In his new annual report on children and armed conflict, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reported that Israeli security forces killed 78 Palestinian children and injured 982 in 2021, more casualties caused by any other armed force or group in the 21 conflict countries covered in his review. Despite this, Guterres failed to include Israeli forces in his annual “list of shame” for violations against children in armed conflict.
For years, Guterres has employed a double standard by listing some parties on his “list of shame” while omitting others that have often committed far more violations. Israel has never appeared on the list, even though the UN has found its forces responsible for killing or injuring more than 7,000 Palestinian children since 2015.
The “list of shame” is an important accountability mechanism and currently includes 57 government armed forces and non-state armed groups responsible for grave violations against children in armed conflict. Listed parties may be subject to UN Security Council sanctions, and according to UN guidelines, are removed from the list only after signing and implementing an action plan to end their violations. The process works: to date 39 parties have signed such plans, with 12 ending their violations.
The secretary-general could also have used this year’s report to highlight perpetrators in the armed conflicts in Ukraine, Ethiopia, and Mozambique. Not only did he exclude them from his “list of shame,” he provided no meaningful information about the abhorrent violations children have suffered in those conflicts. The special representative on children and armed conflict, Virginia Gamba, said that they will only report on these conflicts in the 2023 report because they did not receive reports meeting their criteria. Although Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine did not begin until February 2022, other UN entities have documented wartime violations in Ukraine since 2014, including 750 attacks on schools. Violations in Mozambique have been reported since 2017.
Such omissions are not isolated examples. Last year, an eminent group of experts identified dozens of cases over a 10-year period in which armed forces or groups responsible for repeated and serious violations against children in war were omitted or removed too early from the secretary-general’s “list of shame.”
The secretary-general’s report and list are a colossal missed opportunity. By failing to hold all perpetrators to account and report on all conflicts, he undermines efforts to protect children in war.