International push needed to end child rights violations in Yemen – Leila Zerrougui

Describing the current situation in Yemen as “beyond tragic” for all affected by the hostilities, a senior United Nations official said it is “ever more important” for both the Security Council and the international community to promote political dialogue aimed at ending violations against children.

“Regrettably, the scale of killing and maiming of children has increased dramatically in 2015,” the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, said in a press release issued on Sunday.

Citing UN figures, she said that more than 400 children were killed, and more than 600 injured between 26 March – which saw an escalation in the conflict with the launch of air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition – and August.

“This is already more than triple the number of children killed and maimed during the whole of 2014,” Ms. Zerrougui continued. “I am appalled by the high level of child casualties, which indicates a failure by the parties to conflict to distinguish between civilian and military objects, and to take precautionary measures to avoid and minimize civilian casualties.”

Yemen has suffered turmoil and instability since Houthi rebels seized the capital Sana’a one year ago and then advanced on the port city, Aden. According to the UN, 80 per cent of the population requires some form of humanitarian protection or assistance.

Last Friday, the Special Representative briefed the Security Council working group on children and armed conflict, as well as a Security Council Committee established to monitor measures imposed by the UN on Yemen.

She said the UN had “for a number of years” documented grave violations against children committed by parties to conflict in the country. She also noted that March’s escalation in the conflict followed an escalation marked by the September 2014 takeover of Sana’a by Houthi forces.

“In this complex environment, where we are faced with political stalemate and an intensification of conflict, it is ever more important for the Security Council and the international community to promote political dialogue and to seek to end the violations committed against children,” Ms. Zerrougui said.

In her briefing, she noted that 73 per cent of child deaths and injuries during the second quarter of 2015 were attributed to air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition – and that 18 per cent of child deaths and 17 per cent of child injuries were attributed to Houthi forces during the same period.

In addition, she said reports showed there had been a “stark increase in attacks and military use of schools” since March, while violence had additionally taken a “heavy toll on education workers.”

The UN envoy also said that verified attacks on hospitals had increased six-fold from the first to the second quarter of this year, adding that the destruction – together with insecurity due to conflict – was having a “serious impact on access to healthcare.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Zerrougui highlighted other violations against children caught up in armed conflict, including recruitment and use, saying it was “increasingly being used more systematically by all parties.” The number of cases of child recruitment and use documented by the UN during the first eight months of 2015 had been triple the number for the whole of 2014 – and 82 per cent of verified recruitment cases were attributed to Houthi forces.

Four groups remain listed for recruitment and use in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict, she recalled, but added that while the Government of Yemen had signed an Action Plan with the UN to end the practice in its armed forces, the plan had been stalled since September of last year.

The Special Representative also spoke of “serious concerns about the denial of humanitarian access,” and called for urgent action to facilitate access to assistance without delay.

Source: UN News Centre