Sun, 17 October 2021

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By Shabnam Nasimi
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‘The UN Secretary General must explain why he lets powerful parties get away with killing children and attacking schools and hospitals’: Save the Children

Save the Children

4 min read

In a shocking decision, the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has removed Saudi Arabia from his annual ‘list of shame’. This shows powerful parties can kill and maim children or attack schools and hospitals with impunity, the agency warned today.

This years’ report, which documents the UN verified grave violations against children in conflict zones over the whole of 2019, failed to hold the Saudi and Emirati led coalition to account

for killing and injuring at least 222 children, and at least 4 incidents of attacks on schools and hospitals verified by the UN in 2019.

The delisting of the Tatmadaw in Myanmar for the recruitment and use of children is also premature and dangerous. Evidence shows the Tatmadaw so far has not been able to systematically monitor or verify cases of recruitment, or hold perpetrators consistently to account. The UN verified the recruitment of eight boys in 2019. This decision undermines the establishment of a sustainable mechanism to prevent and respond to child recruitment. Also, we still need to see urgent action to prevent the killing and maiming of children, and sexual violence against them - the two other grave violations the Tatmadaw is listed for.

This follows a dangerous pattern started at least since 2016 by the previous Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, when he admitted he would not list the Saudi and Emirati led coalition for violations in Yemen because of the political pressure he was under.

Other armed actors also got a pass for committing grave violations in countries like Afghanistan and Syria, and in the occupied Palestinian territory, as they were not fully held to account or even listed in the annex for violations of children rights like attacks on schools and hospitals or the killing and maiming of children - despite verified pattern of grave violations. The report announced Cameroon and Burkina Faso would be included in next year’s report, but Ukraine was not included in the report where it most likely should have been.

Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children, said in response to the annual report:
“It’s shocking that the Secretary General of the UN failed to hold parties to conflicts all over the world to the same standards and levels scrutiny. Apparently, some countries are more equal than others, showing that once again the UN Secretary-General has placed politics before children, letting parties with powerful friends get away with destroying children’s lives with impunity.

“The decision to list warring parties in the report should be free from political pressure or considerations, including from permanent members of the UN Security Council or countries with powerful friends. It should be based on one consideration only: does the UN have verified data showing a pattern of grave violations against children’s rights during conflict?

“It can also be a powerful incentive for parties to negotiate with the UN and implement an Action Plan to address violations against children as that is a condition for being delisted. But it loses all credibility if double standards are the norm. We call for a rigorous, objective, and transparent process to ensure parties are listed in the annexes in the report and delisted from them based on the same criteria[1], not on political considerations.

“To save this mandate, the report needs to regain its credibility. We call for an independent assessment on how the UN Secretary General has implemented the listing and delisting criteria[2], and for the UN to develop a robust due diligence system. Increased transparency can help shield the Secretary General from pressure, by exposing the length some countries go to protect parties who violate the law.

"As a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council and one of the biggest funders of the Office of the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, the UK has a crucial role to play. To continue championing international law, the UK must be at the forefront of this assessment into how the UN Secretary General has made these decisions. Only by shedding light on this will we get the transparency and accountability needed to ensure children are safe during conflict.”

For 75 years the UN has been the force for peace in the world and it should be the ultimate defender of children’s safety, especially in war. By bowing to political pressure, the UN is undermining its position, Save the Children warned today. The tragedy is that now more than ever the world cannot afford to let that happen.


Foreign affairs
Associated Organisation