Strasbourg, Monday, 20 June 2022
Excellencies, distinguished guests,
Firstly, I would like to sincerely thank the Council of Europe Commissioner of Human Rights, Ms. Dunja Mijatovic, the founder and CEO of the War Childhood Museum, Mr. Jasminko Halilović and the Project Manager of the War Childhood Museum in Ukraine, Ms. Svitlana Osipchuk for the organization of the "LISTEN" exhibition, which presents us with a very moving collection of personal items symbolizing the barbarity and the tragic consequences that a military conflict can cause in children’s lives.
The War Childhood Museum actually won the Council of Europe Museum Prize in 2018, as it shows in its initiatives its commitment in documenting the war experiences of children. This museum represents peace to me, as well as the value of culture and reconciliation.
The testimonies that are represented here today, from Ukraine, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Afghanistan and Syria, are irreplaceable. They are unique because they tell a story of each individual child who had to go through something he or she should never have lived, war. These testimonies are heartbreaking, because through each of these individual stories we can really understand what war means in real life, far from abstract considerations, anonymous numbers or general statements.
Every child's journey, every item's story, urges each of us to listen.
Listen to the voices and experiences of those children and
listen to their perspectives on how we can further contribute to their protection and rehabilitation after their tragic experience of war.
At the Parliamentary Assembly, we recently adopted a report on "The right to be heard: child participation, a foundation for democratic societies". Our goal is to promote the participation of children in the political decision making through parliamentary dialogue and special methodologies. In this way, we offer children the knowledge of conflict resolution without resorting to violence, while investing in more democratic societies.
In this session, we will focus on the "Protection and alternative care for unaccompanied and separated migrant and refugee children". As we all know, children are the most vulnerable victims of war, and our goal is to develop appropriate policy guidelines for our member States so that the members of our Assembly can return to their national parliaments and implement the corresponding policies on child protection during conflict and crisis situations.
The Council of Europe has developed a solid system for international legal standards for the protection of children’s life and rights. Firstly, through Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which safeguards private and family life, secondly through the Lanzarote Convention, which protects children against exploitation and sexual abuse and, last but not least, through the new Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child, launched at a high-level conference in Rome in April this year. I should also like to pay tribute to the great work of our Commissioner for Human Rights, who has placed children’s rights high on her agenda and who regularly addresses recommendations to national authorities on how they could improve their records on children's rights.
Our mission as an Organisation is to increase the Council of Europe's position and impact as a defender and promoter of children’s fundamental rights. Together with the collaboration of the other bodies, the Parliamentary Assembly has placed this issue in a high priority.
The brutality of the war of aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine has reintroduced us to an era, which we wrongly thought was over, where the peace and security of life for our citizens and for our children is no longer guaranteed. We are well aware of children who have died, been maimed, deported, and have been exposed to torture, exploitation and abuse. Families have been separated and entire communities are being wiped out. The fundamental rights these children should be entitled to have evaporated due to the brutality of the Russian aggressors and as we speak, the war continues; each day lives are taken, and children's future is denied.
My thoughts are also with all our fellow Ukrainian refugees, mostly children and young people.
The era of violence must come to an end, and I hope that a new era of peace and for the children’s rights is ahead of us.