The United Nations has warned of the resurgence of human rights violations in conflict zones around the world.
“Between 2005 and 2020, the United Nations verified more than 266,000 grave violations committed against children by parties to conflict in more than 30 conflict situations in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America,” the report said. UNICEF in a new report.
According to the UN agency, this figure represents only a fraction of the alleged violations, “because access constraints and security problems, among others, combined with the feeling of shame, fear and distress suffered by children and families who survived these violations, often hinder the reporting, recording and verification of grave violations committed against children in situations of armed conflict”.
“This report blatantly shows that the world is failing to protect its children from grave violations in armed conflict,” UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said in a statement, adding that “these grave violations have devastating effects on children, families and communities”.
A constant increase
The number of violations verified each year has been steadily increasing since 2005, exceeding 20,000 in one year for the first time in 2014 and reaching 26,425 in 2020. Between 2016 and 2020, the average number of serious violations verified worldwide increased high at 71 per day, an alarming figure. This high figure proves the dramatic impact that armed conflicts have on children, as do the increasingly complex and protracted crises that undermine their protection.
The report highlights that many children are victims of more than one violation, which increases their vulnerability. For example, kidnappings are often accompanied by other violations, in particular the recruitment and use of children and sexual violence against them. Children (especially girls) who have been abducted and/or associated with parties to conflict are particularly at risk of sexual violence, including rape, sexual exploitation and forced marriage.
The report further finds that grave violations against children have been perpetrated by all parties to conflicts, whether state or non-state actors. Between 2016 and 2020, state actors – including armed forces and national and international coalitions – were responsible for at least 26% of all violations.
By comparison, non-state actors accounted for around 58% of all verified violations. These figures underscore the importance of engaging with all parties to the conflict, including non-state actors, to prevent and end violations against children.
To strengthen accountability, parties to conflict listed in the annex to the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict develop and implement action plans that include specific, concrete and deadlines to establish lasting measures to protect children from the impact of conflict.
Between 2005 and 2021, a total of 37 action plans have been signed by warring parties in 17 conflict situations. Nearly 70% of these action plans were signed with non-state actors, and the remaining 30% with state actors. The report presents several examples which underline the central importance and major impact of action plans in bringing about positive changes for children, both in the immediate and long term, and which present the difficulties and obstacles met.
The protection of children in situations of armed conflict today poses unprecedented challenges due to many factors, including but not limited to: the growing number of non-State armed actors, the development and use of new means and combat methods, as well as the use of improvised explosive devices and other explosive weapons, especially in populated areas.
The following findings also emerge from the report:
– Children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with specific status or characteristics – including refugee, internally displaced and indigenous children, among others – are more at risk than others of grave violations.
– According to available sex-disaggregated data, verified cases of grave violations mainly concern boys. Thus, in 2020, boys accounted for 73% of all child victims of grave violations. They form the vast majority of child victims of recruitment and use by parties to a conflict (85%), abduction (76%) and murder or mutilation (70%). By comparison, girls made up a quarter (26%) of all child victims, but 98% of child victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence.
– Between 2016 and 2020, 79% of all verified cases – or approximately 41,900 children – occurred in just five conflict situations: Afghanistan (30%), Israel and the State of Palestine (14%), Syria (13%), Yemen (13%) and Somalia (9%).
– The use of explosive weapons, particularly in populated areas or where these weapons have a wide impact radius, poses a persistent threat to children and their families. In 2020 alone, explosive weapons and explosive remnants of war were responsible for at least 47% of cases of child murder and maiming (or 3,900 victims).
It is important to note that the increase in the number of verified violations over time also reflects the growing effectiveness of the monitoring and reporting mechanism during this period.
The development of guidance on monitoring and reporting, training and building the capacity of United Nations staff and partners to identify and document grave violations, as well as sensitization of families and communities to protection risks for children, are all elements that have helped to strengthen the mechanism, while enabling it to collect more information on grave violations committed against children.
Although the capacity of the United Nations to document and verify incidents of grave violations has increased over time, it varies from year to year and depending on the situation and the type of violation. In this regard, and given the above, any attempt to directly compare conflict situations, years or types of violations should be undertaken with caution.
“UNICEF and its partners will spare no effort to prevent grave violations against children,” said Catherine Russell. “Our work is more urgent than ever at a time when an unprecedented number of children are affected by conflict, violence and crises since the Second World War”.