Daily Press Briefing
Statements made by
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson
(Paris, January 26, 2007)
[Please note that only the original French text issued by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs may be considered official.]
Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy will travel to Poland on Monday, January 29, for talks with Polish Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga. The ministers will discuss the main issues on the community agenda and the French initiatives for development, especially innovative sources of development financing, notably the International Drug Purchase Facility UNITAID. They will also discuss environmental issues, a few days ahead of the Paris conference for world ecological governance, and bilateral cooperation.
During the visit the foreign minister will take part in a debate, together with his Polish counterpart and Hubert Védrine, on the topic “What’s Next for Europe?” at the Polish site of the College of Europe in Natolin.
The foreign minister will also address the French community in Poland.
The visit to Warsaw comes in the context of the unprecedented development in relations since May 1, 2004 after a close series of visits between our two countries in 2006. It reflects the strategic importance of the French-Polish partnership within the enlarged European Union.
At the initiative of Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, France will host an international conference in Paris on children involved in armed forces and armed groups, “Let us Free the Children of War,” on February 5 and 6, 2007.
Co-presided by Mr. Douste-Blazy and Ann M. Veneman, executive director of UNICEF, and in the presence of Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for children in armed conflict, the conference will bring together representatives of nearly 60 countries, including many ministers, the European Union, many international organizations, including the United Nations, and representatives of civil society, in particular former child soldiers and NGO leaders active on the ground.
The number of children recruited or used by armed forces and armed groups is estimated at 250,000 in 2007. The purpose of the conference is the adoption by the states present of a text called the Paris Commitments to stop the illegal and unacceptable use of children in armed conflict. The conference will call for the preparation of new programs to care for, protect and reintegrate child soldiers by reaffirming the active support of states for Security Council resolutions on the issue and providing political support to disseminating the “Paris Principles,” drafted under UNICEF auspices, which update the “Cape Town Principles” (1979). These principles define the framework for effective international on the ground in light of the experiences acquired over the past ten years.
The proceedings will be organized into three sessions dealing with the priorities which are: the unconditional release of children involved in armed forces and armed groups, their permanent reintegration in society where a place has to be made for them, and lastly strategies to prevent the recruitment or use of children by armed forces and armed groups. During the conference the speakers will include such “major witnesses” as Marguerite Barankitse of Burundi and Ishmael Beah, former child soldier in Sierra Leone.
France accords great importance to the issue of child soldiers. Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy went to Uganda and Burundi in February 2006 in this context. France is co-financing reintegration programs for children soldiers in Congo Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone. It has chaired the Security Council working group on children involved in armed forces and armed groups since it was founded in November 2005.
At the conference Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy will present prizes to the young winners of a drawing competition organized on the theme of child soldiers by Le Petit Quotidien, Editions Play Bac, on Monday, February 5 at 7 p.m. at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The ceremony will be followed by the official presentation to the minister and the UN secretary-general’s special representative for children in armed conflict of the petition launched by UNICEF France to encourage the demobilization and care of child soldiers. The petition collected 235,000 signatures.
The entire conference and proceedings along with related events are open to the press.
Q - Where’s the conference being held?
At the International conference Center (CCI).
Q - You say France is involved in the effort to reintegrate these children. What amounts are devoted to the program?
We’re working in cooperation with UNICEF on a program spread out over three years, representing an amount of 2.3 million euros. At the meeting we shall be announcing a further contribution to UNICEF to augment our partnership.
Q - The text of the Paris Commitments has moral value, I suppose, rather than legal value?
It is not a legal text. It is a text which commits the participants to a number of principles which are being discussed so we can’t say today exactly what these commitments will be. It is a strong encouragement to states to commit to respecting a number of guidelines. But it has no legal value in itself.
Q - You mentioned a figure of 250,000 child soldiers. Do you have a breakdown of this figure? Does the problem exist outside Africa?
Several countries have begun programs to care for and reintegrate children. You’ve a number of countries—they’re in Africa and the Americas and Asia--this will be in the kit. By way of example, Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Colombia, Nepal. Several continents, unfortunately, are affected by the phenomenon of child soldiers.
Q - What is France’s position with regard to the Madrid conference being held today among 18 countries so as to ratify the constitution?
The foreign minister and minister delegate for European affairs commented on the Madrid conference in Brussels. So I refer you to their remarks. There’s no change in the French position on this point. I can just remind you of what Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said on Monday in Brussels: “Anything that can help in the search for a solution taking into account the situations of others is welcome, and I hope this will be the case. I trust the German presidency and organizers to avoid anything that might create new divisions in a union which will need all member states in order to achieve the necessary institutional reforms. I repeat, we have every confidence in the German presidency to avoid these pitfalls.”
Q - Apparently Luxembourg had also planned a meeting for the following day which has now been cancelled, postponed. What do you think of Luxembourg’s decision?
We’ve no comment. It’s a decision taken by Luxemburg, and we’ve taken note of it.
Q - Is there going to be a meeting scheduled now for the countries that said “no”?
Not to my knowledge. We see the Dutch about it on a fairly regular basis.
Q - Do you have any comment about the events in Beirut yesterday and over the last two days?
We deplore yesterday’s confrontations and the victims that they entailed. We call on all Lebanese to show responsibility and to avoid escalation. At the very time the international community is giving Lebanon its full support in the interest of all Lebanese, it is essential for them to unite to meet together the challenges of Lebanon’s reconstruction and economic reform. No problem can be resolved through violence. We call on all Lebanese political forces to re-establish dialogue.
Q - Have you found a cause-and-effect or some other connection between the Paris III conference and the latest developments in Beirut? In your view are the two connected?
No, we did a great deal of work in preparation for the conference held yesterday, as you know. The results from it are definitely encouraging—I’m not going to go into them because there was a communiqué from President Chirac about the conference which I refer you to. Besides, there were a number of demonstrations in Lebanon, of movements that led to this situation which we deplore. We don’t see any cause and effect or direct links between an important event held in Paris, which brought together the entire international community, and a situation in Beirut which degenerated among the demonstrators.
Q - About the pledges, do you expect the figures published yesterday to be revised? (…)
As in any exercise of this kind, it is always necessary to carefully revise the figures. Besides some pledges are in millions of dollars, others are in millions of euros so the whole has to be adjusted so as to have an exact picture. I know that some of the contributions haven’t been registered in full—it’s the case of certain organizations—I’m thinking specifically of the Islamic Development Bank, for instance. (…)
According to our information and bearing in mind the figures advanced by the Islamic Development Bank, there’s a marked increase in pledges rather than a drop. So that’s rather good news which strengthens the impression we had at the end of the conference.
Q - Is it the usual practice to include private-sector donations in the totals?
It varies, but yes it’s a fairly common practice. In fact we asked participants to actually specify whether they were proposing on one hand donations, on the other loans, and lastly support from and to the private sector.
Allow us a little time to collect all the pledges, but this will all be made quite clear in the final figures that are given out.
Q - Will there be a communiqué when the figures are given out?
I don’t know if there’ll be a communiqué but the information will be made available to the press once we’ve collected all the data.
Q - What is France’s share of the aid announced by the European Commission?
The French contribution to aid from the European Commission is always around the same, just below 20% in French contributions to EU aid. The exact figure is 16.58%./.
Embassy of France, January 26, 2007