Security Council

What is it?

The main role of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is to help maintain international peace and security. This means the main issue it discusses when it comes to children’s rights is the recruitment of children in armed conflict.

It has five permanent members: China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States. It then has 10 non-permanent members elected by the General Assembly for a term of two years.

Each Security Council member has one vote. Decisions on procedural matters are made by an affirmative vote by at least nine out of the 15 members. Decisions on substantive matters also require nine votes, but must have the agreement of all five permanent members. This is often referred to as the "veto power" as it only takes one of the five permanent members to disagree for a decision to fail. The veto rule has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, and you can read more about the negotiations to reform the Security Council.

When the Council receives a complaint, first of all it will usually recommend that the parties try to settle the dispute peacefully. In some cases, the Security Council will investigate the situation and then mediate between the parties. It may also appoint "Special Representatives" to address the situation, or request that the Secretary-General does.

See the full list of the Security Council resolutions.

What does the Security Council do on child rights?

Although there are some internal challenges which at times limit the Security Council, recently the it has strengthened its focus on children and armed conflict and has passed a number of specific resolutions.

Specifically, the Security Council passed Resolution 1612 in 2005, which lead to the creation of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, as well as a monitoring and reporting mechanism on six grave violations of children’s rights:

  • Killing or maiming children
  • Recruiting or using child soldiers
  • Attacks against schools or hospitals
  • Rape and other grave sexual violence against children
  • Abduction of children
  • Denial of humanitarian access for children

The Working Group works with the Security Council to:

  • review the reports of the Council’s monitoring and reporting mechanism, which was set up by resolution 1612 (2005) to systematically report on and document the six grave violations stated above.
  • look at progress made in developing and implementing action plans by groups named in the Secretary-General’s list (see below on Annex 1 and Annex 2) to stop recruitment and use of children in armed conflict
  • make recommendations on measures to promote the protection of children affected by armed conflict
  • consider country reports

View the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict reports.

'Name and shame'

This is how the UN often tries to enforce human rights. It is non-invasive (unlike sanctions or peacekeeping) and makes it known around the world that a particular State has violated human rights.

‘Annex I’ and ‘Annex II’ are the Security Council’s ‘naming and shaming’ list of States which have violated human rights standards on children and armed conflict. The list is updated each year and included in the UN Secretary General’s report.

Annex I lists the worst offenders when it comes to children and armed conflict which are on the Security Council’s agenda (ie States it is watching closely). Annex II lists the States, although not on the Security Council’s agenda, where there are concerns about children in armed conflict.

The Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

Ms. Graça Machel, an independent expert appointed by the UN Secretary-General, submitted her report to the General Assembly called “Impact of Armed Conflict on Children” in 1996. This report led to the adoption by the General Assembly of resolution 51/77 on 12 December 1996, establishing the mandate of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict for a period of three years. The General Assembly has since extended this mandate four times and most recently by its resolution A/RES/63/241 on 24 December 2008. Visit the website of the SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict for more.

Note there is also an SRSG for Violence against Children, which you can find out more about here.

Further information: 

  • SRSG for children and armed conflict website