UN: Violence Against Children in Conflict Reached Extreme Levels, Including in Gaza

A Palestinian child pushes another child sitting in a wheelbarrow along a narrow street past destroyed buildings in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip on June 11, 2024. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)
A Palestinian child pushes another child sitting in a wheelbarrow along a narrow street past destroyed buildings in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip on June 11, 2024. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)
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UN: Violence Against Children in Conflict Reached Extreme Levels, Including in Gaza

A Palestinian child pushes another child sitting in a wheelbarrow along a narrow street past destroyed buildings in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip on June 11, 2024. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)
A Palestinian child pushes another child sitting in a wheelbarrow along a narrow street past destroyed buildings in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip on June 11, 2024. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)

Violence against children caught in multiplying and escalating conflicts reached “extreme levels” in 2023, with an unprecedented number of killings and injuries in crises, from Israel and the Palestinian territories to Sudan, Myanmar and Ukraine, according to a new UN report.

The annual report on Children in Armed Conflict, obtained on Tuesday by The Associated Press, reported “a shocking 21% increase in grave violations” against children under the age of 18 in an array of conflicts, also citing Congo, Burkina Faso, Somalia and Syria.

For the first time, the UN report put Israeli forces on its blacklist of countries that violate children’s rights for the killing and maiming of children and attacking schools and hospitals. It listed Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants for the first time as well for killing, injuring and abducting children.

Hamas’ Oct. 7 surprise attack in southern Israel and Israel’s massive military retaliation in Gaza have led to a 155% increase in grave violations against children, especially from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas in Gaza, said the report by UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
The United Nations kept the Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups on its blacklist for a second year over their killing and maiming of children and attacking schools and hospitals in Ukraine. The UN verified the killing of 80 Ukrainian children and maiming of 419 others by Russian forces and their affiliates last year, most from explosive weapons, the report said.
Sudan witnessed “a staggering 480% increase in grave violations against children, the report said.
The Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces went on the blacklist for killing and injuring youngsters and attacking schools and hospitals — and the RSF also for recruiting and using children in military operations and for rape and sexual violence.
By the end of 2023, secretary-general Guterres said the UN had verified 1,721 grave violations against 1,526 children. “I am appalled by the dramatic increase in grave violations,” he said, especially the recruitment, killing and maiming of children as well as sexual violence and attacks on schools and hospitals.
The growing civil war in Myanmar also saw a 123% increase in grave violations against children and the Myanmar armed forces and related militias and seven armed groups are also on this year’s blacklist. The report said the UN verified 2,799 grave violations against 2,093 children – including 238 killings and 623 injuries attributed to the military and its allied militias.
The United Nations verified 30,705 violations against children in 2023 and 2,285 committed earlier, affecting over 15,800 boys and more than 6,250 girls. Some were subjected to multiple violations, the report said.
While armed groups were responsible for almost 50% of the grave violations, it said, “government forces were the main perpetrator of the killing and maiming of children, attacks on schools and hospitals, and the denial of humanitarian access.”
Guterres said the alarming increase in violations is due to “the changing nature, complexity, expansion and intensification of armed conflict, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians” and infrastructure and other essential buildings, as well as the emergence of new armed groups, acute humanitarian emergencies, and “blatant disregard” for international law.
The UN chief said he is “appalled by the dramatic increase and unprecedented scale and intensity of grave violations against children in the Gaza Strip, Israel and the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, despite my repeated calls for parties to implement measures to prevent grave violations.”
In 2023, the report said, 5,698 grave violations against children were attributed to Israeli forces, 116 to Hamas, 58 to unidentified perpetrators, 51 to Israeli settlers, 21 to Islamic Jihad, 13 to Palestinian individuals, and 1 to Palestinian Authority Security Forces.
It said the process of verifying the attribution of 2,051 other violations is ongoing.



Israeli Occupation of Palestinian Territory ‘Illegal’, Says UN Top Court

The panel of judges, with President Nawaf Salam (C), at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the Netherlands, during a non-binding ruling on the legal consequences of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, 19 July 2024. (EPA)
The panel of judges, with President Nawaf Salam (C), at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the Netherlands, during a non-binding ruling on the legal consequences of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, 19 July 2024. (EPA)
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Israeli Occupation of Palestinian Territory ‘Illegal’, Says UN Top Court

The panel of judges, with President Nawaf Salam (C), at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the Netherlands, during a non-binding ruling on the legal consequences of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, 19 July 2024. (EPA)
The panel of judges, with President Nawaf Salam (C), at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the Netherlands, during a non-binding ruling on the legal consequences of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, 19 July 2024. (EPA)

The UN's top court, in a sweeping opinion on Friday, said that Israel's decades-long occupation of Palestinian territory was "illegal" and needed to end as soon as possible.

The advisory opinion by The Hague-based International Court of Justice was immediately slammed as a "decision of lies" by Israel, but welcomed by the Palestinian presidency, which called it "historic".

The ICJ's statement, called an "advisory opinion", is not binding, but it comes amid mounting concern over the death toll and destruction in Israel's war against Hamas sparked by the group's brutal October 7 attacks.

It is also likely to increase diplomatic pressure on Israel, whose lawmakers on Thursday voted to oppose a Palestinian state, calling it an "existential threat".

In The Hague, ICJ presiding judge Nawaf Salam said: "The court has found... that Israel's continued presence in the Palestinian Territories is illegal."

Israel is "under the obligation to bring to an end its unlawful presence as rapidly as possible," the judge said in its finding, read at the Peace Palace, seat of the ICJ.

The ICJ added that Israel was "under an obligation to cease immediately all new settlement activities and to evacuate all settlers" from occupied land.

Israel's policies and practices, including the maintenance of a wall between the territories, "amount to annexation of large parts" of the occupied territory, the court said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the ICJ's opinion as a "decision of lies".

"The Jewish people are not occupiers in their own land -- not in our eternal capital Jerusalem, nor in our ancestral heritage of Judea and Samaria" (the occupied West Bank), Netanyahu said in a statement.

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad Al-Maliki called it a "watershed moment".

A separate, high-profile case that South Africa has brought before the court alleges that Israel has committed genocidal acts during its Gaza offensive.

South Africa, in a statement, called upon the international community "to bring an immediate end to the occupation and the gross violations of international humanitarian and human rights law being perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinian people".

- 'Extreme danger' -

In late 2022, the UN's General Assembly asked the ICJ to give an "advisory opinion" on the "legal consequences arising from the policies and practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem".

The ICJ held a week-long session in February to hear submissions from countries following the request -- supported by most countries within the Assembly.

During the hearings, most speakers called on Israel to end its 57-year occupation. They warned a prolonged occupation posed an "extreme danger" to stability in the Middle East and beyond.

But the United States said Israel should not be legally obliged to withdraw without taking its "very real security needs" into account.

Israel did not take part in the oral hearings.

- 'Ongoing violation' -

The General Assembly asked the ICJ to consider two questions.

Firstly, the court should examine the legal consequences of what the UN called "the ongoing violation by Israel of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination".

In its answer, the ICJ's judges said Israel's "unlawful policies and practices are in breach" of its "obligation to respect the rights of the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination".

In June 1967, Israel defeated some of its Arab neighbors in a six-day war, seizing the West Bank and East Jerusalem, at the time annexed by Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt.

Israel then began to settle the 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles) of seized Arab territory.

The UN later declared the occupation of Palestinian territory illegal, and Cairo regained Sinai under its 1979 peace deal with Israel.

- 'Restrictions' -

The ICJ also was asked to look into the consequences of what it described as Israel's "adoption of related discriminatory legislation and measures".

In this finding, the ICJ said a "regime of comprehensive restrictions imposed by Israel on Palestinians consisted of systemic discrimination based on race, religion or ethnic origin."

The ICJ rules in disputes between states. Normally, its judgements are binding but it has few means to enforce them.

In this case, however, the opinion is non-binding, although most advisory opinions are in fact acted upon.

The ICJ has previously issued advisory opinions on the legality of Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia and apartheid South Africa's occupation of Namibia.

It also handed down an opinion in 2004 declaring that parts of the wall erected by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory were illegal and should be torn down.

Israel has not complied with that ICJ ruling.