Russia on UN ‘list of shame’ for killing children, Israel absent

UN chief Antonio Guterres criticised by right workers for ‘disservice’ to Palestinian children by leaving Israeli forces off list.

FILE PHOTO: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at a press conference at the United Nations complex in Gigiri, Nairobi, Kenya May 3, 2023. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya/File Photo
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has been criticised for leaving Israel off a UN list shaming countries whose armed forces have killed and maimed large numbers of children [File: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters]

The United Nations has placed Russia’s military and allied armed groups on its “list of shame” over the killing and maiming of hundreds of children in its war against Ukraine, but Israeli forces have been left off the list despite killing more than 40 Palestinian children last year, according to reports.

Human rights organisations had made repeated requests that Israel be added to the UN blacklist over the killing and maiming of Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour on Thursday called UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’s decision to leave Israel off the shame list a “big mistake”.

In the UN’s annual report on the treatment of children in conflict zones, which was distributed to members of the UN Security Council on Thursday, Guterres said that he was “appalled by the high number of grave violations against children in Ukraine” in 2022.

According to news organisations that had seen a copy of the report, 477 children were listed as killed in Ukraine last year, including 136 deaths directly attributed to Russian forces and affiliated groups.

Ukrainian armed forces were responsible for killing 80 children, according to the report. Of the remaining child victims, neither of the two warring sides could be blamed with certainty. The children were mostly killed by air attacks, the UN report said.

The UN also verified that Russian forces and affiliated groups maimed 518 children in Ukraine and carried out 480 attacks on schools and hospitals. Russian armed forces also used 91 children as human shields, according to the report. Ukrainian armed forces maimed 175 children and carried out 212 attacks on schools and hospitals. Ukraine’s forces were not placed on the list.

The UN chief said in the report that he was “deeply concerned” by the number of Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces in 2022.

According to the report, 42 Palestinian children were killed and 933 injured in 2022 by Israeli forces. In 2021, Israeli forces killed 78 Palestinian children.

Israel has never been on the UN list of countries shamed for killing children.

Guterres said that he noted a “meaningful decrease in the number of children killed by Israeli forces, including by air strikes” last year compared with the previous report.

Human Rights Watch welcomed the UN’s decision to name Russian forces but criticised the UN chief’s decision to leave Israel off the shame list, saying that he “had failed Palestinian children again”.

“By adding Russia’s forces to his list of shame, the Secretary General is holding them to account for horrific violations against children,” said Jo Becker, the group’s advocacy director for children’s rights.

“His [Guterres’s] unwillingness, year after year, to hold Israeli forces accountable for their grave violations against children has backfired, only emboldening Israeli forces to use unlawful lethal force against Palestinian children,” Becker said.

“From 2015-2020, the UN attributed over 6,700 child casualties to Israeli forces. He has just verified 975 more in 2022. Yet he still omits Israel from his ‘list of shame’,” Becker wrote in a tweet.

Mansour, the Palestinian UN ambassador, said leaving Israel off the UN list was “very disappointing to the Palestinian people and to the Palestinian children”.

“The Secretary General made a big mistake in not listing this current Israeli government. This is the most extreme government, loaded with fascist elements. If you do not list this government now, when will you list the Israeli government?” Mansour said. “It’s very unfortunate that he selected not to list them.”

The UN report has long been controversial, with diplomats saying Saudi Arabia and Israel have exerted pressure in recent years in a bid to stay off the list of shame. A Saudi-led military coalition was removed from the list in 2020 several years after it was first named for killing and injuring children in Yemen.

Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor James Bays said that Russia’s inclusion marks the first time that “a permanent member of the Security Council has been on that black list”.

“Again the report is controversial. Part of that is because of Israel, which the report said killed 42 children in 2022. Now the Secretary General says that’s a meaningful decline and he’s not putting them on the blacklist,” Bays said, but noting also that Israel’s war in Gaza in 2021 was 11 days long and the war in August 2022 lasted just three days.

“The reality is #Israel is still killing many children,” Bays wrote in a tweet.

The UN report also condemned violence against children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Syria, Haiti and other countries.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies