In October 2013 Mark was invited to a War Child forum entitled "War: The Next Generation" - examining "The Future of Conflict and its Impact on Children". He was keen to attend as although The George Oliver Foundation was not supporting War Child in 2013, we have done in the past, maintain strong links with them and believe very much in the work that they do. 2013 marked War Child's 20th anniversary and the event was a look forward at the next 20 years.
The BBC Presenter (and chief international correspondent), Lyse Doucet chaired the forum and she did a great job of keeping things moving. She also spoke movingly about her own experiences in places such as Syria. There was a big audience - in a BAFTA theatre room, which included charity supporters, industry experts and even the Afghanistan ambassador.
Mark’s account of the event is as follows -
I really wanted to report back on what each of the key speakers spoke about - their key themes - and give you my own personal thoughts on what they were saying. I have tried to capture some of these points below - please note this is MY recollection of what was said and my be imperfect...
William Hague MP
William Hague was the first speaker, he is the foreign secretary and his original script can be found here:
www.gov.uk/government/speeches/protecting-children-in-conflict His delivery was excellent, speaking very well and powerfully - a very good orator. His speech praised the work done historically by War Child, to discuss the plight of children due to conflict and to confirm that conflict prevention was a priority for him and the government. There was however, also a recognition that eradicating conflict would not be possible and a discussion of an initiative that he was trying to ensure was enshrined into international thinking/law. And that this was the use of sexual violence as a means of advancing political and military objectives. This sexual violence is often targeted at the most vulnerable members of society - ie children. William Hague has had as one of his top priorities a Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative run with the UN. He has succeeded in gaining G8 and UN security Council resolutions and 134 countries have supported a Declaration promising to end rape as a weapon of war. He talked about further initiatives, UK support teams, global conferences etc and ensuring the remaining 1/3 of the world "buy in" to the Declaration.
Message: End use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.
Rob Williams CEO of War Child
Rob put a bit of context around what conflict currently entails and how he sees this developing over the coming 20 years. We are seeing relatively few wars being fought between nations and states, but much more "internal" state conflict - ie civil wars/internal religious wars. Whilst much more than merely a recounting of stats and figures, a few of the things that he said were quite shocking - there are over 1bn under 25s currently in conflict zones. 90% of Civil Wars recur after a peace deal. His strongest point was about the need to ensure that children received education both during times of conflict and afterwards and that the aid budgets were skewed too heavily towards things like food etc and not enough towards ensuring the education of young children caught up in conflict with only 28% of suggested UN appeal sums for education being met (compared to 90% for food).
Message: Red lines need to be drawn around targeting kids in conflict. Kids need educating.
Simon Conway Author, ex-soldier and Board Member at Article 36
Article 36 is a not for profit organisation working to prevent the unintended, unnecessary or unacceptable harm caused by certain weapons (name based on Article 36 of the Geneva Convention). Simon started his address with an off the cuff remark about a factory in Pakistan producing 80% of munitions used in the world and that if this was closed down... He provided some historical context around war, talked about the end of "industrial" war - eg intra-nation war, but discussed the fact that the weapons for industrial war had proliferated and were still available. Also about the use of more sophisticated weaponry such as drones.
Message: Weapons of war are out there, still being produced and will only develop
Professor Noel Sharkey - University of Sheffield.
Professor Sharkey talked about the work he has been involved in relation to examining the proliferation of automation in weapons of war and in trying to ensure that these were properly examined and viewed through the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons at the UN. Professor Sharkey has a clear concern around robotic decision making when it comes to applying the laws of war, accountability and how, if humans are taken out of the equation, a just and "proper" decision can be made around the application of force.
Message: The Laws of War - Distinction/Proportionality/Accountability must be kept and this cannot be done by robots.
Gus MacFarlane - Maplecroft
Gus works in risk analytics - this from his presentation appeared to be advising companies on not both analysing the risk inherent in certain countries in the world (and these were educationally presented in map form), but how companies could deal with the risk and ensure that the risk was minimised in the future. A "proper" attitude to dealing with these instabilities was mooted. It was clear where the greatest areas of risk and abuse was and these seemed to remain consistent.
Message: Corporates need to think about their obligations as well as risks.
Professor David Keen - LSE
Professor Keen looked at the nature of conflict and the treatment of the parties involved in conflict. He pointed out that there was great danger in the demonization and vilification of armed groups - that by doing so, it often made conflict into a battle of good v evil and then atrocities were also committed in the name of "good". Also that paranoia could help "demonise" and enemy and make it stronger through fear. He also looked at the trend towards trying to get perfect information on conflict, that too often groups were wary of trying to do "good" through the fear of doing "harm" because it was felt the information that they received was not perfect.
Message: Do something. Don't demonise.
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC
Baroness Kennedy as a QC talked about her commitment to a world where the rule of law held sway. Where international law needed strengthening, that failed or failing states needed help in ensuring the success of the rule of law. This stretched from access to legal aid in the UK, through to her talking about the upholding of human rights and her desire to incorporate an institute relating to such in Oxford, her horror that the UK should be even considering withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights and the importance of ensuring that people have legal redress, not necessarily as a bar from these things happening, but to ensure that those who suffer have a form of retribution.
Messages: Universal age of consent to be set at 18. Crime to be considered as having additional aggravating factors if it involves children.
Messeh Leone CEO Rightsway International
Messeh is a young man from Sierra Leone who was inspired to make a difference due to his own experiences in Sierra Leone. He spoke powerfully and movingly about the experiences that he had suffered and those suffered by people he knows/knew. He talked about the 4 key words that he wanted people to take away with them in relation to children: Prevention. Protection. Participation and Promotion. Prevention of acts of conflict that affect children. Protection of children when events of conflict do occur. Participation to ensure that people gather round and assist when conflict affects children and Promotion of children, their rights and their abilities.
Message: Prevention. Protection. Participation and Promotion.
It was really interesting to hear from a wide range of speakers and I could tell that the room would quite comfortably have discussed these issues for hours afterwards. I was a little unsure as to what the purpose of the forum was - whether it was for War Child to hear these messages and take them forward in their work, for the audience to hear these messages or for the panel to do so.
Messeh Leone's message was pretty effective and powerful and led me to think about what I could do personally and in my capacity as a trustee of the George Oliver Foundation in relation to his message. The stuff around Prevention and Protection is pretty difficult. This is probably the field of lobbyists, experts and those with international influence. Baroness Kennedy and Gus MacFarlane talked optimistically about corporates/businesses being more proactive to ensure that they didn't trade with regions/countries that had human rights issues - I am somewhat sceptical about that - the importance of "turning a buck" is a key driver in most businesses and whilst CSR is a driver, I am not sure whether it is a prime consideration. I would also query whether those countries that Gus MacFarlane identifies as being the "risk" countries are the ones that William Hague is finding difficult to bring on board with his UN initiatives and those that have (for instance) abstained from the UN Trade Arms Treaty.
If so, should we be allowing (for example) Chinese State investment in UK Nuclear power plants? Or given the Syrian crisis and the Russian stance, continued open trade? Probably a very simplistic view and I understand the need to maintain relations and dialogue to try and improve conditions, but government should set a lead.
Participation is something that is important and is what we at the George Oliver Foundation try and do. We are the grateful recipient of funds raised from you our supporters. You trust us to make a judgement on who we look to apply these funds to ensuring that disadvantaged children are helped. Given the projects that we have historically supported with War Child (education projects in Iraq and Uganda), I am happy that our internal requirement for information (as discussed by Professor Keen) was addressed, but it also required a leap of faith on our part that War Child were the right body to partner with. They are the people on the ground delivering the education, we have met people there and trust them. I hope through this support, this helps promote the cause of young people in conflict torn regions.
In an ideal world, there would be no conflict and therefore no need for a charity like War Child and children could grow up without knowing war and the consequences. However, this is very unlikely unfortunately and through War Child and their projects, we at the George Oliver Foundation hope that we can help make a difference.