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Child war victims need international help
says UN Secretary General's representative
February 23, 1998

World communities should work together to protect children from the impact of war, said Ambassador Olara A. Otunnu, the UN Secretary General's special representative for children in armed conflict.

Speaking at the African American Cultural Center on February 16, Otunnu said in the past decade, 2 million children have been killed in war, and millions more have been disabled, made homeless or orphaned.

"In the modern era, our civilization has registered breathtaking advances in virtually every field of human endeavor - in sciences, in technology, in medicine, in economics, arts, communication," he said, "and yet these quantum leaps in human progress coexist with a darker side of our civilization, with our capacity to inflict and tolerate injustice, for deep hatred and cruelty toward our fellow human beings, to destroy entire communities in the quest for power, or in the name of race, religion, ethnicity or class."

He noted that most of the present world conflicts are civil wars fought within nations and the impact on children results from the collapse of human and ethical values. "This is the world upside down. ... The very purpose of warfare is no longer soldier on soldier combat but soldier on civilian atrocities," he said.

"On the eve of a new millennium, we are witnessing an abomination directed against children in situations of armed conflict, children being killed, sexually abused, deprived of education, being targeted for brutalization and made to bear arms and themselves become instruments of violence," he added.

Otunnu, who is also president of the International Peace Academy and a member of the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict and the International Task Force on Security Council Peace Enforcement, called for the protection and welfare of children who are caught up in the midst of ongoing violence; the need for healing measures to facilitate relief and integration into the society; and the need to rebuild the collapsed value systems of societies at national and international levesl.

"We must seek ... the application of international humanitarian rights," he said.

Otunnu said international pressure can be highly effective in stemming human rights abuses in the new global world order. "We live in a world where interdependence has become a central fact of international life."

He added that societies enjoying peace, democracy and prosperity have a responsibility to set an example to the rest of the world by placing a premium on the protection and welfare of children.

He said he sees the University community as a community of scholarly youth representing a broad sector of the society, who can became advocates of social values and play a role in world understanding.

Otunnu is a past president of the United Nations Security Council, former chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights, and a former vice president of the UN General Assembly. His lecture was cosponsored by the African American Cultural Center and the Institute for African American Studies, in honor of Black History Month and the 30th anniversary of the H. Fred Simons African American Cultural Center.

Usha R. Palaniswami