Today Australia steps into one of the most significant roles on the global stage. We do so at a time of grave international turmoil.
As president of the United Nations Security Council, Australia is now responsible for leading the discussion on the Syrian conflict as support for a US-led military intervention grows. The gravity of this situation cannot be underestimated and our government’s task is not to be envied.
While world leaders weigh up the efficacy of intervening in this two-year conflict, they must not forget the very important mandate the UN Security Council has to protect civilians and build peace.
As UN officials seek to confirm the reports of recent chemical attacks on civilians, including many children, it is critical that Australia and the 14 other members of the Security Council do not lose sight of the responsibilities they hold for the most vulnerable people in our world. Among these are the close to 2 million who have fled Syria because life in a desert refugee camp or a tented settlement with no facilities is more palatable than being shelled or gassed in their own homes.
The sad fact is that the international community has failed the people of Syria thus far. This conflict has revealed humanity at its worst. Gross human rights abuses contravening international law continue to be inflicted within Syria’s borders. As a matter of urgency, world leaders need to negotiate an immediate ceasefire, and the Security Council is the obvious forum to lead this process.
With this urgent need in mind, it is disturbing to read the rhetoric still being peddled by some world leaders in recent days. Are we truly willing to give up on all of the humanitarian instruments we’ve worked towards for the past 60 years?
We should not be lured into believing in a distorted vision of war. War is not just the besuited world leaders we see on the evening news. War is the little boys and girls who have been maimed or killed while walking to school. It is the women living with the threat of rape every day as they try to care for their families in displaced communities within and outside Syrian borders. Perhaps even more shockingly, it is the Syrian children who are being recruited into armed groups and sent to their deaths as child soldiers.
These are the reasons World Vision is calling on Australia, in its role on the UN Security Council, to prioritise peace. In particular, the Security Council should focus on children and armed conflict, not just in discussions about Syria but for all conflicts in the world today.
Beyond the obvious measures of restoring peace, the protection of children in armed conflict means children should have adequate access to humanitarian provisions; that UN-mandated peacekeepers receive specialised training in child protection; that child-protection monitors be deployed in conflict zones; and that the international community demand the release and subsequent support of child soldiers.
Turning a child into a killer must rank as one of the vilest evils perpetrated on this planet. Yet, tragically, we know the use of child soldiers is increasing despite the world recognising the practice as a war crime. It’s an evil I saw firsthand when I visited Uganda several years ago. During a visit to a child soldier rehabilitation centre I met a 14-year-old former slave of the Lord’s Resistance Army. At the age of 11, his first mission as a soldier was to kill someone from his own clan – his uncle. If he had refused, he would have been tortured and killed by other members of the rebel group; but in performing his duty, he cemented his place outside his own community, far away from family and dependent on the LRA as his tribe.
Most Australians would find these crimes incomprehensible, and yet we are now hearing from the UN that similar violations are occurring in Syria. The figures speak for themselves – 7000 children dead and another million children displaced. When will the world say ”enough”?
Support World Vision’s work with families who have fled the fighting through our Syrian Refugee Crisis appeal.