New UN report warns of ‘abhorrent violations’ against children in war-torn Iraq

Boys and girls in war-weary Iraq are suffering from grave violations with “dramatic consequences,” according to the latest report from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the situation of children and armed conflict in the country.

“I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the continuous grave violations committed against children in armed conflict,” Mr. Ban said in his second report on the subject, and he particularly deplored the abhorrent violations against the rights of children committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity.

The volatile security situation and limited access to affected populations, in particular throughout 2014 and the first half of 2015, significantly hindered monitoring and reporting activities, but the document nonetheless highlights “worsening trends” as regards to the killing and maiming, recruitment of child soldiers, sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals, and denial of humanitarian access.

Among the other grim realities that children are facing in Iraq, the report also reveals that some 1,400 boys and girls had been abducted during the reporting period, from 1 January 2011 to 30 June 2015.

“The lives of boys and girls have been deeply affected by the deteriorating security situation in Iraq. The Government of Iraq faces tremendous challenges to protect the country’s children, who urgently need to be shielded from this brutal conflict,” said Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.

High number of child casualties
Despite limited access for monitoring and reporting due to the volatile security situation, the United Nations documented more than 3,000 child casualties, making killing and maiming the violation that affected children the most.

Attacks using tactics of extreme violence, allegedly perpetrated by Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Islamic State in Iraq, ISIL, account for more than half of all documented child casualties. From 2011 to 2013, most child casualties were the result of improvised explosive devices.

With the intensification of armed conflict in 2014, the UN also began to receive worrisome reports of child casualties following airstrikes and shelling.

The Special Representative is extremely concerned by the high number of civilian casualties in Iraq, including children. She stressed that all parties should adhere to the international humanitarian law principles of distinction and proportionality in the conduct of hostilities.

Recruitment and use of children
The United Nations has documented hundreds of cases of children recruited and used to take part in hostilities. The reported emergence of ISIL’s “youth wings”, with training centers in Iraq and Syria is extremely worrisome, as is the alleged association of children with Popular Mobilization Forces.

“I call on the Government to take robust action to address the recruitment and use of children by all parties to the conflict, and particularly by the Popular Mobilization Forces under its control,” said Leila Zerrougui. “I am also concerned by the detention of children on security charges and remind authorities that children associated with armed groups should be treated primarily as victims. Detention should be used as a last resort and for the shortest period of time.”

The Special Representative adds her voice to the Secretary-General’s to call for independent and prompt investigations into grave violations committed against children to ensure that perpetrators are held to account.

Zerrougui is encouraged by the recent reform package presented by Prime Minister al-Abadi to strengthen the rule of law, enhance accountability and address widespread impunity. She hopes to see it followed by actions to improve the lives of children and lay the foundations of a stable and inclusive Iraq.

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Source: UN News centre and Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

You can read Leila Zerrougui’s statement on the publication of the report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Iraq here