NEW YORK, May 23 (IPS) – In 2021 alone, the United Nations documented nearly 24,000 gross violations of the rights of children during war, including killing and maiming, sexual violence, exploitation and recruitment and abduction. Schools and hospitals were destroyed and humanitarian aid was arbitrarily denied, depriving children of vital services. Now more children live in conflict zones than in the last two decades.
An important tool for addressing violations against children in war is the UN Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict, in which he includes states and armed groups responsible for such violations on his “list of shame.” Government forces in Myanmar, the Taliban in Afghanistan, National Liberation Army (ELN) in Colombia and Al-Shabaab in Somalia, to name a few, are currently on this list.
The list helps protect children and ensures accountability by identifying warring parties and making commitments to prevent violations through the adoption of UN plans of action. It creates tangible, positive change for children affected by war. Importantly, the list is based on verified data collected by the Global Monitoring Mechanism.
Despite the fact that the listing mechanism has improved the protection of children in various conflicts, civil society organizations and UN member states have expressed concern about the process by which the Secretary-General lists perpetrators in his annual report.
They noted that any politicization of the decision-making process for party listing risks undermining its credibility, undermining the mechanism’s legitimacy as a tool for ensuring accountability, promoting compliance and preventing future harm to children. These concerns stem from inconsistencies between the data on violations included in the historical section of the Report and the parties listed in its appendices.
In particular, some parties responsible for harming children are not included in the list, while others are listed only for the violations they committed. Some were even delisted before child protection safeguards were fully met. In a 2021 report, a group of international experts on children’s rights found “dozens of cases where multiple and gross violations did not lead to listing or where listing decisions reflect unclear inconsistencies.”
The Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict emphasizes the importance of evidence-based and consistent listing decisions. Protecting children from harm in war should never be subordinated to political considerations. It is critical to address the above concerns and ensure that the listing mechanism remains an effective child protection tool.
The UN Secretary-General should publish a complete list of perpetrators that accurately reflects verified data on violations. It is time to protect existing protection frameworks and promote accountability for violations of children’s rights, regardless of who is at fault.
Dr. Ezekiel Heffes Director, Children and Armed Conflict Watchlist
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