U.N. Convenes Special Session on Children

Amendment on Israeli Credentials Presented, But Postponed to 57th Session

The 27th Special Session of the General Assembly on Children convened from 8 to 10 May 2002 at United Nations headquarters in New York, bringing together many Heads of State and high ranking government officials from all over the international community. The Special Session was originally slated to convene in September of 2001, but was postponed following the tragic events of 11 September in New York. The Session, held 11 years after the World Summit for Children, convened to consider the state of the world’s children, including the progress made and the obstacles remaining since the Summit, and to renew and intensify commitments aimed at improving their future well being in all areas of life to create "a world fit for children". The Session concluded its work by unanimously adopting, without any reservations, an important outcome document consisting of a Declaration and Plan of Action.

A Palestinian delegation participated in the Special Session on Children and addressed the Assembly on 9 May on the state of Palestinian children. The focus of Palestine’s statement was the fact that Palestinian children continue to be denied the rights guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Declaration on the Rights of the Child. This tragic fact, it was stressed, was the result of the continuing denial and violation by Israel, the occupying Power, of even the most basic of their rights. Further, the delegation of Palestine to the Special Session also included a delegation of Palestinian children from the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, who held a press briefing on 10 May at the U.N., to discuss the situation of Palestinian children from their firsthand perspective.

Given the extremely difficult situation facing the Palestinian children under occupation, particularly in light of the most recent Israeli military assaults, the delegation of Palestine took the unusual step of presenting a separate draft resolution on the situation of Palestinian children. However, the delegation of Palestine and other cosponsors of the draft did not push for a vote on it when it became clear that a consensus would indeed be reached on the Declaration and Plan of Action and when the U.S. delegation threatened to derail that consensus if the draft was put to a vote.

At the same time, a draft amendment regarding Israeli credentials was proposed for the resolution accepting the report of the Credentials Committee to the Special Session. That amendment was to reaffirm the "understanding that the credentials of the delegation of Israel do not cover the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the other occupied Arab territories since 1967". Given the fact that the Special Session lasted for only 3 days, and given the appeals made by the President of the Assembly, the representative of South Africa, speaking on behalf of the cosponsors, indicated that he did not insist on a vote. He nevertheless indicated that the amendment was in line with the Declaration adopted by the NAM Ministerial Meeting and that it was based on and reflective of international law and relevant U.N. resolutions. Moreover, he conveyed the intention of the cosponsors to raise the matter during the 57th session of the General Assembly.

The Declaration and Plan of Action contain several paragraphs of specific importance to the Palestinian children, including Palestine refugee children. Among those is a paragraph in the Declaration that calls to "Protect children from war. Children must be protected from the horrors of armed conflict. Children under foreign occupation must also be protected in accordance with the provisions of international humanitarian law." This is very significant in that consideration of the situation of children in armed conflict has usually ignored the plight of children under foreign occupation. In this regard, the Plan of Action commits to "Strengthen the protection of children affected by armed conflict and adopt effective measures for the protection of children under foreign occupation." Moreover, of great importance, is the commitment, in accordance with international law applicable to the rights and protection of children in armed conflict, to "put an end to impunity, prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes…"

Overall, Palestine considers the Declaration and Plan of Action adopted by the Special Session on Children to be an important document that, if genuinely followed-up and implemented, can serve to protect children and promote their healthy development in all aspects of life.