NGOs urge UN to blacklist US, Russia for children’s deaths

International
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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A coalition of 13 human rights and humanitarian organizations urged U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to put the U.S.-led coalition and government-backed forces in Afghanistan and Russian ground and air forces in Syria on a U.N. blacklist of warring parties responsible for killing and injuring children last year.

The international advocacy group, the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, also recommended that the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and its allied militias be listed for attacks on schools and hospitals in Yemen, and that Israeli forces be listed “for killing and maiming children in Israel and the state of Palestine.”

In addition, the Watchlist said the U.N. chief should list dissidents of Colombia’s main rebel group the FARC for recruiting and using children, forces backing South Sudan’s former opposition leader and current Vice-President Riek Machar “for rape and other forms of sexual violence against children,” and Sudan’s government forces and police for killings, rape and sexual violence against children.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the secretary-general’s report will be issued “mid-year.” He had no comment on the Watchlist recommendations.

The organization’s 32-page report released Monday said the blacklist has served as an important tool to protect children by identifying warring parties responsible for violating their rights. This has enabled the United Nations to engage with warring parties and obtain commitments to end and prevent violations, leading to their removal from the list.

Watchlist program director Adrianne Lapar said that to date the U.N. has signed 32 action plans with listed parties, including 12 government forces and 20 armed groups. Of those, 12 parties have fully complied with their commitment and have been taken off the blacklist, she said.

But in recent years, the Watchlist said, the process for determining who is included on the list “has become increasingly politicized, threatening to undermine the report’s credibility and weaken its strength as a tool for promoting accountability and compliance with applicable international law.”

Secretary-general Guterres has been issuing two lists every year, one of governments and groups killing and injuring children in conflicts and a second of parties that have put in place measures to protect children. Watchlist called on the U.N. chief to return to the previous practice of issuing a single list.

It questioned why, for example, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen was put on the list of taking actions to protect children, and why it was taken off that list last year when its aircraft were still carrying out attacks on schools and hospitals that killed and injured them.

The Watchlist’s Lapar told a video press briefing launching the report that “all violators should be held to the same standards.”

In Afghanistan, she said, U.S.-led international forces were responsible for 286 child casualties in 2018 and 235 child casualties in 2019 according to the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, “yet the secretary-general failed to list them.”

Sara Kayyali, a Syria researcher at Human Rights Watch which is a founding member of Watchlist, said since the Russian air force became part of the Syrian government alliance in 2015, over 5,000 children have been killed, according to the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.

Some attacks in rebel-held Idlib in northwest Syria have been directly linked to the Russian air force, but it has never been listed, she said.

In addition to its recommendations for additions to the list, the Watchlist called for further investigations to determine whether the following parties should be added to the blacklist: Afghan forces and pro-government militias and Congo’s national police for rape and other forms of sexual violence against children, the Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition and allied militias for recruitment and use of children in Yemen, Israeli forces for attacks on Palestinian schools and hospitals, and forces allied with Libya’s east-based commander Khalifa Haftar for killing and injuring children.

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