In this issue:
Most of the children who die during armed conflicts have not been hit by bombs or bullets but have succumbed to starvation or sickness, according to UNICEF. In conflicts in African countries, lack of food and medical services, combined with the stress of flight, have killed about 20 times more people than have armaments.
Today, the world is on the brink of four major famines, in Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan. A famine has already been declared in parts of South Sudan. With nearly 20 million people at risk of starvation, millions of them children, the United Nations (UN) says the world is facing its biggest humanitarian crisis since the end of World War Two. The spectre of famine is primarily the result of war, not natural disaster. In some places, the denial of food and other aid is a weapon of war as much as its consequence. Combatants’ fighting tactics often make the problem worse; the actions of governments and their opponents exact high humanitarian tolls. In north-east Nigeria for instance, Boko Haram’s attacks on rural communities and the destruction wrought by fighting between its insurgents and the military caused the acute food crisis.
Millions of children in Yemen, Syria, the Gaza Strip, Iraq, Libya and Sudan are lacking nutritious food and being deprived of essential health care, says UNICEF. Moreover, water and sanitation services have been compromised, causing waterborne diseases to spread.
In Yemen, 17 million people are food insecure, meaning they do not have enough food, and the rate of child malnutrition is one of the highest in the world. This is coupled with an “unprecedented” increase in suspected cholera cases: reported cases over the past month already exceeded 124,000, more than half of them children and some 923 people, nearly a quarter of them children, have succumbed to the disease. This latest crisis in Yemen comes as the country is reeling from the effects of a conflict, now into its third year, that has rendered water treatment plants barely functional and water sources severely contaminated by sewage and uncollected refuse. Half of the country’s health facilities aren’t working, and medical staff haven’t been paid for more than eight months.
UNICEF estimates that for the past seven months, 85,000 children have been trapped in western Mosul, in Iraq with limited medical access and no humanitarian aid. Water supplies in camps for the displaced around Mosul are stretched to the limit as new families arriving daily – many with malnourished children.
Deteriorating security conditions have severely disrupted life-saving interventions for children in Greater Kasai in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in recent months, putting an estimated 400,000 children at risk of severe acute malnutrition. Across the five provinces of Greater Kasai, critical health infrastructure is no longer operational due to the conflict. In Central Kasai Province alone, more than one-third of health centres have been forced to close following looting, due to security concerns for staff or a lack of medical supplies, depriving children of vital services and medicine. Supplies of food and basic necessities are dwindling, and displacement has forced families to live in conditions with inadequate hygiene or sanitation.
While the human cost of conflict is usually measured in violence-related deaths, the reality is that starvation and illness exacts a terrible toll on the population. Communities at war inevitably see attacks on their health infrastructure, the interruption of food distribution and interruption of their water supply.
A group of 44 civil society organisations has called on UN Secretary-General António Guterres to publish an accurate and credible list of parties to armed conflict, including States, which carry out grave violations of children’s rights. The group released an open letter addressed to Guterres after reports that he was planning to “freeze” new additions to the so-called “list of shame” attached to his annual report to the UN Security Council on children and armed conflict. The alleged move follows two years of much-criticised politicisation of the list, including high profile action from Saudi Arabia, which allegedly threatened to withdraw funding from key UN programmes if it was kept on the list over ongoing children’s rights violations in Yemen and reports of intense pressure from Israel and Israel’s allies, notably the US, not to include the Israeli Defence Forces on the list.
The organisations which signed the letter, including CRIN, believe that “after fifteen years of annual lists, parties to armed conflict should be well aware that if they commit grave violations against children, they may be listed”. Allowing extra time for parties to make “commitments” to children’s rights will only make the process vulnerable to additional politicisation. The organisations call on the Secretary-General to commit to “an impartial list, based on evidence, not politics. Children whose lives are devastated by armed conflict deserve nothing less.”
Read CRIN’s critical review of UN’s work on children and armed conflict: The UN and children in armed conflict: playing politics?
Civilians from minority ethnic groups continue to suffer appalling violations and abuses, including war crimes, at the hands of Myanmar’s military and ethnic armed groups in the country’s Kachin and northern Shan States, Amnesty International said in a new report. ‘All the Civilians Suffer’: Conflict, Displacement and Abuse in Northern Myanmar details how soldiers from the Tatmadaw, as Myanmar’s Armed Forces are known, mete out torture and extrajudicial executions, shell civilian villages indiscriminately and place punitive restrictions on movement and humanitarian access. Meanwhile, some ethnic armed groups at times abduct civilians seen to support an opposing party, forcibly recruit men, women and children into their fighting forces while imposing “taxes” on impoverished villagers trapped in the conflict.
More than 98,000 civilians are currently displaced in northern Myanmar amid fierce fighting between the Myanmar Armed Forces and various ethnic armed groups in the area.
In Syria, the same civilians who are suffering indiscriminate shelling and summary executions by the so-called Islamic State (IS), are also falling victim to the escalating airstrikes from air forces of the Government and US-led coalition. Airstrikes on two residential areas of the IS-controlled city of Albo Kamal in eastern Deir-ez-Zor Governorate on 15 May reportedly killed at least 59 civilians, including 16 children and 12 women, and injured another 70.
Also in Syria, 40,000 children are trapped in extremely dangerous conditions in Raqqa as fighting intensifies in and around the city. UNICEF has reported that “many are caught in the crossfire,” noting that as many as 25 children were reportedly killed and scores injured during fighting in the city in recent days, while as many as 80,000 children remain internally displaced. Hospitals and schools have also come under attack, and those attempting to flee face injury or death in many cases. Little humanitarian assistance has reached Raqqa due to violence and access restrictions imposed by the so-called Islamic State, which has controlled the area since 2014. Concerns for the safety of civilians living in the city reemerged recently after a coalition of fighters, the Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by the United States, began an operation to retake the city from the so-called Islamic State. Airstrikes carried out by the US and the use of white phosphorous munitions are being closely monitored by human rights groups over fears that civilians will bear the brunt of these attacks. UN war crimes investigators have also said that intensified US-led coalition airstrikes against IS fighters in Raqqa are causing a “staggering loss of civilian life”.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), between 500 and 1,000 people have been killed in the Kasai region since large-scale violence between the Congolese army and the Kamuina Nsapu movement broke out in August 2016. Violence escalated after State security forces killed Kamuina Nsapu, the apparent heir to the throne of a chieftaincy in the Tshimbulu area. In recent months, Kamuina Nsapu factions and other armed groups have proliferated, with some of the groups fighting each other. Congolese army soldiers have used excessive force in violation of international law, according to Human Rights Watch, killing scores of suspected Kamuina Nsapu members and sympathisers, including large numbers of women and children. Members of the group, armed largely with sticks and other crude weapons, have recruited children and carried out targeted attacks on the government, killing police officers, soldiers, and local officials.
More than 9,000 children have arrived at two temporary reception centres in a northern city of Dundo, Angola, having fled the conflict in the DRC. UNICEF has reported that these children are in need of urgent support with nutrition, access to safe drinking water and sanitation, as well as prevention of disease. To date, more than 25,000 people have arrived in Angola, having fled violence in the DRC's Kasai province. Around 200 children recently arrived in these centres unaccompanied by an adult and are in need of temporary accommodation while efforts are made to trace their biological families.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein urged the Human Rights Council to establish an international investigation into serious rights abuses in the region, including summary executions, killings and recruitment of children, and sexual violence, claiming that the State’s response had been “consistently inadequate”.
Two armed groups competing for control over stretches of Colombia’s San Juan river are committing serious abuses against Afro-Colombian and indigenous Wounaan riverside communities, according to Human Rights Watch. The National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas and the paramilitary successor group Gaitanist Self-defenses of Colombia (AGC) have been engaged in conflict with one another in the Chocó province for years. Human Rights Watch has documented evidence of responsibility of both groups for a range of abuses against scores of victims in the Litoral de San Juan municipality and in rural areas of the Buenaventura district. These abuses include killings, child recruitment, planting landmines, and threats, and have resulted in the displacement of thousands of people in recent years. Both the ELN and the AGC allegedly recruit children by force to join their ranks or work as informants and AGC members have pressed girls as young as 12 to become their sexual partners.
In the first two months of 2017, more than 1,300 people were forced to leave their homes in Litoral de San Juan, according to Colombia’s ombudsman’s office.
Sexual violence is increasingly used as a tactic of terrorism, employed by extremist groups in places like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria and Mali to advance their military, economic and ideological ends according to Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed. Although global understanding of sexual violence in conflict is shifting, there remains the need to tackle the root causes of such violations that lie in fundamental inequality and discrimination against women, Mohammed told the UN Security Council. As for accountability at the international and national level, “there is a gradual shift from a reality in which it is cost-free to rape a woman, child or man in conflict, to one where there are consequences for anyone who commits, commands or condones such crimes,” the deputy UN chief said.
According to UNICEF, sexual violence against children is also “mostly invisible” and goes largely undocumented stating that fear of “getting into trouble” as well as shame and stigma all contributed to children not reporting the abuse. Most concerning is that in the case of children, most abuse occurred in situations when the child knew and trusted the adult who abused him or her.
Leaked UN documents suggest that a peacekeeping battalion in the Central African Republic has been repeatedly flagged as a potential source of adults who sexually abuse children, though little action has been taken to remove them. In an open letter, AIDS-Free World and the Code Blue Campaign claim to have come into possession of internal UN documents that call into question the Secretary-General’s commitment to adopting “structural, legal and operational measures to make zero tolerance a reality,” as he pledged earlier this year. The documents include a 66-page assessment report and single-page memo, concerning a peacekeeping battalion in Berbérati. The campaigners claim that by failing to act on information about sexual abuse by peacekeepers, the UN is setting the stage for future abuse and placing women and children in harm's way. The 66-page report records how 120 of the 750 peacekeepers in the battalion were repatriated to the Republic of Congo “on SEA [sexual exploitation and abuse] cases,” representing 16 percent of the total force in Berbérati, with at least six reported child victims.
The global number of refugee and migrant children travelling alone has reached a record high, increasing nearly five-fold since 2010, according to a new UNICEF report. At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in some 80 countries in the combined years of 2015 and 2016, up from 66,000 in 2010 and 2011. The new report presents a global snapshot of refugee and migrant children, the motivations behind their journeys and the risks they face along the way. The research shows that an increasing number of these children are taking highly dangerous routes, often at the mercy of smugglers and traffickers, to reach their destinations, clearly justifying the need for a global protection system to keep them safe from exploitation, abuse and death. UNICEF said the central Mediterranean route between north Africa and Italy is one of the world's deadliest, with 4,579 deaths last year, including some 700 children, many from Eritrea, Gambia, Nigeria, Egypt and Guinea. Unaccompanied and separated children accounted for 92 percent of all children arriving in Italy by sea last year.
In Iraq, children in Mosul are bearing the brunt of intensified fighting between US-backed government forces and fighters from so-called Islamic State (IS). As heavy fighting continues to drive large numbers of people from the city, the UN Refugee Agency has appealed for urgent support to meet the critical needs of vulnerable displaced people returning to the city. According to Iraqi authorities, more than 750,000 people have been forced to flee since military operations began to retake the city from IS. UNICEF has also received “alarming reports” of civilians being killed, including children, with some caught in the crossfire while trying to flee. As many as 100,000 girls and boys are still in the IS-held Old City neighborhood and other areas, living under extremely dangerous conditions. Children are reportedly being killed, injured and used as human shields in ongoing fighting, as well as witnessing and experiencing different forms of violence.
At least 31 people, mostly young children, have drowned after falling from a packed boat off the Libyan coast. The co-founder of the rescue group Migrant Offshore Aid Station reported that they recovered 31 bodies, almost all of them toddlers. The coast guard was forced to call in more ships to help with the rescue, with 1,700 migrants packed into about 15 vessels. More than 1,300 people have already died this year on the most dangerous route for migrants trying to reach Europe. Despite efforts by Italy and other European Union nations to bolster Libya's coastal patrols, record numbers of people have made the journey this year with more than 50,000 being rescued at sea and brought to Italy so far in 2017. This figure represents a 46 percent increase on the same period of last year, according to Italy's Interior Ministry. Most rescues take place just outside Libyan territory in international waters in a very busy stretch of sea where humanitarian vessels, the Libyan Coast Guard and scavengers hoping to recover abandoned migrant boats and their engines all operate.
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"A single pipe broken by a high-impact explosive weapon can deprive 100,000 people of water. That same weapon may also destroy the neighbourhood’s sewage system, causing thousands to fall ill and placing further strain on already overstretched hospitals.
Local economies collapse and populations flee, leaving fewer doctors and engineers, and no money to pay the salaries of those who remain. The acute pain caused by one attack triggers a ripple effect of long-term suffering that leaves no part of life unscathed."
I saw my city die, A special report from the International Committee of the Red Cross.
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