UNITED NATIONS — An international coalition advocating for children in conflict zones urged Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday to put government security forces from Israel, Myanmar and Afghanistan on a U.N. blacklist for killings and other violations of children’s rights.
Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict also called on the U.N. chief to add several rebel groups in the Central African Republic, Congo’s national police force, a rebel group in Mali, and the main opposition force in South Sudan to the blacklist.
The global network of human rights and humanitarian organizations said Guterres should also determine whether the Kurdistan Workers Party and several Kurdish groups in Iraq, the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, international coalitions in Syria, and the armed forces in the Philippines should be added.
Watchlist also recommended in a report that an assessment mission be sent to Ukraine to investigate which parties committed grave violations.
The secretary-general’s annual report on children in armed conflict contains a blacklist of government forces and rebel groups that recruit, use, kill, maim, rape, sexually abuse or abduct children in armed conflict or attack schools and hospitals.
Watchlist’s U.N. Advocacy Officer Dragica Mikavica said the list is “an indispensable tool for stopping heinous crimes against children — but it can only remain credible if it lists all the guilty parties.”
She said parties are so concerned about not finding themselves on the list “that they would go the length of threatening to pull funding from U.N. programs in blackmail.”
In 2016, the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen was put on the blacklist by then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon but then removed. Ban said coalition supporters threatened to stop funding many U.N. programs and he had to consider “the very real prospect” that millions of other children in the Palestinian territories, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and many other places “would suffer grievously” if U.N. programs were defunded.
Last year’s report, the first by Guterres, who succeeded Ban, was delayed until October and changed the blacklist. For the first time, it listed governments, rebel groups and other parties to conflicts that are taking action to protect children — and those combatants that aren’t doing anything.
Saudi Arabia is on the list of parties that are taking action, but Watchlist questioned what actions it has taken in the past year, citing coalition bombings that have killed children.
The coalition also asked Guterres to state whether countries designated as taking action will still need to take the same measures as the others to get off the blacklist, namely signing a plan of action with the U.N. with time-bound steps to end violations against children — and be violation-free for a year.
The report also raised the issue of budget cuts in U.N. peacekeeping operations, which are reducing staff assigned to protect children’s rights and to investigate violations. Watchlist’s Mikavica said these are being pressed by the United States and China.
In its recommendation to list the Israel Defense Forces for the first time this year, Watchlist pointed to U.N. figures on the killing and wounding of Palestinian children by soldiers in attacks, alleged attacks and clashes in 2017. It cited dozens of injuries and 13 youngsters killed by mid-August 2017.
Mikavica said in response to a question that the coalition used Guterres’ 2017 report, which focused on the Israeli Defense Forces but not Hamas, for its recommendation to list the military force.
As for Myanmar, the report cites numerous reports of the killing, burning and beating to death of Rohingya Muslim children by government forces, known as the Tatmadaw. And it recommended listing the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces and pro-government militias, for killing and raping children and for attacking schools and hospitals.
In its recommendation to further investigate international coalitions in Syria, Watchlist noted that Guterres reported 533 verified child casualties from airstrikes in 2017, including by international forces supporting the government, which include Russia, and the U.S.-led international coalition fighting the Islamic State extremist group.
Jo Becker, head of Human Rights Watch’s children’s rights division who heads Watchlist’s advisory board, said the coalition looks forward to this year’s U.N. report being “as accurate and comprehensive as possible, with no political interference.”
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that “the report is on track to be on schedule, probably in late June.”