14 September 2010The United Nations advocate for children caught up in armed conflict today highlighted the special challenges facing young people uprooted within their own countries by war, stressing the need to ensure that they are protected and their rights are ensured. “There is no child in the world today more vulnerable than a child internally displaced by armed conflict, forced to leave home and community behind,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, said today.Presenting her annual report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Ms. Coomaraswamy noted that there are more than 13.5 million internally displaced children in the world today.They are often denied documentation and access to basic services and infrastructure, face restricted freedom of movement and are at increased risk of being recruited or sexually abused, she stated.“We must work with governments to stop all practices that reduce internally displaced children to second class citizens, aliens in their own country.”Yesterday the Special Representative’s office launched a working paper on the rights and guarantees of internally displaced children in armed conflict, which is intended to serve as a comprehensive legal guide and advocacy tool for Governments and humanitarian actors when addressing the many challenges faced by this vulnerable group.Addressing the recent mass rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ms. Coomaraswamy stressed that the protection of women and children in armed conflict is a collective responsibility and called on the country’s Government, with the help of the international community, to hold the perpetrators to account. “Without accountability, there is no justice and without justice there is no deterrent,” she stated. In her presentation, the Special Representative also urged the 56 Member States not party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict to ratify the treaty and the 136 parties to the Optional Protocol to become champions of the universal ratification campaign called “Zero under 18.” Launched by the UN in May, the two-year campaign aims to achieve universal ratification of the Optional Protocol by 12 February 2012, the 10th anniversary of the entry into force of the treaty.“Universal ratification will move the international community toward ensuring that the prohibition against child soldiers becomes an international norm which would be recognized by international customary law,” said Ms. Coomaraswamy. In her report, she also lauded the improvements in the situation of children in Nepal, Sudan and Burundi, including the discharge of 3,000 children from Maoists cantonments in Nepal and the progressive release of girls and boys by the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).