Address by Ambassador for Children and Armed Conflict, Gufran Al-Nadaf, at "Children in the Peace Process"
Bogotá, Colombia, 17 November 2017. Check against delivery.
"At times, I would cry and pray to God for the strength to carry on. It's a bad place for children, adults too; nobody can understand the difficulties. If you can't defend yourself, you could end up dead. One day, there was a loud explosion. We were surrounded by soldiers and the helicopters were circling overhead. I thought I was going to die. I didn't want to die, nor did I want to go to jail. I don't know how or where I found the strength but I managed to escape."
This is the story of Angelina, who was enlisted as part of an armed group in Colombia. It's hard to say how many children share Angelina's experience.
Displacement, death, land mine injuries, demolished schools and kidnappings are just some examples of the horrors that have become commonplace for many children in Colombia. This has left us with children who are damaged, both mentally and physically, orphaned and displaced. After 50 years of conflict, many children have missed out on their childhood. Giving childhoods back to those we still can is a challenge. It is, however, a challenge that Colombia has taken on through the peace deal and so we must support every effort made in this direction, demanding full respect for the rights of children.
2016 saw the signing of a final peace deal between the Government and the FARC, as well as preparations for dialogue with the National Liberation Army (ELN), which is currently in its fourth round of negotiations. Through these efforts, armed violence has reached its lowest level in the last 50 years.
Since the FARC committed to ending child recruitment within the framework of the peace talks, the reduction in the overall number of such cases has been encouraging. However, despite the conflict dying down and the FARC disarmament, the presence of post-demobilisation groups and FARC dissidents continues to pose serious concerns in terms of child protection.
By the same token, Sweden hopes that the ELN will stop using children and adolescents within its ranks and that all of the children currently within the group will be returned to their families. This is primarily to safeguard the rights of the children and adolescents, but it is also a gesture of goodwill towards Colombian society, demonstrating a firm commitment to peace negotiations.
Similarly, to address the protection issues unresolved thus far, it is essential that the ongoing political commitment has the necessary resources and is effectively coordinated. The Colombian government's commitment needs to be robust, enabling it to optimise its capacity for response at local, regional and national levels, expanding its recruitment prevention strategy and the use of children and adolescents. It is also vital that non-profit organisations that protect and promote the rights of children are involved in this work as, if we combine our efforts, we can combat the forces that threaten Colombia's children.
Sweden has a firm commitment to children in armed conflicts. The work we do internationally centres around the protection of children, respect for international humanitarian law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
As the country that oversees the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, Sweden has witnessed the progress made towards achieving peace and stability in Colombia. In its report, the Working Group is pleased to declare that children are the focal point of the peace deal and hopes that Colombia may serve as an example for future peace processes.
In the two years that Sweden has been fortunate enough to chair the Working Group, we have identified four areas of focus: the implementation of the Children and Armed Conflict Agenda (the CAAC agenda), children's right to be heard, children's right to education, and children's right to health, including mental health. Today, I want to focus on children's right to be heard, as well as their participation in the peace process and perhaps their psychosocial health. This is because they are children who, first and foremost, need our protection and, secondly, our attention. But also because they are the protagonists in the process of change.
This is why we are here today. To gain a greater understanding of children's experiences on the other side of the conflict and the support they need to reintegrate with society, as well as recognising that children have the capacity to become key peacebuilders. We adults need to understand these children's opinions, ideas and reflections and include them in our work to recover the social fabric that has, for so long, been affected by the conflict in Colombia. We need to understand their dreams, visions and hopes for the future, a future that belongs to them.