Twenty-five years ago, the international community launched an urgent appeal to protect children affected by armed conflict. Horrified by the findings of Graça Machel’s landmark study on the impacts of war on children, the United Nations General Assembly established the Mandate on Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) in December 1996.
Since then, the CAAC program has grown to become one of the largest, most dynamic and widely supported multilateral initiatives within the UN system. It provides international policy makers with a unique set of tools to promote the protection of children in times of war and to combat serious violations of their rights.
Among these tools is the annual report of the Secretary-General on the situation of children affected by armed conflict (“annual report”), which has been presented to the Security Council every year since 2000. The main objective of this report is to draw conclusions draw the attention of UN Member States to the grave violations committed against children and their perpetrators. With its resolution 1379 (2001) and subsequent resolutions on children and armed conflict, the Security Council instructed the Secretary-General to include in his annual reports a list of parties to armed conflicts who commit the following grave violations against children: children: recruitment and use; kill and maim; rape and other forms of sexual violence; attacks on schools and hospitals; and kidnappings. The Council further strengthened this system in 2005, when it established a single global monitoring and reporting mechanism (MRM) to rigorously collect and verify information on grave violations against children in armed conflict. .
The registration mechanism, which draws its evidence base from the MRM, has been another important tool for the protection of children in armed conflict. It is a key first step towards accountability by clearly identifying warring parties responsible for grave violations against children in armed conflict. The mechanism also serves as the basis for the UN to engage with warring parties, secure concrete commitments to end and prevent violations through UN action plans, and create tangible and positive change for war-affected children.
Despite significant progress, children continue to suffer the devastating effects of armed conflict. In 2020, the UN documented nearly 24,000 grave violations against children. More children live in conflict zones than at any time in the previous two decades. The rapid expansion of the global counter-terrorism agenda threatens to dismantle established laws and norms for the protection of children’s rights, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated children’s vulnerability to grave violations and other abuses. Some governments have taken steps to avoid accountability for committing grave violations against children; this includes exerting political pressure to avoid being quoted in the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict.
In recent years, civil society organizations and UN member states have raised concerns about the process of determining who is included in the report’s annexes. They noted that any politicization of listing decisions threatens to undermine the credibility of the report and weaken its strength as a tool for promoting accountability and respect for applicable international law. Of particular concern are the inconsistencies found between the data on violations included in the narrative of the annual report and the parties listed in its annexes, the notable non-listing of certain parties, the listing of parties for only certain violations described and the de-listing. . parties that have not yet fully met the criteria specified in 2010. In March 2021, a panel of internationally respected child rights experts echoed these concerns after undertaking an independent review of listing decisions and removal of the Secretary General between 2010 and 2020.
Since 2017, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict (“Watchlist”) has published an annual guidance note with recommendations to the Secretary-General on parties to conflict who have committed grave violations against children and who should be included in the annexes of the next annual report. . The annual Watchlist Policy Brief also makes recommendations on which parties should be further investigated and which national situations should be included as “other situations of concern” in the Secretary-General’s annual report.
With this sixth edition of its annual policy brief, Watchlist reiterates its call on Secretary-General António Guterres to publish a comprehensive, evidence-based list of perpetrators that accurately reflects data collected and verified by the MRM, applying the criteria of 2010 for listing and delisting without discrimination and in a consistent manner in all national situations. Watchlist also calls on Secretary-General António Guterres to draw the attention of the Security Council to other situations of concern for children affected by armed conflict, by including them in his annual report.
In the context of the 25th anniversary of the CAAC’s mandate, Watchlist further urges all stakeholders to redouble their efforts to create a better future for all children, especially those affected by war. Specifically, Watchlist calls on the UN, its member states and civil society to build on progress made to protect children in armed conflict by upholding and enforcing existing protection frameworks, strengthening prevention efforts conflict and promoting accountability for and to children.