UN Secretary-General (UNSG) António Guterres’ Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict has revealed serious violations against children in armed conflicts that continued unabated in 2019.
According to the report Yemen, Mali, the Central African Republic (CAR), Israel and Palestine, and Syria were the most concerning situations in 2019. Six hundred seventy-eight violations occurred in Syria’s southwestern Idlib province, while 897 children were killed and 557 were maimed in clashes across Syria. Sixty-five of the casualties were attributed to Turkey’s military offensive, Operation Peace Spring, by UNSG Guterres.
“The last quarter of 2019 witnessed a significant spike in the number of high-casualty incidents during military escalations in north-western and north-eastern parts of the country,” the report underlined. “The killing (897) and maiming (557) of 1,454 children (834 boys, 342 girls, 278 sex unknown) were verified, with 678 of the violations occurring in Idlib. Half of the casualties were attributed to government and pro-government forces (723) (including government and pro-government air forces (487), government forces and pro-government militias (231) and government forces (5)), unidentified perpetrators (580), Operation Peace Spring (65), YPG/YPJ (21) under the umbrella of SDF, ISIL (23), Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (14), the international counter-ISIL coalition (11), Syrian armed opposition groups (10), other components of SDF (6) and ISF (1). The casualties mainly resulted from air strikes (515), shelling (332), unexploded ordnance (301) and attacks with the use of improvised explosive devices (165),” the UN document stated.
“The childhood of these boys and girls has been replaced by pain, brutality and fear while the world watches. Parties to conflict neglect to protect children in the conduct of hostilities and deny them the vital aid they desperately need. By violating the rules of war, parties endanger their own children,” said Virginia Gamba, special representative of the UNSG for Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC).
“I call on all parties to conflict to immediately prioritize humanitarian access to children and vulnerable populations in situations of armed conflict, and to allow child protection experts and humanitarians to do their work. I commend the courage and dedication of these humanitarian professionals and call on all Member States to support the work of child protection actors in the field,” said the special representative.
The UN verified over 25,000 serious violations against children in 19 situations, more than half committed by non-state actors and a third by government and international forces. “Some 10,173 children were verified as having been killed (4,019) and maimed (6,154). While a general decrease in the number of verified child casualties was observed, the number of incidents of the killing and maiming of children remains the highest verified violation, which underlines the serious concerns about the violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, about the lack of capacity and of measures to mitigate harm, and about warfare in densely populated areas,” the UN document said.
In the report, lack of respect for the civilian character of schools and hospitals also remained extremely concerning, with 927 incidents of attacks on schools and hospitals and their protected persons confirmed. According to the report, six schools and hospitals were hit during the Turkish offensive in Syria.
“There were a total of 262 attacks on schools (157) and hospitals (105), including on protected personnel, attributed to the Syrian government and pro-government forces (226) (including government and pro-government air forces (147), government forces and pro-government militias (75) and government forces (4)), unidentified perpetrators (14), Operation Peace Spring (6), Syrian armed opposition groups (5), Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (5), ISIL (3), YPG/YPJ and other components of SDF (2), international counter-ISIL coalition (1). The majority of those attacks (192) occurred in Idlib, with most involving air strikes (158), shelling (50), explosions of unknown nature (34) and attacks using improvised explosive devices (6). Some 7,747 children, some as young as 6, were verified as having been recruited and used. Among those, 90 per cent were used by non-State actors. Some action plans led to increased access for the United Nations and its partners to verify violations and release children.”
The Turkish military offensive “Operation Peace Spring” aimed to establish a “safe zone” where it could resettle mostly Syrian refugees who have fled to Turkey and to push the People’s Defense Units (YPG) out of the region.