FIDH deplores the removal of Israel from the UN annual list of parties that commit grave child rights violations

Press release
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FIDH and its member organisations [1] in Palestine and Israel deplore the decision of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to bow to political pressure and remove Israel from the list of parties that kill or injure children, in Annex of the annual report on children in armed conflict.

The report, prepared by the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children in Armed Conflict, Ms Leila Zerrougui, provides information on the impact of armed conflict on children in 2014, including the conflict in Gaza during the summer of 2014. According to the report, more than 540 Palestinian children were killed and another 2,955 children were injured by the Israeli army during its military operation “Protective Edge” in the Gaza strip in the summer of 2014. The report also notes the abuses committed by Hamas and its responsibility for killing at least one Israeli child and wounding at least six others.

In line with her mandate, SRSG Zerrougui recommended that the Israeli armed forces and Hamas be included on the annual list of parties that commit grave child rights violations based on the fact that their conduct met the criteria for being blacklisted. The report will be presented to the Security Council on June 18, 2015.

Due to intense lobbying by Israel and the United States to remove Israel from the list, the Secretary-General disregarded the fact-based recommendation of SRSG Zerrougui and instead acceded to demands in removing Israel (as well as Hamas) from the blacklist in the final report.

The Secretary General’s decision to allow outside actors to influence the children in armed conflict report is hugely disappointing. This mechanism has been an effective tool for putting international pressure on parties responsible for grave child rights violations and calling for their accountability. Now the integrity of the listing mechanism has been called into question,” declared Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.

Our organisations recall that the list is the defining process for accountability for this UN mechanism because it is the impetus for parties to take corrective action and prevent future violations. Those blacklisted may also be subject to international sanctions.

The decision to reject recommendations made by a Special Representative on a report of this nature is highly unusual. If in fact Ms. Zerrougui’s working methods or independence were ever called into question, there is an internal review procedure set up for this purpose. However, no review was requested and indeed, there have been no suggestions that the SRSG operated with any purpose other than to fulfill her mandate of protecting children affected by armed conflict.

Therefore, the Secretary General should have accepted her conclusions and recommendations. Numerous other UN human rights mechanisms have called for accountability measures with respect to Israeli forces’ actions in the Gaza strip last summer. Additionally, reports issued by FIDH and by its Palestinian member-organizations – the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, and Al-Haq – documented the killing of children during the conflict and found that the indiscriminate firing of missiles and mortars on schools, shelters, medical facilities and other objects indispensable for survival constitute serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. One of our main recommendations was for the international community to address the cycle of impunity of crimes committed in Occupied Palestinian Territory, and particularly in Gaza.

No objective criteria explains the removal of Israel from the blacklist on the children in armed conflict report, as some parties listed had less serious records of violations against children than the armed forces of Israel. According to the UN Board of Inquiry established by the UN Secretary General to examine deaths and injuries at the UN premises that occurred in the Gaza Strip in summer 2014, Israeli military actions killed 44 Palestinian civilians who sought refuge in seven schools run by the UN.

Attacks on schools are one of the six grave child rights violations examined in the framework of the SRSG’s mandate, as is the killing or maiming of children. These are violations committed by Israeli forces that have been well-documented by the UN system. It is an affront to the 540  [2] Palestinian children killed and their families that the result of this process was dictated by the politics of some of the most influential Security Council members, most notably the United States ,” said Katherine Gallagher, FIDH Vice-President and Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Our organisations also reject the parallel being drawn between the number of children victims who were killed by the Israeli army and by Hamas. The large-scale attacks against civilians by the Israeli forces during the military operation in the Gaza strip in summer 2014 resulted in an unprecedented number of casualties, especially among children.

According to the Secretary-General’s listing criteria, a party should be blacklisted if they have committed a pattern of grave child rights violations involving a multiple commission of acts. The Israeli army clearly meets this threshold given the repetition of grave human rights violations it committed against children over the last six years during successive military operations in the Gaza Strip.

The UN Secretary-General who has promoted the “Human Rights Up Front” initiative, should protect the integrity of UN human rights mechanisms by ensuring that rights prevail over politics.

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