take action. Now, when we think of it in that way, what is very apparent in Lebanon is the fact that these grave violations are taking place, and they are taking place on both sides.

Hizbollah's unguided targeted missiles into Israel are a form of killing and maiming and there have been children who have been killed; and of course the bombardment [in Lebanon] which seems to be making enormous destruction, with attacks on hospitals and schools. That may be collateral damage that Israel claims, but still, it is a major issue. So we are very concerned about it. From our own mandate, not only from a humanitarian point of view, but our own mandate in terms of our work, it's something that really concerns us.

Q: So you are of the view that there have been violations of international law?

A: Yes. These are the grave violations. I think that international law has very specific issues with regard to child civilians. First the killing and maiming of children; there's protection. Secondly there is a whole host of international law related to humanitarian zones. These [are] zones that protect schools, hospitals and certain zones where civilians live. Then there is a whole host of international laws related to consignment, how humanitarian assistance should get to people. It's all laid out in the Geneva Convention. So these are all violations. And we can't roll back the Geneva Convention, how can we live in a world in which there are no rules of law. There must be a rule of law surely, at the international level, at some point.

Q: Could you clarify what the latest estimates are of the number of children killed, displaced, and injured?

A: The monitors are showing 177 children killed. This was yesterday. And UNICEF I think has said that 3,000 are injured and one-third of the three-thousand are children. And forty-five percent of the displaced are children. And the displaced are placed at about 800,000.

Q: The high proportion of children hurt suggests that the bombing is not well targeted. Do you think that indiscriminate force is being used?

A: I can't assess that. The [Israeli Defence Force] argument is of course that Hizbollah is using civilian centers to launch attacks. They are targeting Hizbollah and this is collateral damage. That's the Israeli argument. I can't say whether their intention is in targeting civilians, but I would say that this type of warfare is resulting in so much violence against children and civilians that there's something wrong. It has to be stopped, it cannot go on. Whether it is an intentional targeting of children, I don't think so, but I think that definitely the collateral damage or whatever is taking place is so extreme that it has to stop, this tactic has to stop.

Q: Beside the actual physical damage that children are suffering, there's also the psycho-social aspect of being displaced and being traumatised by the bombing. That must be also a concern?

A: Well we find that children are affected in a way that is very profound when it comes to these kinds of issues. From other areas of the world we know that they have tremendous psycho-social trauma, especially for the first few months and years. Though children can often be resilient, that's also true. But there is a lot of damage. And also what we have seen is that research shows that when children are exposed to violence and violence is a means of resolving disputes at a young age - this is according to a Canadian survey - then they are a thousand times more likely to commit violence than a child who has not seen violence. So [using violence] as a way of resolving conflict, usually in the home, through domestic violence, or in the community. Therefore you are creating a next generation who will use violence, who may think that violence is the answer.

Q: So what you're saying is this violence will generate future violence?

A: It can generate future violence, especially if children are victims. And two things: first is seeing violence used in this way, and second is humiliation. People have found that in addition to material grievances that may make people pick up arms, a terrible sense of humiliation is also seen as a basis [to pick up arms]. These two are potent factors. So you are creating future generations of children who are going to have these two elements: seeing violence used as a means of resolving conflict and a tremendous sense of humiliation and they will be easy targets for any militant group.

Q: From the perspective of your office, what's the challenge now and what are the next steps?

A: Our office at the moment has two things. First, we are monitoring the situation on the ground and we've been reporting to the Security Council. Secondly, we want to engage in advocacy to support the [UN] Secretary-General through advocacy in trying to go towards a cessation of hostilities and some kind of political framework. And I think what we are hoping to do in that way is to talk to the governments concerned and also to maybe talk to the international public opinion to raise awareness about this; maybe [in] the United States especially. So these are some of the things we are thinking of doing, advocating for cessation and an end to this.

Q: Have you had any contact with the Israeli government and Hizbollah?

A: We have asked to meet the Israeli government and we are meeting the Lebanese government tomorrow.

Q: So we can expect some concrete steps in the next few days then?

A: Well, we are going to meet them; we don't know how receptive they will be. But we will meet them. We will push for both a humanitarian truce as well as for a complete cessation of hostilities. We will do it for both [parties].

The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2006

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