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Keeping the Promise: An Independent Review of the UN's Annual LIst of Perpetrators of Grave Violations against Children, 2010 to 2020

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The Security Council not only requested that the Secretary-General report on these grave violations every year, but it also created a unique accountability mechanism by asking the Secretary-General to attach a list of perpetrators of grave violations to his annual report. Over the years, the Council has expanded the list of violations that may trigger listing, which now includes the recruitment and use of children; killing and maiming; rape and other forms of sexual violence; attacks on schools and hospitals; and abductions.

The UN has invested special attention, resources, and expertise in promoting the children and armed conflict (CAAC) agenda. Its engagement on behalf of children has led to important policy shifts and prompted actions that have had positive impact on the lives of children over the past two decades. With its Resolution 1612 (2005), the Security Council established the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) to document and rigorously verify grave violations committed against children in situations of armed conflict, currently operational in 14 countries. It also created a dedicated working group to consider specific country situations. The Secretary-General’s listing of perpetrators has led dozens of parties to conflict to engage with the UN to remedy their record, resulting in at least 33 action plans adopted by listed parties to end violations against children. These efforts have resulted in concrete, positive change in children’s lives, including an end to violations in some contexts and the release of more than 150,000 children from armed forces and armed groups.

The list of perpetrators in the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict has been the linchpin of this system of accountability. Sadly, over the past few years, especially since 2015, the process for listing perpetrators of grave violations has become increasingly tainted by political considerations. Influential Member States have successfully evaded listing, some lobbying to be dropped from the list or to avoid being listed altogether, despite committing grave violations against children. Analysis for this report has revealed persistent and disturbing discrepancies and double standards in the listing of perpetrators.

As experts on children’s rights and protection who have been supportive of the CAAC agenda since its inception, we, the Eminent Persons Group (EPG), undertook this assessment due to our growing concern that the agenda is becoming increasingly compromised, to the detriment of its potential to protect children. Our assessment examines the Secretary-General’s decisions to list and ‘delist’ parties in the last decade, in view of relevant Security Council resolutions on CAAC and the SecretaryGeneral’s own stated criteria for listing and delisting. Thoroughly reviewing the information documented in the annual reports on children and armed conflict, side-by-side with each year’s list of perpetrators, provided evidence that only deepened our concern that the Secretary-General is not using the listing mechanism to hold all perpetrators to account without fear or favor.

In response to a request from the Security Council in its Resolution 1882 (2009),2 the Secretary-General clarified the criteria for listing and delisting perpetrators of grave violations in 2010, indicating that the threshold for listing a party entailed a “pattern” of violations involving multiple victims. The criteria stipulate that a party will be delisted from the annexes based on its full implementation of a UN action plan to end violations and UN-verified information that the party has ceased all violations for a period of at least one reporting cycle (i.e., one year).

Our assessment identified dozens of cases where multiple and egregious violations did not lead to listing, or where listing decisions reflected unexplained inconsistencies.
Too often, some parties to conflict were justifiably listed for a certain number of violations, while other parties to conflict with a comparable number of violations evaded listing. To highlight a few particularly severe examples, eight parties to conflict over the period reviewed— from 2010 to 2020—were responsible for killing and maiming more than 100 children in a one-year period, yet were not listed. They included state armed forces or international forces in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Israel, Nigeria, and Yemen, and non-state armed groups (NSAGs) in Afghanistan and Syria. Such a large number of violations appears to represent a clear pattern of the abuse of children.

In recent years, several parties to conflict were prematurely removed from the list, even though they did not satisfy the Secretary-General’s existing delisting criteria. We reviewed 21 instances where parties to conflict were removed from the list between 2011 and 2020. In six of these instances, parties were delisted because they had ended violations and successfully implemented action plans, in line with the Secretary-General’s 2010 criteria. In 12 instances, parties were removed from the list because they ceased to exist or had integrated into other armed forces or armed groups who continued to be listed.

In the remaining three instances, the groups were removed from the list even though they did not meet the conditions set out for delisting by the SecretaryGeneral. All three instances took place in recent years: the 2018 delisting of the Saudi-led coalition for attacks on schools and hospitals in Yemen; the 2020 delisting of the Saudi-led coalition for killing and maiming children in Yemen; and the 2020 delisting of the Tatmadaw Kyi for recruitment and use of children in Myanmar. In each case, the party was delisted despite a continuing pattern of UN-verified and documented violations.

We recognize that the whole of the UN system— including Member States, the Security Council, UN agencies and country teams, the Secretary-General, and his Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG-CAAC)—is responsible for the protection of children in armed conflict. The success of the children and armed conflict agenda depends on the commitment and leadership of all of these actors. However, the framework established by the Security Council places a special responsibility on the Secretary-General to name perpetrators so that they can be held accountable.

Given our findings, we urgently call on the Secretary-General to ensure that the listing and delisting process going forward is consistent and grounded in evidence collected and verified by the MRM. Only an evidence-based approach can restore the list as a credible tool that leverages the stature of his office to hold perpetrators of grave violations against children accountable, treating parties to conflict strictly based on the facts of their conduct, not their political influence. The Security Council and all UN Member States should similarly ensure that the CAAC agenda is fully implemented and supported—fulfilling the promise they made to children caught in war two decades ago—and that all parties to conflict who commit grave violations against children are listed in the Secretary-General’s report. Holding all perpetrators accountable is critical for protecting children in war and creating lasting conditions for peace, security, and stability.