United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has added Russia’s military forces to his annual "list of shame" of parties to armed conflict who commit grave violations against children. Unfortunately, he again omitted Israel, which belongs on the list. This sends a mixed message about the UN’s willingness to hold powerful governments accountable.
Since Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, hundreds of Ukrainian children have been killed in attacks on apartment buildings and other civilian structures. The UN reports that Russian forces were responsible for 480 attacks against schools and hospitals in 2022, more than 25 percent of the global total for the year, and for killing or maiming 658 children. The report attributed the killing or maiming of 255 children to Ukrainian forces. Most child casualties resulted from the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects, such as shelling or rockets.
Globally, violations against children occurred on a shocking scale in 2022. The UN verified over 24,000 instances in which armed forces or groups killed or injured children, subjected them to sexual violence, abduction, or recruitment as soldiers, or attacked schools and hospitals. Over half the violations took place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Israel/Palestine, Somalia, Syria, and Ukraine.
Israel’s continued omission from the list of shame does a grave disservice to Palestinian children. The secretary general’s report found Israeli forces responsible for 975 child casualties and 110 attacks on schools and hospitals in 2022. The UN has attributed over 6,700 Palestinian child casualties to Israeli forces from 2015-2020. While the secretary-general has never included Israel in his list, he has included other forces or groups responsible for far fewer violations.
Palestinian armed groups have also committed violations against children. While also not on the list, they should be held accountable as well. But the secretary-general’s continued unwillingness to hold Israeli forces accountable for massive violations puts many children at risk.
The stigma attached to the secretary-general’s “list of shame” is considerable. Israel and other countries have resorted to aggressive lobbying and, in some cases, even UN blackmail, to stay off the list of the worst violators. The only credible way off is to sign and implement a concrete action plan with the UN to end violations. The secretary-general needs to hold all governments to account for their violations, no matter how powerful.