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

Children attend school at Harsham Camp for internally displaced people in Erbil, Iraq. Photo: UNICEF/Wathiq Khuzaie

2 December 2015 – 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 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 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, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.

Extremely concerned by the high number of more than 3,000 child casualties, Ms. Zerrougui warned that extreme violence by Al-Qaeda and ISIL, such as the use of improvised explosive devices, attributed to over half of documented incidents.

Another grave concern, stressed the report, is the recruitment and use of children by armed groups such as ISIL’s “youth wings” in Iraq.

“I call on the Government to take robust action to address the recruitment and use of children by all parties to the conflict,” Ms. Zerrougui said, also stressing that detention of children “should be used as a last resort and for the shortest period of time.”

Echoing Mr. Ban’s call to the Iraqi Government for independent and prompt investigations into grave violations against children, Ms. Zerrougui said that she hoped such action would ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.

She said she was encouraged by Prime Minister al-Abadi’s reforms aimed at strengthening the rule of law, enhancing accountability and addressing widespread impunity.

Meanwhile, the UN chief in his report welcomed donors' support for child protection in Iraq and urged for their additional financial contributions.

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