China, Russia, Pakistan and Azerbaijan abstained from a UN Security Council vote on children and armed conflict on Wednesday over concerns that the UN envoy on the issue can investigate any conflict, not just those before the council.
The remaining 11 members of the Security Council voted in favour of the resolution, which laid out the mandate for Leila Zerrougui, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative for children and armed conflict.
Zerrougui, an Algerian who recently replaced Radhika Coomaraswamy, works to promote and protect children’s rights during armed conflicts and identifies countries and groups that kill, maim or rape children in conflicts, or recruit and use children as soldiers.
The four abstaining states argued that the work of the special envoy was restricted to conflicts before the council, and that this limit should have been more clearly reflected in the resolution.
“The sphere of activities of [the special envoy] does not cover all issues of protecting children in armed conflict, but only those situations that are on UN Security Council’s agenda,” said Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Sergey Karev.
A report by Ban to the Security Council on children and armed conflict, based on the work of his envoy, covers conflicts in 23 countries. Of these, 16 are on the council agenda and seven are not – Colombia, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and the southern border provinces of Thailand and Yemen.
“The mandate of the Security Council resolution cannot be wilfully interpreted to equalize the incidents of terrorist attacks in Pakistan to armed conflict,” China’s UN Ambassador Li Baodong told the council.
“The international community should provide more support and help to Pakistan’s effort to counter terrorism rather than creating difficulties and obstacles,” he said.
Human Rights Watch accused Russia, China, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan of playing politics.
“Children victimised by war do not care whether the country in which they live is on the Security Council’s agenda or not, but instead deserve all the UN attention they can get,” Human Rights Watch’s UN director Philippe Bolopion said in a statement.
Ban’s report said children in Pakistan were being used by armed groups allied to Islamist extremists to carry out suicide attacks and were themselves victims of attacks. It also said armed groups continued to target schools in bombings.
Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Raza Bashir Tarar described the report’s section on Pakistan as “unwarranted and completely misleading”. He said Pakistan would have voted against the resolution, but instead abstained to show a willingness to work with Zerrougui and a commitment to the issue.
Britain’s UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said that during negotiations on the resolution, some countries proposed amendments “whose effect would have been unacceptably to constrain the role of the special representative”.
“We could not accept the assertion made by some council members that [the former envoy Coomaraswamy] over-reached her mandate in the conduct of her business. That accusation is completely unfounded,” Lyall Grant told the council.
New conflicts included in the UN report – which covers last year – were those in Syria and Libya, while those in Haiti and Burundi were removed. The report accused 52 armed forces and groups of violating the rights of children. Ten of them were government forces, while the rest were non-state armed groups.
“The situation for children in Syria is dire,” Zerrougui told the council.
“My staff and other United Nations colleagues have documented government attacks on schools, children denied access to hospitals, girls and boys suffering and dying in bombardments of their neighbourhoods, and also being subject to torture, including sexual violence, sometimes for weeks.”
Since the publication of the report, Zerrougui said her office had received information about bomb attacks by opposition groups that have killed children, and that the Free Syrian Army “may have children associated with their forces”.
Syria’s UN envoy Bashar Ja’afari told the council that the Syrian government rejected all the allegations and “denounced the politicization of this important humanitarian issue which chiefly concerns the safety and security of children”.