A new executive summary of a legal report, headed by Shaheed Fatima QC of Blackstone Chambers, has called for a single, all-encompassing international legal instrument and accountability mechanism to protect children in armed conflict.
The publication, which marks the first International Day to Protect Education from Attack on September 9 2020, argues that millions of children caught up in armed conflict are living in a “truly dark age” and urgently need major changes to international laws to better protect them.
“By any measure of suffering experienced by children caught up in conflict, we are living in a truly dark age, with a culture of impunity surrounding those who deliberately harm or fail to protect children,” says the report, Protecting Children in Armed Conflict.
The report states that though wars between states may have reduced in number, conflicts within borders have multiplied, and become more urbanised and improvised, increasing the dangers to vulnerable members of the population.
The report argues that there should be a single international law or instrument, that brings together in one place existing legal protections for children in armed conflict. The instrument should be supported by an accountability mechanism, such as a court or tribunal, to monitor and adjudicate on the implementation of that instrument. Both initiatives could be incorporated within the existing architecture of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Shaheed Fatima QC said: “There are numerous international laws, developed over many decades, which reflect the importance of protecting children in conflict. But those laws are undermined by the fragmented and sometimes unclear legal protection in international law and, most importantly, by the lack of implementation of what protection there is.”
The full, 500-page report was published in late 2018 as part of the Inquiry on Protecting Children in Conflict, established by Gordon Brown, the former UK prime minister.
The number of children affected has increased since the report’s publication. The UN Secretary General’s report from June 2020 verifies more than 25,000 grave violations during 2019, and 4,400 incidents of denial of humanitarian access to children. The figures for the 12 months prior to that were 24,000 and 795 respectively.
The pandemic has made the situation worse – not only by increasing the risks to these children but also by making it harder for information on grave violations against children to be collected and verified.
The report and summary are supported by Save the Children and Theirworld, a global children’s charity, and the Global Health Academy at the University of Edinburgh.
The following members of Blackstone Chambers were also on the Legal Panel and contributors to the final report: Jessica Boyd, Isabel Buchanan, Ravi Mehta, Hanif Mussa, Jana Sadler-Forster.