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Children - United Nations Press Release, 30 June 2000

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United Nations Press Release, 30 June 2000

Otunnu calls for body to promote children’s rights in Northern Ireland

NEW YORK, 30 June (Office of the Special Representative) -- The Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara A. Otunnu, has expressed strong support for the establishment of a major new body dedicated to promoting children's rights in Northern Ireland and ensuring that the concerns of young people are translated into policy-making, priority-setting and sustained resource allocation at all levels. Ideas under discussion among non-governmental organization (NGOs), children's rights groups, and political leaders include the establishment of a cabinet Ministry for Children, a Commission for Children, and an Ombudsman for Children.

"The lessons learned from other post-conflict situations demonstrate that in the absence of such a body it is easy to overlook children's rights, but children and the wider society eventually pay a high price for such neglect", said Mr. Otunnu.

Mr. Otunnu commended the fact that the Good Friday Agreement recognizes that young people face particular difficulties as a result of the troubles and calls for the development of child-conscious community-based initiatives based on international best practice. The Special Representative called for the active participation of young people from across Northern Ireland in the consolidation of the peace process. In particular, he encouraged young people to discuss and propose a children's agenda, articulating priority issues to be addressed by both government and civil society. He urged political leaders and policy makers to take advantage of the present phase of the peace process to address the pressing basic issues affecting children.

"During my visit to Northern Ireland, I have listened to many accounts of the ways in which children have been affected by the troubles", Mr. Otunnu said. "The children of Northern Ireland have been exposed to and involved in violence, including recruitment into paramilitary youth wings. They have lost loved ones, suffered from vigilante justice, and remain physically segregated -- with children from different communities unable to play and attend school together."

Mr. Otunnu was in Northern Ireland for a three-day visit, during which he gave the keynote address at an international conference on "Building the Future: Young People and the Troubles". The conference -- hosted by Community Conflict Impact on Children (CICC) and Save the Children/ Northern Ireland -- aimed to establish an on-going dialogue between children from both Nationalist and Unionist communities and decision makers.

During his visit, the Special Representative had meetings with: the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Mandelson; the Presiding Officer of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Lord Alderdice; the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alderman Sammy Wilson; the Minister of Education for Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness; Ministers Denis Haughey and Dermot Nesbitt from the offices of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister; and the Victims Commissioner, Kenneth Bloomfield. He held extensive discussions with young people in the communities he visited, as well as with the Youth Forum, an NGO that engages young people as active citizens to make changes in their society, and with the Youth Committee, comprised of young people from across Northern Ireland who had taken an active role in preparing the conference and hosting his visit. He also met with some 30 local NGOs involved in the promotion and protection of children's rights in Northern Ireland.

The Special Representative commended efforts to develop cross-community initiatives, such as the "Education for Mutual Understanding" programme, which employs curricular projects, as well as sport and the arts to bridge the sectarian divide. During his visit, Mr. Otunnu visited two partner schools involved in the government-funded project: St. Theresa's (Catholic) and Elmgrove (Protestant). The Special Representative also visited several Nationalist and Unionist communities in Belfast, including Ardoyne, New Lodge and the Shankill Road.

"I have been very encouraged during my visit to Northern Ireland by the commitment of political leaders to the Good Friday Agreement and by the positive initiatives being undertaken at local levels for the benefit of children by NGOs and educators. I am particularly heartened by the determination of young people to reach out to one another across community lines", Mr. Otunnu said. "As an important part of the consolidation of peace, I appeal to political leaders to address the basic concerns of children in Northern Ireland, particularly social and educational integration, youth unemployment, substance abuse and poverty, improved access to health facilities and housing, increased access to counselling, and improved administration of child protection and juvenile justice."

For more information, contact: Fergus Nicoll, Office of the Special Representative, New York; (212) 963-8460.

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