Speech by Swedish Ambassador for Children and Armed Conflict on Afghanistan

10 November 2017, The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Stockholm.

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Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests,

It was a black day
when I left my country
It was five o'clock in Kabul
early in the morning
There was a curfew
No-one went with us to the station
Do you know why?
No-one had said a word
We weren't allowed to tell anyone
that we were leaving
Someone might report us
We didn't know friend from enemy
Leaving your country is like dying
Never again would I see my loved ones
Never again sit and laugh and joke with my friends
Never again see the snow-capped mountains
ringing the town like a fence
Never again see the indescribably blue sky
and be dazzled by the strong sunlight
Leaving is like dying
My heart still lies there in shreds

This poem is written by Shakila Emami in the mid 1990-ies. Shakila Emami was one of many children who were forced to leave Afghanistan. For decades, Afghan children have suffered under armed conflict.

In the Secretary-General of United Nations annual report on Children and Armed Conflict, Afghanistan is commended for its action plan to stop the recruitment of children. By 2014, a law against the recruitment of minors had been ratified. Furthermore, laws that criminalized various forms of abuse of children, including the phenomenon "bacha bazi", had been adopted. The country's Independent Commission on Human Rights investigates allegations of child abuse. Nevertheless, the children of Afghanistan suffer due to armed conflict. Half of the population in Afghanistan is estimated to be below 18 years of age. Children are always those most vulnerable in conflict, and they are in need of special attention, care and protection.

The relationship between Sweden and Afghanistan is good. We established our embassy in 2008, but we have had diplomatic presence in the country since 2002. We are also happy to have an Afghan embassy here in Stockholm since 2014. The diplomatic relationship and the continuous dialogue we have are of great value.

Sweden has always been committed to the development within Afghanistan, and we will hear more about that here today. We hope this support will provide Afghanistan with opportunity to even further ameliorate democracy, equality, human rights, education and vocational opportunities and rural development. We also focus on increasing both the private sector and economic integration.

As for the conflict in Afghanistan, Sweden recently decided to continue the support to the NATO lead Resolute Support Mission. Too many civilians; children, women and men have been affected by the conflict. Too many hospitals and schools have been attacked, hindering children from attaining their well needed education and hindering the people of Afghanistan to seek medical care. Above all, hindering children from growing up in safe and secure areas. The Swedish support to the Resolute Support Mission aims at ameliorating the security, preventing further conflicts or escalation of violence, enabling sustainable development and working towards poverty eradication.

If we take a couple of minutes and broaden the picture regarding children and armed conflict, we see that 250 million children are globally affected by armed conflict. 22,5 million people in the world are refugees and approximately half of them are children. 2,5 million people are refugees from Afghanistan and according to UNHCR, more than half of these refugees are children. Due to conflict, children in Afghanistan risk being killed, maimed, injured, recruited and sexually abused. They need our protection and we need to listen to them.

Sweden has for a long time been engaged in questions regarding children and their rights. Therefore, when Sweden was elected member of the United Nations Security Council, we were honoured to Chair the Security Council's Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict for the years 2017-2018. The Working Group is in close cooperating with the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. The Office supervises atrocities committed against children in armed conflict. There are six specific atrocities for which, if a party in conflict conducts any of these, are listed in the Annex of Annual Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict. These are: killing and maiming of children, recruitment or use of child soldiers, rape and other forms of sexual violence against children, abduction of children, attacks against schools or hospitals and denial of humanitarian access to children. The Security Council's Working Group therefore presents recommendations in country specific reports. Thus far, this year we have adopted five country specific recommendations – Colombia, Somalia, the Philippines, Sudan and Nigeria. This is in line with the goal of having a timeframe of approximately two months for each country. As Chair, we aim at increasing the efficiency of the Working Group, better implementation of the CAAC agenda, but also to make the work more field oriented. Furthermore, Sweden is also working to mainstream CAAC language in the Security Council.
Within both our foreign and development politics, abroad and within Sweden, we have also identified four focus areas: implementation of the CAAC agenda and maintaining its integrity, children's right to be heard, children's right to education and children's right to health, including mental health. We are also working to increase the knowledge and respect for international humanitarian law, with focus on children and their rights and protection.

My work primarily consists of coordinating the government's broader work on Children and Armed Conflict and different activities within Sweden and abroad regarding this area. One of my tasks is also to work closely with Civil Society Organizations.

A concrete example of the work Sweden does to achieve its four goals regarding children and armed conflict is also to consult with children in different conflict areas, and we do so through workshops and seminars that we, together with CSO's and our embassies conduct. First out was a workshop in Beirut in cooperation with Save the Children that took place last week. The workshop allowed for refugee children from different countries in the region to make their voices heard and deliver recommendations to us adults and decision makers. Next week, a similar workshop will be conducted in Bogotá, together with Plan International, where children's participation in the peace process and reintegration in post-conflict society will be discussed. This is just to mention a couple of the ongoing projects and events. More are to come.

Thank you for listening!