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Ban Ki-moon buckles – and Palestinian children will pay the price

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has overruled his colleagues’ recommendations and removed Israel from a list of parties guilty of grave violations of children’s rights, it was revealed Monday.

The decision to exclude Israel from the list, part of the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict presented to the Security Council, was slammed by human rights groups, who accused Ban Ki-moon of buckling under pressure from Israel and the US.

Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, had included Israel on the list, and unnamed UN sources cited by Reuters said that “Ban’s decision to override Zerrougui’s recommendation was unusual.” Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP), a child’s rights NGO,went further, claiming that this was “believed to be the first time” that the Secretary-General “has not accepted the recommendation” of his special representative.

DCIP’s general director Khaled Quzmar said Ban Ki-moon had “provided tacit approval for Israeli forces to continue carrying out grave violations against children with impunity.” He added: “It is deplorable that a proven and strong evidence-based accountability tool to protect children during armed conflict has been significantly undermined in an effort to shield Israel from accountability.”

Human Rights Watch also expressed frustration at the “disappointing” decision. A representative of the group, who had previously urged Ban to “apply consistent standards” and “resist reported pressure from Israel and the United States to remove Israel from the draft list”, said the move was “a blow to UN efforts to better protect children in armed conflict.”

Zerrougui had listed Israel on the recommendation of local representatives of UN agencies who, like DCIP, Human Rights Watch and others, were in agreement that Israel had committed the relevant grave violations. The suggestion made by anonymous officials to APthat “there were differences of opinion among those on the ground on whether Israel should be listed” is pure deflection.

What makes the omission of Israel from the annexed list all the more striking is that the report itself makes it clear Israel did commit grave violations of children’s rights as per the Security Council-established Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM). According to the report, 557 Palestinian children were killed in 2014, and 4,249 injured; most casualties, of course, occurring during Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

The report details how at least 540 Palestinian children were killed in Gaza over 50 days, 70 percent of whom were younger than 12 years. Some 1,000 children will be permanently disabled. In addition, at least 262 schools were damaged, along with 274 kindergartens. The number of Palestinian children killed was “the third highest in 2014 after the number of children killed in (I) Afghanistan (710) and (II) Iraq (679).” The number of schools “damaged or destroyed in the State of Palestine (at least 543) was the highest recorded number of all situations in 2014.”

In the West Bank, Israeli forces killed 12 Palestinian boys, almost all with live ammunition, and injured a further 1,218 – more than half of whom were under the age of 12. The report also refers to UN-obtained “affidavits of 122 Palestinian children from the West Bank detained by [Israeli forces] who stated they were subjected to ill-treatment, such as beating, hitting with sticks, blindfolding, kicking, verbal abuse and threats of sexual violence.”

Despite the evidence, Ban caved. In March, reports surfaced that senior UN officials were under “political pressure” not to list Israel. Last week, a Foreign Policy piece described “strenuous opposition from US and Israeli officials”, with a key role being played by American ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power. No wonder then, that Israeli envoy to the UN Ron Prosor conceded on Sunday that without the help of the US and Power, Israel “would be in real trouble.”

Ban’s decision makes a mockery of his own Human Rights up Front initiative, begun in 2013 with the apparent aim that within the UN system, “human rights and the protection of civilians are seen as a system-wide core responsibility.” Omitting Israel also runs contrary to the evidence presented in his own recent report on the death and destruction visited upon UN facilities in Gaza.

The Secretary-General’s spokesperson was keen to defuse questions about the absence of Israel’s military from the list by pointing to the content of the report itself. But this is not a ‘quid pro quo’; it is an embarrassing internal contradiction. Significantly, the relevant Security Council resolutions give the UN tools that include “the requirement of dialogue with listed parties on the development of concrete and time-bound Action Plans to halt and prevent violations.”

This is the higher level of scrutiny that the Israeli army has avoided. A Western diplomat familiar with the process told me that, contrary to the messaging put out by Israeli diplomats, “it is not about lumping together Israel and Boko Haram but about the protection of children. On that basis the decision was disgraceful, since it removes from the Israeli armed forces a mechanism of accountability that would, on paper at least, lead to the protection of children.”

This episode demonstrates how Israel is indeed ‘singled out’ – for impunity. More than 50 state and non-state armed parties were included in the list for the 2014 report, on the basis of evidence gathered by agencies and human rights defenders on the ground. Only Israel was removed, after pressure behind closed doors.

Accountability is not just about bringing the perpetrators of past crimes to justice; it is also about preventing future violations from taking place. The decision by the UN Secretary-General to buckle under pressure shames his office – but it will be Palestinian children who pay the price.

Published first by Middle East Monitor.

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