Under Belgian impulse, the Security Council shows unity in the fight against children’s rights violations in Yemen

Yesterday, Belgium – as chair of the Working Group for Children and Armed Conflicts – announced conclusions on the situation of children in the armed conflict in Yemen were adopted unanimously. The fight against impunity, and more in particular children’s right violations, has long been one of Belgium’s foreign policy priorities. Also on the humanitarian front, Belgium is in the leading group of European donors with more than 9 million euros of humanitarian aid specifically targeted at Yemen.

On the 13th of March, 2020, the UN Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict reached unanimous agreement on conclusions on the situation of children in the armed conflict in Yemen. On the 8th of April the agreement was made public by a statement of Belgium, in its capacity of chairman of the working group.

After months of negotiations led by Belgium, the Security Council calls on actors in the conflict to stop serious violations of children's rights. Earlier this year, the Security Council had already reaffirmed that child rights violations in Yemen could trigger UN sanctions against perpetrators.

More than five years after the start of the conflict in Yemen, the conclusions recall the extremely worrying situation in which children live today. In his most recent annual report on the situation of children in conflict, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed concern about the high number of grave violations of children’s rights: recruitment of child soldiers, killing and maiming of children by aerial bombardments, remnants of explosives and violence on the ground, as well as attacks on schools and hospitals. He pointed out that several non-state actors including the Houthis, Al Qaeda and pro-government groups had committed one or more violations. The Yemeni government and the international Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen are also parties who, according to the UN, have committed grave violations of children's rights.

The crisis in Yemen is a priority for Belgian humanitarian aid. With more than 9 million euros specifically aimed at Yemen via UNICEF, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Humanitarian Fund for Yemen, Belgium continued its position among leading European donors for Yemen in 2019. In addition, Belgium has provided more than 23 million euros in flexibly deployable support to global key players in aid who are also active in Yemen.

The fight against impunity is a cornerstone of Belgium's foreign policy. The Belgian chairmanship of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict of the Security Council fully fits in with that commitment. Our country also plays a leading role outside the UN Security Council in the fight against violations of children's rights in armed conflicts and is committed on several fronts. For example, Belgium has for years made substantial financial aid available to the United Nations for the systematic follow-up of child rights violations in armed conflicts. After all, highlighting child rights violations and exposing perpetrators are necessary steps to tackle the problem.

In the coming weeks, Belgium will conduct negotiations in the UN Security Council on how to address child rights violations in a variety of conflict zones: Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Iraq and Colombia.

Belgium supports the role of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba. Close cooperation with her office enhances continued attention to the problem and contributes to the effective protection of children in armed conflicts.

More than 20 years after the first UN report on the impact of armed conflict on children, attention and action for this problem remain indispensable. Today, one in five children worldwide experiences direct or indirect negative impact from armed conflict. Thorough action and relentless political pressure are needed to change the situation. Belgium remains committed to this goal.