Flags and lights mark where ground-penetrating radar recorded hits of what are believed to be 751 unmarked graves in this cemetery near the grounds of the former Marieval Indian Residential School on the Cowessess First Nation, Saskatchewan, Canada, on June 26, 2021. (MARK TAYLOR / THE CANADIAN PRESS VIA AP)
China's Ambassador to the United Nations Zhang Jun has called on the Canadian government to fulfill its responsibility to let the world know the truth about violations of indigenous people's rights in Canada.
Zhang made the call at the UN Security Council open debate on children and armed conflict, which was held via video link on Monday. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the UN mandate on children and armed conflict.
He said the protection of children is the responsibility of all states and governments and should be the "top priority" under any circumstances.
The recently exposed abuse and violence against indigenous children in Canada at boarding schools that led to the loss of over 4,000 lives is shocking and horrific. We cannot let this dark page stay in history books only.
Zhang Jun, China's ambassador to the UN
"The recently exposed abuse and violence against indigenous children in Canada at boarding schools that led to the loss of over 4,000 lives is shocking and horrific. We cannot let this dark page stay in history books only," said Zhang.
"We urge the government of Canada to earnestly fulfill its responsibility to let the world know the truth, and to give justice to the victims, so as to prevent the recurrence of such tragedies."
Jiang Duan, minister of the Chinese mission to the United Nations in Geneva, said, "This is only the tip of the iceberg in the number of indigenous people who died of genocide in Canada."
Speaking at the Interactive Dialogue with UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Alice Wairimu Nderitu, Jiang said that in the United States, Native Americans were expelled from their land and slaughtered during the so-called Westward Expansion in the 19th century. Their population dwindled from 5 million at the end of the 15th century to 250,000 at the beginning of the 20th century, he said.
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On Thursday, weeks after the remains of 215 children were found in unmarked graves on the grounds of a former indigenous residential school in British Columbia, Canada, the remains of as many as 751 people, mainly indigenous children, were discovered at the site of a former residential school in Saskatchewan.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, a body mandated to tell Canadians the truth about the residential schools, more than 150,000 indigenous children were required to attend the state-funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into Canadian society from the 19th century until the 1970s.
They were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages. Many were beaten and verbally abused without any contact with their parents, and thousands are said to have died, which the commission called a "cultural genocide".
Some former students at the schools have said that some infants born to girls impregnated by priests and monks were incinerated.
The commission estimated that about 4,100 children went missing nationwide from the schools. But an indigenous former judge who led the commission, Murray Sinclair, said this month that he now believed the number was "well beyond 10,000".
READ MORE: Canadian indigenous group: More unmarked graves found
Zhang urged the international community to take practical measures to stop grave violations against children, reduce the impact of armed conflicts on boys and girls, and help realize their comprehensive development
Zhang urged the international community to take practical measures to stop grave violations against children, reduce the impact of armed conflicts on boys and girls, and help realize their comprehensive development.
"Grave violations against children must be stopped immediately. The six grave violations against children identified in the council resolutions break through the boundaries of international humanitarian law, challenge the bottom line of human conscience and should be a no-no for all parties to the conflict," Zhang pointed out.
China condemns all grave violations against children, including the killing of civilians and children in Afghanistan by foreign troops. Those who perpetrated such acts should be held responsible, he said.
China calls on parties to the conflict to sign and implement the child protection action plan with the UN, the envoy added.
The international community should also urge all countries to ratify and implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child and increase financial and technical support to help the countries concerned improve their child-protection capacity, Zhang said.
In the context of the current pandemic, special attention should be given to children affected by conflict, in order to ensure that they are not left behind in terms of vaccinations and remote learning, Zhang added.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on all parties to conflict "to prioritize the prevention of violations against children and to engage in dialogue, cease-fires and peace processes"
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who briefed the meeting, called on all parties to conflict "to prioritize the prevention of violations against children and to engage in dialogue, cease-fires and peace processes".
During 2020, almost 24,000 grave violations were committed against 19,300 children in the 21 situations covered by the UN mandate on children and armed conflict, according to Guterres.
The UN chief identified the most prevalent verified violations as the recruitment and use of children, the killing and maiming of children and the denial of humanitarian access to them.
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There has also been an exponential increase in both the number of children abducted and in sexual violence committed against boys and girls, Guterres said.
According to the UN secretary-general's annual report covering 2020, the overall number of grave violations against children stood at 26,425. Of those violations, 23,946 were committed in 2020, and 2,479 were committed earlier but only verified in 2020.
The highest number of grave violations took place in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, the UN chief said in his report.
Liu Yinmeng in Los Angeles and Xinhua contributed to this story.