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UN Urges Israelis, Palestinians to Protect Childrens' Rights - 2002-04-11

The United Nations' investigator on children and armed conflict has highlighted the Israel-Palestinian violence and wars in Africa among his major concerns, in testimony Thursday to the U.N. Human Rights Commission's annual meeting.

The Secretary-General's special representative to study the impact of armed conflict on children, Olara Otunnu, deplored the loss of life of children, caught up in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. He spoke to reporters after his appearance before the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

"I urge the Israeli authorities to ensure the scrupulous and full application of humanitarian law, of relevant human rights norms, and in particular the Convention on the Rights of the Child. I also indicated in the strongest possible terms that the phenomenon of suicide bombing is entirely unacceptable on all grounds," Mr. Otunnu said.

Mr. Otannu said suicide bombing is especially tragic because young people are among both the perpetrators the victims. The U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, reports as of March 31, 230 Palestinian and 47 Israeli children under the age of 18 were among the conflict's fatalities. A figure is not yet available for the current period of violence since then.

Mr. Otannu also focussed attention on children in Africa. He said he has appealed to the governments of Sudan and Uganda to protect children abducted from Uganda and forced to become soldiers by the Lord's Resistance Army, a heavily-armed rebel group fighting the Ugandan government.

Last week UNICEF expressed concern over the fate of 10,000 missing children in Southern Sudan who had been abducted by the rebels. It is still unclear where these children are and Mr. Otannu said he fears they could face the threat of massacre or being used as human shields.

The advisor to U.N. chief Kofi Annan also is urging accountability and punishment of those involved in sexual abuse of children in West African refugee camps. He adds investigations into sexual exploitation of refugee children must be widened beyond Africa.

"It is very important that we set about putting in place systematic measures and mechanisms to ensure that these abuses do not recur and that they will not occur in any other places because, after all, it would be a mistake to focus entirely on West Africa. This is probably a global phenomenon. It so happens that light has been shed on the situation in West Africa, but we should not be complacent. We should be in a very vigorous, thorough and pro-active way looking everywhere else to make sure that not even a hint of what is described in West Africa may be going on anywhere else," Mr. Otunnu said.

In February, it was revealed that 70 workers from 40 aid organizations, including the U.N. refugee agency, had demanded that children trade sex for food and medicine.

Mr. Otunnu said child protection advisors at the camps and better supplies of food and other necessities for the refugees could ensure that no repetition of sexual abuse will take place.