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Will UN betray Palestinian child victims of Israeli atrocities?

A meeting reportedly takes place in New York today to decide whether or not to include the Israeli military on a list of serious violators of children’s rights, amid claims that political interference will prevent the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) being named and shamed.

In mid-March, The Guardianpublished claims that senior UN officials in Jerusalem had “buckled under political pressure” by Israel “to abandon moves to include the state’s armed forces on a UN list of serious violators of children’s rights.”

According to the report, after Israeli officials made telephone calls to June Kunugi, UNICEF’s special representative to Palestine and Israel, and warned of serious consequences, a meeting scheduled to discuss the inclusion of the IDF on the list was cancelled.

A source directly involved with the process of listing told me that there is “outrage” among NGOs and Palestinians on the ground, who feel that the UN and its agencies like UNICEF are betraying their public service duty to those they are meant to be protecting.

In a sign of this anger, earlier this week the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) organized a meeting with leading Palestinian human rights organizations, members of parliament and civil society leaders.

According to Mahmoud Nawajaa, general coordinator of the BNC, there was a “consensus” that failure to add the IDF to the list “would send a message to the Palestinian people that the UN, rather than safeguarding world peace in accordance with international law, is feeding Israel’s impunity.”

Urging the UN not to let Israeli armed forces “off the hook”, Nawajaa stressed the need for the UN “to investigate whether its officials, in UNSCO and UNICEF, have caved in to Israeli political pressure on this vital matter and to remove them from their posts, if the charges are confirmed.”

In 2005, the UN Security Council established a Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) to monitor, document, and report on grave violations of children’s rights. As part of an annual report, the Secretary-General names those parties guilty of specific grave violations.

The six grave violations are the killing and maiming of children; recruitment or use of children as soldiers; sexual violence against children; attacks against schools or hospitals; denial of humanitarian access for children; and abduction of children.

The last report, for 2013, listed 59 different parties in 15 countries, including 8 state armed forces, and 51 other groups. Asked for comment on this year’s report, the office of the Secretary-General merely confirmed that it is under preparation and scheduled for publication in June.

The case for the inclusion of the Israeli military in 2014’s report is based on the July-August assault on the Gaza Strip. During the fighting, the IDF killed more than 500 children and injured a further 3,300, with strikes on homes, schools, and hospitals.

This would mean that the IDF committed acts amounting to grave violations, as defined by the UN.

2014 was also a dark year for Palestinian children in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israeli occupation forces killed two Palestinian teenagers on Nakba Day, Jewish settlers murdered Mohammed Abu Khdeir, and live ammunition was increasingly used by the IDF to kill and injure.

According to one Western diplomat, “the issue of allowing Israel to be listed under the Child Rights Convention is the first major test of the new toughness that many expect from Obama towards Netanyahu after the Israeli elections.”

The source added: “America allowing Israel to be held to account for killing over 500 children in Gaza last summer is a litmus test of Obama’s promised robustness. There is no doubt that Ban Ki moon is looking to the US for his lead in making the final decision, so the position of the US is crucial.”

In 2013, the Secretary-General set up the Human Rights up Front (HRuF) initiative in order that within the UN system, “human rights and the protection of civilians are seen as a system-wide core responsibility.” We will soon discover if protecting Israel’s image, and shielding the IDF from accountability, is grounds for the UN to make an exception to this commitment.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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