When the United Nations (un) agreed on a definition of the Responsibility to Protect (r2p) at the 2005 World Summit, the two paragraphs it endorsed articulated what r2p stands for, giving the concept a focused but narrow remit around protecting populations specifically from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity in armed conflict. In its next paragraph, the un Membership reiterated concerns on the impact of armed conflict on children echoing the landmark 1612 Resolution by the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict (caac) adopted a few weeks before. Though side-by-side in the text, caac and r2p were not linked. To this day, for international practitioners in emergency responses, the interaction between both remains unclear. While this simultaneous peak moment for r2p and caac may have occurred by chance, this article describes how both concepts (as advocacy tools and instruments for practitioners to ‘respond’) emerged out of similar concern for protecting civilians – including children – in conflict. However, the link between both concepts should not be overstated. While r2p and caac fit together for the intentions they share, this happened more coincidentally than purposefully. This article argues, taking an international practitioner’s perspective, that both concepts should not be understood as always operating at the same level. caac has grown from an advocacy platform to an umbrella of different programmes, responses, tools and frameworks, including the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (mrm) on Children and Armed Conflict. Even if applied with variable success, these tools and approaches under the caac agenda chart some ways practitioners can hope to do more towards protecting children in conflict. But for those same practitioners, delivering on a Responsibility to Protect is a different question – one where their ‘responsibility’ is at best secondary and implicit, because r2p sits squarely as a primary and explicit responsibility of states – who are also the ultimate duty bearers for children’s rights. While the echoes of a child rights agenda can be heard in the conversation around r2p, and while r2p can help frame and drive efforts by child protection practitioners to respond to some of the worst situations children face, r2p is, for the protection agency field officer, an aspirational goal, necessarily out of reach.
Children are disproportionally affected in violent conflict, are vulnerable to exploitation and lack protection when a state is failing in its responsibility to protect. In the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, children, particularly those living in Gaza, East Jerusalem, parts of the West Bank are not only vulnerable during escalations but are subject to exploitation, detentions and severe security measures. Divisions over culpability have made the local representatives and the international community incapable or unwilling to take collective action to protect this most vulnerable population. Given the divisive international context, are there R2P tools that can be used effectively to enhance protection for children and teenagers in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict? The focus on the protection of children demonstrates: Firstly, the need to closely analyse current protection tools particularly under Pillar iii of R2P, Secondly, the importance to eradicate unintended effects of protection efforts, and finally the potential contribution of focus on children towards reaching a consensus on a protection regime.
The United Nations Security Council’s Children and Armed Conflict agenda is animated by a protection ethic. While the protection of children from violence in armed conflict is entirely appropriate, this article demonstrates that the Council’s singular focus upon protection goes beyond merely appropriate, and borders upon overbearing. The article traces the ways that dominant conceptualisations of children as ‘innocent victims’ has animated an agenda that focuses primarily upon their victimisation that, in turn, reinforces the legitimacy of the protection ethic. It argues that this excludes a nuanced understanding of the lived experiences of children in conflict. In this sense, the agenda is closed to exploring the ways in which children resist, adapt, shape, and survive conflict in ways that position them as agents of their own protection and – in some circumstances – agents of community resilience amidst conflict. Ultimately, this article argues that re-visioning children’s relationship to armed conflict provides a strategy to better ensure children’s rights and reflects their relationship to peace.
The endorsement of R2P by the unga and the unsc does not give the doctrine legal status, however, such broad acceptance in the international community gives the concept some normative force. Although the unga formulation of R2P can be considered to be the most authoritative, as demonstrated by the articles in this special issue, the doctrine could be further advanced in relation to children in conflict zones. This article provides some reflections about recent unicef emergency response experiences in dealing with the Rohingya displacement in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
Two-thirds of the global child population lives in countries affected by violent and high-intensity conflict. International humanitarian law provides broad protection for children in the event of armed conflict. However, as the 2017 report of the un Secretary-General on children and armed conflict stresses, the scale and severity of grave violations has increased. This paper addresses the central puzzle of why the existing legal and normative frameworks of child protection have achieved so little, in addressing the marginalisation and disempowerment of children in armed conflict. We argue that the contemporary application of r2p in protecting children will be limited unless at least two fundamental challenges are met: (a) taming power politics; and (b) squaring inherent contradictions between the global r2p norm and national and regional normative frameworks of child protection. We highlight the case of Japan to illustrate the limits of the contemporary application of r2p in protecting children.
The R2P framework underscores the responsibility to protect populations caught up in the maelstrom of war and armed conflict, and as such, holds relevance for children born of conflict-related sexual violence. This paper explores the role and framework of R2P in relation to children born of conflict-related sexual violence in northern Uganda, a population largely overlooked in the post-war period. Drawing upon the direct experiences and perspectives of a sample of 60 children born in Lord’s Resistance Army (lra) captivity, the paper highlights the significant stigma and violence that these children continue to face in the post-war context. The post-war lives of these children not only demonstrate the multiple hardships they face as a result of the fallout of war, but also highlight the situation of these children as secondary and intergenerational victims of war that would benefit from the protection of the R2P framework and subsequent support.
The war currently raging in Syria is without a doubt the most serious failure of the r2p paradigm. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been brutally killed while the world has looked on, largely unable to affect events on the ground. The use of child soldiers by all sides in the conflict has been well documented, and the authors’ previous work has demonstrated the importance of the recruitment and use of child soldiers as an early warning indicator. Yet, the world has consistently failed to act preventatively, and this is most notable in the case of Syria. This paper takes the Syrian war as a case study to examine how the recruitment and use of child soldiers can serve as an early warning indicator of mass atrocities and be used to help prevent conflict escalation.
The abandoned refugee child is a powerful yet simplistic cultural trope that can inspire intense, sympathetic reactions to asylum seekers but cannot sustain that sympathy in more complex contexts. In contrast, literary novels unpack the intricacies, details, and nuances of refugee children’s experiences, serving as a reliable representation of reality and a winsome pedagogical tool for increasing curiosity and attention to refugee children. As cultural pedagogy, refugee fiction promotes public discussions around the complex situations of vulnerable children, educates readers about sovereignty as responsibility, and thus mobilises and nuances the political will to fulfill a nation’s responsibility to protect. Literary novels leverage a rhetoric that is concrete, polyphonous, interlocking, and intimate. This paper uses the example of Stella Leventoyannis Harvey’s Canadian novel The Brink of Freedom, which embeds complex, even contradictory, representations of R2P issues into the particular details of a displaced child’s perspective. The pedagogical work of this example of literary fiction is accomplished through the differing perspectives embodied concurrently by sympathetic characters, the concrete details of one child’s deeply intimate moments, the central metonym of the child/caregiver as the citizen/nation, and the contrasting first person child narrator. In a highly polarised global context that appears to be moving towards protectionist policies, this kind of local, creative cultural intervention can feed an alternative social imaginary that prioritises interdependence over independence for the health of everyone.
Prevention has taken centre-stage in present discussions around both United Nations reform and the r2p implementation agenda. Contemporary humanitarian crises from Myanmar to Yemen reinforce the horrendous atrocities that children face during periods of armed conflict and mass political upheaval to which the prevention agenda is geared. This article considers the atrocity prevention dimension of r2p; it describes changes in both understanding around the dynamics of political violence and strategies for targeting civilians in contemporary conflicts over the past two decades, situates children in the broader social context of mass political violence, and identifies strategies for incorporating a child-centric lens into the existing atrocity prevention toolkit. It argues that while the children and armed conflict agenda strengthens atrocity prevention efforts in relation to children’s specific experiences in violent conflict, it does not serve as an adequate proxy for a child-centric approach to atrocity prevention through both structural and targeted measures.