April 14th, 2007 05:49 EST
Schools in Middle East must be Zones of Peace
Completing a three-day fact-finding mission to Lebanon, the United Nations envoy for children in armed conflict today called on all sides in the Middle East to respect international humanitarian law and ensure schools are “zones of peace” where children are protected.
After visiting the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy said she was shocked to see the destruction caused by last year’s conflict between Hizbollah and Israel and its considerable impact on children.
“All parties should respect International Humanitarian Law with regard to the protection of children and ensure that schools are zones of peace. For the sake of future generations, a framework for a permanent peace should be negotiated with Israel,” she said.
Ms. Coomaraswamy said that she felt very encouraged by the response of the Lebanese authorities, civil society, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the international community to the crisis with regard to children.
She also welcomed commitments made by Prime Minister Fuad Siniora on behalf of Lebanon’s Government and by Parliamentary Deputy Mohamed Raad on behalf of Hizbollah to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict. Ms. Coomaraswamy stressed that children should not be used in political mobilization or armed violence.
During discussions with these officials, she also raised the issue of cluster bombs and unexploded ordinance and asked Lebanon to take a leading role in the development of and advocacy for an International Protocol on Cluster Munitions.
After visiting the Shatilla Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, she expressed concern over refugee children and called for better access to social services, education and employment, while also recognizing the efforts made by the Government to address the issue of living conditions in the camp.
“It is crucial for the future of the country to encourage children to continue to go to school especially the most vulnerable and marginalized ones,” she declared.