By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, 22 June 2023 (IDN) — UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in his annual report on Children and Armed Conflict,, has once again left out Israel from the list of perpetrators of grave violations and killings of children.
Perhaps the only consolation this year is his decision to stand up to Russia, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, adding its military forces to his “list of shame” for horrific violations against children.
Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, said Human Rights Watch (HRW), hundreds of Ukrainian children have been killed in apparently indiscriminate Russian attacks on apartment buildings and other civilian structures. Russian forces have also attacked hospitals and destroyed schools.
Jo Becker, advocacy director at Human Rights Watch said the Secretary-General, though, has done children in Palestine a terrible disservice by leaving Israel off his list of shame.
She pointed out that the past year was the deadliest for Palestinian children in the West Bank in 15 years, yet Guterres failed to list Israel’s forces.
“His unwillingness year after year to hold Israeli forces accountable for their grave violations against children has backfired, only emboldening Israeli forces to use unlawful lethal force against Palestinian children.”
Israel obviously should have been on the list. Its absence fuels impunity and puts more children at risk, said Becker.
“The UN needs to hold to account all governments, no matter how powerful, for their violations,” she declared.
Meanwhile, there is widespread speculation that Guterres caved into pressure both from Israel and the US—to keep Israel off the list.
Israel, in fact, has never been listed, even though the UN attributed more than 6,700 child casualties to Israeli forces between 2015-2020.
Asked about the omission, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters on 22 June: “I don’t have any extensive comments to make on a report that has gone, I know, to members of the Security Council, but is not a document yet”.
“We believe it will be published on Tuesday (30 June). What we’re trying to do is get the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, to speak to you Tuesday morning. And hopefully, she can offer insights about the report and how it’s put together.”
Asked why the Secretary-General added Russian military forces to the list of offenders, but at the same time, left out Ukrainian forces, Haq said: “Again, these are issues, I can’t really confirm or deny the contents of the report at this stage, but you’ll be able to see the report for yourself and talk to Ms. Gamba and she should be able to explain what the findings of the report entail.”
Guterres was also criticized by Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, a network of international human rights and humanitarian organizations mandated to increase the protection of children in armed conflict.
In a statement released on 22 June, it said the Secretary-General took a step towards protecting children in armed conflict by listing the Russian armed forces and affiliated groups in his “list of shame”, yet he lost a chance to hold Israeli forces and Palestinian groups accountable for their violations against children.
“The Secretary-General’s inclusion of the Russian Federation as responsible for grave violations against children sends a message that parties to armed conflict must respect their international obligations, and children must always be protected,” said Ezequiel Heffes, Director of Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict.
In 2022, the UN verified that Russian armed forces and affiliated groups killed 136 children and maimed an additional 518. It also confirmed that they carried out 480 attacks on schools and hospitals and abducted 91 children.
“Since the onset of the conflict in Ukraine in 2014, children have endured unspeakable acts of violence. This is a crucial step to ensure accountability for these violations,” added Heffes.
Civil society groups have expressed concerns about the Secretary-General’s failure to include all parties responsible for child rights violations.
In 2021, an independent analysis by a group of international experts revealed persistent discrepancies in the listing of perpetrators, including at least eight parties to conflict who were found responsible for killing and maiming over 100 children in a single year, yet were not listed.
The experts also found double standards in the treatment of State and non-State parties to conflict.
“Two years ago, we denounced the tendency to cave into political pressure exerted by those responsible, rather than use the ‘list of shame’ as intended—namely, to induce changes in behavior for the benefit of vulnerable children. It appears that these failures continue,” the group of experts commented on this year’s report.
“It is tragic to see the listing mechanism – which could be such a valuable instrument for the protection of children – undermined and weakened by the Office of the Secretary General,” they stated.
Meanwhile, the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the US Congress is holding an open hearing this week under the title: “Responding to anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias in the UN, Palestinian Authority and NGO Community”.
Asked for his reaction, Haq said: “I don’t have a comment on an event being held in the United States. What I would say is that the United Nations has a very clear and consistent record in terms of its efforts to address and combat anti-Semitism”.
Alarmed by the killings of, and injuries to, many children in Israel and Palestine, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) last January voiced an appeal to parties to de-escalate tensions and refrain from violence.
“Children continue to pay the highest price of violence,” the statement declared. “As the situation remains very volatile, UNICEF fears that an increasing number of children will suffer.”
Just a few weeks into the new year, seven Palestinian children and one Israeli child had been killed and many more injured, according to UNICEF.
Since 26 January alone, the terrorist attack outside a Jerusalem synagogue left at least seven Israelis dead and three injured, and the raid of a West Bank refugee camp resulted in the killing of nine Palestinians.
This year, news reports indicate that some 30 Palestinians had reportedly been killed in the West Bank—including a 14-year-old boy.
A similar pattern in 2022 led to the deaths of more than 150 Palestinians and 20 Israelis in the West Bank and Israel.
Back in 2017, when the UN’s Beirut-based Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), released a landmark report on “apartheid” in Israel, the United Nations disassociated itself with the study and left it to die.
According to a March 2017 report in Foreign Policy Journal, both the Israeli and the then Trump administrations put “enormous pressure on Guterres to withdraw the report”.
But the head of the ESCWA, Rima Khalaf, refused to withdraw it and resigned from her UN position in protest.
Later, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced he will award Khalaf the Palestine Medal of the Highest Honor for her “courage and support” for the Palestinian people. [IDN-InDepthNews]
Photo: A Palestinian boy inspects his home which was targeted by the Israeli warplanes in Gaza City. (May 2021). © UNICEF/Eyad El Baba
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