United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will soon publish his annual “list of shame” of governments and armed groups that commit grave violations against children during armed conflict. Human Rights Watch, along with 20 other nongovernmental organizations, signed an open letter to the secretary-general urging him to make his list credible and accurate.
We shouldn’t have to ask for an accurate list. But in recent years, we’ve seen glaring omissions and preferential treatment for some parties. Last year, the secretary-general took the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen off his list of parties responsible for attacking schools and hospitals, even though his own report found the coalition responsible for 19 out of 20 UN-verified attacks on schools the previous year. And a UN commission of inquiry found Israeli forces responsible for killing 34 children and injuring 1,642 more during protests in Gaza in 2018, yet Israeli forces have not appeared on the secretary-general’s list.
The list is important for several reasons. It helps hold warring parties accountable for their actions, whether it be killing or maiming children, recruiting them as soldiers, attacking schools, or committing rape and sexual violence. Once a government or armed group is placed on the list, they can only get off by signing and implementing an action plan with the UN to end their violations against children. This stigma of listing has provided a powerful incentive for parties to conflict to end their violations against children. To date, 28 parties have signed UN action plans, and a dozen of those have fully implemented them and been taken off the list.
As Secretary-General Guterres decides who goes on this year’s list, he should base his decisions on the evidence and hold all perpetrators to the same standard. This time, there should be no room for exceptions or caving in to threats from powerful governments.