NEW YORK, May 23 (IPS) – In 2021 alone, nearly 24,000 serious violations of children’s rights in war were documented by the United Nations – these included killing and maiming, sexual violence, use and recruitment and abduction. Schools and hospitals were destroyed, and humanitarian aid was arbitrarily denied, depriving children of vital services. More children now live in conflict zones than in the last two decades.
An important tool created to address 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 in his “list of shame.” Myanmar government forces, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the National Liberation Army (ELN) in Colombia and Al-Shabaab in Somalia, to name a few, are currently included in this list.
The list helps protect children and ensures accountability by identifying warring parties and securing commitments to prevent violations through the adoption of UN Action Plans. It creates tangible, positive changes for children affected by war. Importantly, the list is based on verified data collected by a global monitoring mechanism.
Although 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 of determining which perpetrators are included in the Secretary-General’s annual report.
They have noted that any politicization of the party-listing decision-making process threatens to undermine its credibility, undermining the mechanism’s legitimacy as a tool to ensure accountability, promote compliance and prevent future harm to children. These concerns stem from inconsistencies between the data on violations included in the report’s narrative section and the parties listed in its appendices.
Specifically, some parties responsible for harming children are not listed, while others are listed for only some of the violations they have committed. Some have even been removed from the list before fully complying with child safeguards. In a 2021 report, a distinguished group of international experts on children’s rights is identified “dozens of cases where multiple and serious violations did not lead to listing or where listing decisions reflected unexplained inconsistencies.”
The Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict emphasizes the importance of evidence-based and consistent listing decisions. Protecting children from being harmed in war should never be subject to political considerations. It is crucial to address the above concerns and ensure that the listing mechanism remains an effective tool for protecting children.
The UN Secretary-General must publish a complete list of perpetrators that accurately reflects verified records of violations. It is time to uphold existing protection frameworks and promote accountability for violations of children’s rights, regardless of who the perpetrators are.
Dr. Ezequiel Heffes is a director, Watchlist on children and armed conflict
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