The United Nations secretary-general has come under fire repeatedly in recent years for letting national armed forces and non-state armed groups off the hook for grave violations against children in war. Now, a group of experts has released a new, damning analysis of his annual “list of shame,” finding dozens of omissions and discrepancies over the past decade.
These experts include Lt.-Gen. (Ret.) Roméo Dallaire, the former UN force commander during Rwanda’s genocide; Yanghee Lee, former chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child; Benyam Dawit Mezmur, a child rights expert; and Allan Rock, former Canadian ambassador to the UN.
These experts compared 10 years of UN data on violations against children to the secretary-general’s annual lists of perpetrators. They found that government forces were far more likely to be left off the list than armed groups, even while committing egregious violations.
- Afghan security forces have killed or injured more than 4,000 children since 2014 but have not been listed.
- In 2014, Israeli forces killed 557 Palestinian children and injured 4,249, most during fighting in Gaza. Even though the number of children killed was the third-highest in the world that year, Israeli forces were not listed.
- In Somalia, the armed group Al-Shabab has been repeatedly listed for sexual violence against children, but the Somali National Army has not, despite comparable numbers of cases.
- In 2020, the secretary-general “delisted” the Saudi and United Arab Emirates-led coalition for killing and maiming children in Yemen, as well as Myanmar’s army for recruiting and using child soldiers. Yet each was responsible for hundreds of violations the previous year.
The experts call the list of shame, first requested by the UN Security Council in 2001, the “linchpin” for UN efforts to protect children in war. Being listed triggers rigorous UN documentation of violations, as well as negotiations with listed armed forces and groups to secure concrete action. Over 30 parties to armed conflict who made the list have signed action plans to end violations.
But without an accurate list, the UN’s children and armed conflict framework is seriously undermined. The experts urged the secretary-general to change his approach and list all perpetrators “without fear or favor.” Without such action, they warn, children will be put at even greater risk.
The secretary-general should take the experts’ recommendations to heart and put the protection of children first.