General Assembly Security Council

United Nations Security Council Open Arria Formula meeting

“Children and Armed Conflict: Repatriation of Children from Conflict Zones: From Camps to Homes. Call for Action”

Statement by

Ambassador K. Nagaraj Naidu

Deputy Permanent Representative

29 January 2021

At the very outset, we would like to thank the delegation of the Russian Federation for organizing this meeting and to all the briefers for sharing their valuable insights on this issue. Our views on the Arria format of meetings are well known. We do not wish to see this platform being misused to advance a particular view point or political objective.

Mr. President

2. A recent trend in global terrorism is the rising number of children that are recruited and involved in terrorism-related activities. For terror groups, children are most susceptible to manipulation, whether as active participants in terror or as human shields to protect the perpetrators of terror. Used as guards, spies, cooks, suicide bombers or human shields, these terror groups understand that children cannot fully grasp the inherent danger of combat, have an underdeveloped sense of right and wrong, and less likely to have divided loyalties.

3. Children are also increasingly the target of coercion, both physical and mental. In other words, they become victims, witnesses, and offenders, all at the same time. Some of these children are abducted or forcibly recruited, some are enticed by monetary gains, some join voluntarily, while others have little or no choice but to accompany their parents or are born in conflict zones to people who have travelled there as foreign fighters.

4. While the vulnerability of children to terrorist recruitment is affected by a multitude of factors, including their geographic proximity to a terrorist group, economic status, perceptions of social or political marginalization, exposure to permissive social networks, and exposure to extremist propaganda, the relative importance of these factors vary individually and according to the local context.

Mr. President,

5. In 2015, the Counter-Terrorism Committee of the Security Council adopted the Madrid Guiding Principles which set out how member states should act in dealing with the security issues created by foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs). In 2017, Council Resolution 2396 sanctioned a review of these Principles to address the evolving nature of the threat of FTFs. The new challenges include the issue of FTFs returning to their countries of origin, their prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration (PRR) into society.

6. While Resolution 2178 (2014) defines who foreign terrorist fighters are, there is a general tendency to extend the term to their families. Using the term FTFs for children may lead to stigmatization and dehumanization.

7. While international human rights law provides the right for everyone to enter his or her own country, some countries of origin refuse to receive adults and their children suspected of being associated with armed groups, including designated terrorist groups. Others have expressed willingness to repatriate only children and not their parents, inevitably leading to the risk of family separation. Additionally, some States have implemented a policy whereby only orphans are repatriated or take only children younger than a certain age. Consequently, children are left in prolonged detention or situations of deprivation.

8. In this regard we have taken note of “The Handbook” brought out by the UN Office for Counter Terrorism (UNCCT) which uses the broad term, “children affected by the foreign fighter phenomenon”. This usage not only affirms the principle that international standards for child rights should apply to all children, regardless of their situation or age, but also protects them, to an extent, from stigmatization and dehumanization.

Mr. President

9. The treatment of children affected by the FTF phenomenon should be based on the respect, protection, and fulfillment of their rights as defined by the international human rights law, in particular the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the international humanitarian law, as applied locally by relevant national laws.

10. The Convention on the Rights of the Child establishes States parties’ obligations to promote the rehabilitation and social integration of children affected by armed conflict in an environment which fosters the “health, self-respect, and dignity of the child”. Council Resolution 2396 (2017) also encourages States to develop appropriate legal safeguards to ensure that PRR strategies concerning children comply with gender and age sensitivities. This obligation was also reiterated by the General Assembly in its 6th review resolution of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

Mr. President,

12. India recognizes the urgent need for member states to develop tailored, context- and conflict-sensitive approaches to ensure prosecution, repatriation, rehabilitation, and reintegration of children of FTFs. However, there are multiple challenges. For instance, the prosecution of FTFs introduces the challenge of collecting, handling, preservation and sharing of relevant information and evidence obtained from conflict zones, in accordance with domestic law and member states’ obligations under international law. The situation is further complicated as many children do not have legal documentation. There may also be situations where a particular member state may not have a de-radicalization or re-integration policy in place.

13. Although some member states have begun repatriating children of FTFs, the pace has been slow. It is thus evident that circumstances of the situation will determine whether the children of FTFs can be taken back or not, given national legislation and / or absence of clear evidence for their claim.

14. In view of the complexity of the situation, we are supportive of any UN led effort aimed at identifying solutions informed by an understanding of the rights and interests of the children of FTFs and implemented in a manner that is consistent with human rights, humanitarian law, and respective national laws.

I thank you, Mr. President.