Statement by Gennady Kuzmin, Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN, at UNSC open debate “Children and armed conflict: Attacks against schools as a grave violation of children’s rights”
We appreciate the initiative of the delegation of Niger to convene this important debate.
We thank SRSG Virginia Gamba, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, and other briefers for their contribution to this discussion.
The chain of unstopping armed conflicts and recurrent alarming reports about victims among civilians, including children, make the topic of this meeting even more relevant.
15 years ago UNSC adopted landmark resolution 1612. Back then members of the Council demonstrated unanimous willingness to protect those who are the most vulnerable in any armed conflict – children. In its resolution 1998 the Security Council stressed that attacks on key civil infrastructure, namely schools and hospitals, were inadmissible. Ever since then the situation with children who by a sad coincidence and counter to their will turned out involved in armed conflicts has been subject to constant monitoring of the Security Council and its specialized Working Group.
We hope that the thematic Presidential Statement adopted today will promote the protection of children and respect for the international law, in particular international humanitarian law.
We fully share the aspiration of states to protect civil facilities, first of all schools, from illegal armed attacks. It is positive that the effective norms of the international law answer the question what buildings are considered civil or military infrastructure, and under what circumstances. We find it important that the PRST contains an unambiguous directive in this regard.
The international humanitarian law must be observed, whereby it is important to proceed from the universally recognized legal instruments. The Safe School Declaration is a political initiative of a small group of states that does not enjoy universal support yet.
Unfortunately, the Presidential Statement does not reflect a most important element of children’s agenda – repatriation of children from conflict zones. The Russian Federation recently rescued another group of Russian children from the Syrian conflict zone. We call on all member-states to strengthen efforts aimed at repatriation of children who find themselves in conflict areas. Children should not suffer from the illegal terrorism-oriented aspirations of their parents and guardians. The way states care for children indicates how civilized they are.
Syria, i.a. under Russian support, withstood the fight against international terrorism and forces that plotted to destroy the Syrian statehood. Throughout the years of war, Syria’s residential buildings, hospitals and schools sustained serious damage, now they are to be restored. As the school year starts, specific attention is paid to restoration of schools and ensuring access to education for children. Necessary school supplies ship to Syria on a regular basis as part of Russian humanitarian assistance.
Russia shares concerns over security in the Sahel. The geography of terrorist activity, inter-ethnic and inter-communal conflicts, drug trafficking and organized crime is expanding in the region. Armed groups do not hesitate to employ barbaric methods of war by targeting civil facilities, including schools. Those to suffer first are children. COVID-19 pandemic further aggravated the situation in the region by exacerbating hardships of the civil population, in particular children.
In this regard, we reiterate our full support for all those who engage in uneasy fight against terrorists in the region. We are convinced that even given pandemic-related limitations, African states and their public institutions can succeed in coping with the current tasks. The work of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel in cooperation with the African Union and the regional organizations should contribute to this goal.
In response to the representative of Germany:
I took the floor again to respond to the statement of the distinguished representative of Germany. He said, in particular, that Russia and the Syrian regime continue to bomb schools. I would like to ask why you would cast such accusations. You must have taken the office only recently, otherwise you could be aware that here, in the Security Council, one observes norms of diplomatic politeness and ethics. Sovereign states and their leadership are never called a regime. At least here.
As for the accusations, I must say that the United Nations is often subject to attempted abuse and manipulation aimed at promoting narrow-specific political interests of some parties. As you might know, here at the United Nations there is a so-called Board of Inquiry for northwest Syria, that was established under certain pressure. But in fact even this Board refuted the accusations regarding alleged strikes of Russian Air-Space Forces against civil facilities, i.a. schools. We held a specialized press-conference at the UN on that matter on 16 September 2019, where we demonstrated the proofs. We also circulated as an official UNSC document the materials of the investigation by Russian Ministry of Defense that clearly and resolutely deflected these accusations.
Unfortunately, it has become a regular practice to trust unverified, clearly false data that is called a fake. I presume you have a big problem with information sources. We are very well aware why you so painstakingly conceal them. So let me assure you that Russia always has and always will observe its obligations under the international humanitarian law. We stressed on many occasions that Russian Air-Space forces use effective system of target verification, which excludes any possibility of targeting civil facilities.