BY ARSHAD KHAN
UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council has backed the naming and shaming of governments and armed groups that recruit, kill or sexually attack children in armed conflicts over protests from Russia, China, Pakistan and Azerbaijan.
A resolution supporting the UN special representative for children and armed conflict and continuing annual reports by the secretary-general identifying those countries and groups victimising youngsters was approved by a vote of 11-0 with abstentions by the four countries late Wednesday.
The dissenters accused the report’s supporters of trying to expand the naming and shaming list to all countries and not sticking to conflicts that the Security Council is dealing with, which is its mandate.
Pakistan also protested that the report includes situations that are not conflicts but acts by terrorists and criminals.
The secretary-general’s latest report in June included Pakistani armed groups as well as Syrian government forces and their allied “shabiha” militias on a list of 52 governments and armed groups that recruit, kill or sexually attack children in armed conflicts.
The list includes 32 “persistent perpetrators” that have been on the list for at least five years, including the security forces of seven countries.
The resolution calls on member states to bring those responsible for such violations to justice, either through national or international judicial systems.
The Security Council also reiterated its readiness to adopt “targeted and graduated measures” – a code phrase for sanctions – against persistent perpetrators.
Pakistan’s deputy UN ambassador Raza Bashir Tarar said his government supports reporting on violations in conflicts addressed by the council.
Pakistan is not on the council’s agenda and Tarar called allegations against armed groups associated with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the report, “unwarranted and completely misleading.”
“This not only misrepresents Pakistan’s law enforcement and counter-terrorism measures but also serves to accord undeserved respectability to terrorists and criminals,” he said.
China’s UN Ambassador Li Baodong called for more international support for Pakistan to fight terrorism “rather than creating difficulties and obstacles.”
He insisted that the resolution cannot be interpreted “to equalise the incidents of terrorist attacks in Pakistan to armed conflict,” a view echoed by Russia and Azerbaijan.
The Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, an international network of organisations established in 2001 to end violations against children in armed conflict, said Wednesday’s vote marked the first time a country has ever abstained from a resolution protecting children. It quoted members as calling the abstentions “shocking” and “disappointing.”
Philippe Bolopion, UN director for Human Rights Watch, accused Russia, China, Azerbaijan and Pakistan of playing politics, saying their absentions “are a huge disservice to children caught up in conflicts around the world.”
“Children victimised by war do not care whether the country in which they live is on the Security Council’s agenda or not, but instead deserve all the UN attention they can get,” he said.
Leila Zerrougui, the new UN special representative for children and armed conflict, pointed to the resolution’s success in getting 20 governments and groups to adopt plans to stop recruiting and using children in conflicts.
She also pointed to the International Criminal Court’s convictions of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga and former Liberian president Charles Taylor for using child soldiers.
But Zerrougui said thousands of children are still being victimised, and she urged the council to take action against persistent perpetrators, saying “the cost of inaction has become too high.”
“The situation for children in Syria is dire,” she said, citing attacks on schools, the killing of children in bombings, and youngsters being tortured and subjected to sexual violence, sometimes for weeks.
Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari criticised the secretary-general’s report for implicating the Syrian armed forces for violence against children – and not the leaders of “terrorist groups” which he accused of using armed groups of children to take part in terrorist acts.
Zerrougui said that since the report was published her office has gathered evidence of violations committed by armed groups including the Free Syrian Army, “who may have children associated with their forces.”
A resolution adopted by the UN Security Council in 2005 took the first major step to prevent the victimisation of young people in war zones by addressing the exploitation of children as combatants and identifying governments and armed groups that recruit child soldiers.
In 2009, the council voted to also name and shame countries and insurgent groups engaged in conflicts that lead to children being killed, maimed and raped.