Saudi led coalition gets a free pass to destroy children’s lives in Yemen yet again

Despite killing and maiming at least 194 children in Yemen in 2020 according to UN verified data, the Saudi and Emirati led coalition gets a green light to continue destroying children’s lives in Yemen, Save the Children warned today.

In a disheartening decision, the UN Secretary General António Guterres again failed to include the coalition in this year’s ‘list of shame’.

It was taken off the list last year, with a commitment by the Secretary General to relist them unless there was a ‘sustained significant decrease in killing and maiming’. By not relisting the coalition, Guterres sends the message that reducing the number of child casualties to about two hundred is ‘good enough’ progress, Save the Children said.

The ‘list of shame’ is an addendum to the annual UN-report on Children and Armed Conflict, which brands warring parties who fail to keep children safe during conflict. Regrettably, having powerful friends once again guarantees a free pass from accountability for grave violations of children’s rights, Save the Children said.

The military in Myanmar, known as the Tatmadaw, was also delisted last year, despite the recruitment and use of 208 children in 2019. In 2020, the Tatmadaw recruited and used 726 children, more than a tripling of cases compared to the previous year.

Save the Children welcomes the decision by the Secretary General to include the Tatmadaw in the ‘list of shame’, albeit only on the ‘lighter’ section of the list for parties that ‘have put in place measures aimed at improving the protection of children’. Since the military coup and ensuing violence, children in Myanmar today are at even greater risk of recruitment and other grave violations.

The listing of the Afghan National Army for killing and maiming children, and of Somali government forces for sexual violence against children is also a positive step towards ensuring all parties are held to the same standard.

Unfortunately, other parties to the conflict in Afghanistan, the occupied Palestinian territory and Syria, also got a free pass for committing grave violations of children’s rights – despite the UN verifying a pattern of grave violations year after year.

The report included Cameroon, Burkina Faso, and the Lake Chad Basin for the first time as situations of concern. Save the Children welcomes these inclusions as an important step towards ensuring crimes against children are documented and perpetrators of violence against children are eventually held to account.

Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Ukraine, however, were not included in the report as situations of concern. Save the Children is disappointed in this decision, which means many crimes against children in these countries will remain undocumented, and accountability will remain elusive.

Inger Ashing, CEO for Save the Children, said in response to the annual report:

“We strongly urge the Secretary General to reconsider his decision and hold parties to conflict all over the world to the same standard. The decision to include an armed actor in the ‘list of shame’ should be based only on a pattern of grave violations against children verified by the UN, not on politics.

“While there have been some positive steps this year, not applying the same criteria fairly and consistently can have dramatic consequences for children. My colleagues see how these double standards make it much harder to prevent violations against children such as killing and maiming, attacks on schools, recruitment or the denial of aid.

“The establishment of the Children and Armed Conflict mandate in 1997 was an inspiring example of what the international community is able to do when politics is set aside. It is one of the most powerful tools to hold accountable parties to conflict who destroy children’s lives, and ultimately protect children in conflict.

“The power of the mandate depends on its credibility. If you lose that, you lose one of the most important tools to hold perpetrators of violence against children in conflict to account.”

The 25th anniversary of the Children and Armed Conflict next year provides a unique opportunity to celebrate the creation of the mandate by the UN Security Council, look back at the incredibly positive impact it has had for children in conflict and look forward at what is needed for the decades to come. This requires acknowledging the problems with previous attempts to politicise the list. The international community must find the courage to put aside narrow national interests and prioritise the protection of children in conflict.

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