Dear Mr. Secretary-General,
As nongovernmental organizations working to alleviate humanitarian suffering and protect human rights, we strongly support United Nations Security Council Resolution 1612 (2005) and subsequent resolutions on children and armed conflict, as concrete tools for improving the protection of children in war.
We are, therefore, deeply disappointed and troubled by your new report on children and armed conflict (A/74/845-S/2020/525), and in particular, the significant disparities between the evidence presented in the report and the parties listed in its annexes for committing grave violations against children. We are writing to urge you to reconsider your decisions to de-list the Saudi-led coalition for killing and maiming children in Yemen, and the Tatmadaw for recruiting and using children in Myanmar. We also urge you to take steps to ensure that going forward, the annexes accurately and consistently reflect the evidence collected and verified by the UN’s Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM), in line with existing criteria. We have provided evidence of other concerning disparities between the annual report and its annexes in the attached annex.
Civil society groups have repeatedly raised concerns with you and your Special Representative for children and armed conflict over the course of several years regarding these disparities and have called for a credible list based on UN-documented evidence. We are dismayed that instead of addressing these concerns, the discrepancies appear to have only grown. An annex to this letter provides examples from the current report and its annexes.
The report found the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for killing or maiming 222 children in Yemen in 2019. Yet the coalition was de-listed from the report’s annexes, citing a “sustained significant decrease” in casualties during the year and progress in implementing a memorandum of understanding that was signed in March of last year. Similarly, the Myanmar armed forces, the Tatmadaw, was de-listed for recruiting and using children in Myanmar, while the report found that the Tatmadaw was responsible for eight cases of new recruitment and 197 cases of use in 2019.
We believe that the de-listings of the Saudi-led coalition and the Tatmadaw violate the criteria that were set out in the Secretary-General’s 2010 report (A/73/907-S/2010/181). At the request of the Security Council, through its Resolution 1882 (2009), the then-Secretary-General stipulated that a party would be de-listed from the annexes based on its full implementation of a UN action plan to end those violations and UN-verified information that the party had ceased – not decreased – all violations for a period of at least one reporting cycle (i.e. one year). Neither the Saudi-led coalition nor the Tatmadaw have met these criteria.
After taking office, you split your list into two parts: Section A for parties that had not taken measures to protect children, and Section B for parties that had taken such measures. We continue to advocate for a single list, without distinctions. However, in your report last year, you stated that parties would be included in Section B where “significant progress was achieved and measures taken” to protect children (A/72/865-S/2018/465, para. 4). On this basis, the “sustained significant decrease” in violations by the Saudi-led coalition should have merited retention in Section B, not removal from the list completely.
In addition, we are concerned that the stated rationale of de-listing the Saudi-led coalition due to a “sustained significant decrease” in the number of violations is contrary to the mandate given by the Security Council. The Security Council requests an annual list of parties to armed conflict that commit grave violations against children “in violation of the international obligations applicable to them.” Its request is not based on trends in violations, but simply whether violations have taken place.
This standard is particularly important with regard to next year’s report. Movement restrictions linked to COVID-19 present additional challenges to the documentation of violations by Country Task Forces on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMRs), so a decrease in the number of verified violations across all country situations is likely. Should the same logic of “sustained significant decrease” be applied consistently to all country situations next year, a large number of parties could be de-listed, despite ongoing violations.
It appears that the goalpost with regards to listing and de-listing continually changes to accommodate a predetermined outcome: not upsetting powerful UN Member States. The annexes were divided without clear criteria, the Saudi-led coalition was then de-listed for attacks on schools and hospitals, and now, the same party is de-listed based on a “sustained decrease,” with a threat of automatic relisting if trends do not continue. What guarantees do we have next year that the goalposts will not be moved again to accommodate powerful states?
We believe that the omissions and discrepancies outlined above are significant and seriously damage the credibility of the report and the children and armed conflict mandate. Without an accurate and evidence-based list, the Security Council is hampered in its efforts to protect children and hold perpetrators accountable.
In order to restore credibility going forward, we urge you to:
• Reconsider, in light of the discrepancies and evidence presented above, your decisions to de-list the Saudi-led coalition and Tatmadaw from the 2020 annual report;
• Initiate a rigorous and transparent due diligence procedure, to ensure that going forward, the annexes to the annual report accurately and consistently reflect the evidence collected and verified by the MRM; and
• Communicate to stakeholders, including Member States, UN entities, and civil society, how this procedure will be implemented to avoid the disparities and inconsistencies seen in this year’s and previous reports.
We believe that such increased transparency will help protect you from political pressure and strengthen our collective goal of ending grave violations against children.
We look forward to discussing these concerns and recommendations with you.