CELEBRATING 20 YEARS OF OPAC
2020 marks 20 years since the adoption by the UN General Assembly of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC). Ratified by 170 States, OPAC is an indispensable complement to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).
To celebrate this milestone, the Center for Children’s Rights Studies and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child planned a commemorative conference in Geneva on September 29, 2020. Regrettably this was cancelled due to the pandemic related public health situation. This led us to ask several of the distinguished speakers to record brief statements instead and to post them on this dedicated website.
We invited the speakers to address the current state of children caught up in armed conflict (whether carried out by State or non-State actors) and what civil society and international organizations, including the Committee on the Rights of the Child, can do to better intervene and protect these children. We also asked which initiatives should be supported going forward both on the ground to protect children and with regard to possible adjustments made to international human rights mechanisms and mandates.
It is an honour to host video messages from:
Gordon Brown served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2007 to 2010, Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1997 to 2007 and as a Member of Parliament in his home county of Fife, Scotland, from 1983 to 2015.
He is the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education and is a passionate advocate for the rights of children. He believes every girl and boy deserves the opportunity of a future through schooling. Gordon is Chair of the High Level Steering Group for the Education Cannot Wait fund for education in emergencies, Chair of the Inquiry on Protecting Children in Conflict and also serves as Chair of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity.
Gordon is the author of several books including Beyond the Crash: Overcoming the First Crisis of Globalisation and My Life, Our Times.
Shaheed is one of the UK’s leading barristers with a broad practice in public international law, civil liberties/human rights, public/regulatory law and commercial law. Many of her cases involve an international dimension and aspects of either conflict of laws or public international law. Her clients include States, international organisations, companies and regulatory bodies, NGOs, UK Government departments and prominent individuals.
In addition to advising and representing clients in specific cases, Shaheed has also been appointed to conduct wide-ranging legal reviews. In April 2017, she was appointed Chair of the Legal Panel to the Inquiry on Protecting Children in Conflict by Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister and is the lead author of the book that was produced as part of the Inquiry: Protecting Children in Armed Conflict (2018, Hart/Bloomsbury Publishing). In June 2018, she was appointed by the World Bank Group, as one of three external experts, to conduct a review of its policies, procedures and practices in order to improve the existing provisions and processes for tackling, reporting and reviewing allegations of sexual harassment and sexual exploitation and abuse.
In 2019 Shaheed was the recipient of Theirworld's #WritetheWrong Award. Yvette Cooper MP, presenting the award, described Shaheed as having "tirelessly championed the protection of vulnerable and marginalised children living in conflict affected areas... [she] has given a voice to the vulnerable children in conflict, whose future is taken from them by the stark realities of war.”.
Shaheed is working on the second edition of her book, International Law and Foreign Affairs in English Courts; is a contributor to The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Foreign Relations Law; and a contributor and founding editor of the transatlantic national security blog, Just Security. She has taught law at the University of Oxford, Harvard Law School, New York University School of Law, and the Graduate Institute in Geneva.
Ms. Virginia Gamba of Argentina was appointed Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict on 12 April 2017. She brings more than 30 years of experience and professional leadership on issues relative to disarmament, peace and human security. She served most recently as Assistant Secretary General, Head of the UN-OPSW Joint Investigative Mechanism on chemical weapons in Syria (SC Res 2235 and 2319) and previously as Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs and Director of the Office for Disarmament Affairs. Past engagements with the United Nations include serving as Project Director at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research in Geneva (1992-1996).
Outside of the United Nations system she held positions as Senior Coordinator public safety and security for the Institute for Safety and Security of the City of Buenos Aires, Deputy Director of SaferAfrica and the Institute of Strategic Studies in Pretoria, Program Officer for Arms Control, Disarmament and Demobilization of the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago and lecturer at the Department of War Studies, King’s College, London. Ms. Gamba holds a MSc (Econ) in Strategic Studies of the University of Wales at Aberystwyth and a BA (Hons) in Spanish and Latin American Studies, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne.
Justice Renate Winter (Austria) has been a judge in Austria since 1981 until the start of her international carrier at the UNODC in Vienna. Her expertise covers juvenile justice, war crimes, crimes against humanity, gender issues, organized crime and restorative justice. She served as international judge of the Supreme Court of Kosovo, as part of the United Nations mission. She was appointed by the UN Secretary General to the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2002. She is now member of the Appeals Chamber of the residual Special Court of Sierra Leone and Vice-president of the Committee of the Rights of the Child.
SOME HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
It is beyond doubt that, more than any other social group, children are disproportionally affected by armed conflict. Worldwide, millions of children are trapped in conflict zones generated by adults. Many children are killed or maimed. Too many are enticed or forcefully recruited into armed forces and used and abused. All are traumatized, their development jeopardized, their schooling interrupted. They are scarred by hunger, by displacement and robbed of their basic need for safety. Phenomena, such as attacks against schools and children in the process of learning, not only constitute violations of children’s fundamental right to life and their right to education, but they also impact the long-term development of their communities as a whole. The international community strongly and relentlessly condemns all acts of violence that victimize children as well as their instrumentalization as perpetrators of armed conflict.
Over recent decades and on all continents, the situation of children affected by armed conflict has generated unparalleled attention from every corner of society and mobilized humanitarian organizations and governments, civil society, scholars and revered human rights defenders.
In fact, the very notion of children’s rights, and the inspiration for the Declaration on the Rights of the Child (1924), was partially born out of Eglantyne Jebb’s indignation with regard to the plight of children during and in the aftermath of World War I, the so-called “war to end all wars”. More recently, in 1996, the momentum came from Graça Machel’s seminal United Nations report, Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, and the creation of the mandate of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. Shortly thereafter, in May 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict or OPAC. Widely ratified or signed, so far only 17 States have not taken action regarding its adoption.
20 years later there is a need to provide a new impetus to OPAC!
Geneva, November 2020
Philip D. Jaffé
Member, UN Committee on the Rights of the Child