The following statement was delivered by Dr. Christine Monaghan, Watchlist Research Officer, on January 16, 2018, at the International Peace Institute (IPI) organized panel-event entitled: Investigating Attacks Against Healthcare: Thematic Policy Forum on the Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2286, which welcomed the launch of IPI’s most recent report, “Evaluating Mechanisms to Investigate Attacks on Healthcare,” authored by Dr. Els Dubuff. Ambassadors Lauber (Switzerland) and Bermudez (Uruguay), and Jason Cone, Executive Director of Médecins Sans Frontières USA also participated in the panel, which was moderated by Dr. Adam Lupel, Vice President of IPI.
Thanks very much Dr. Lupel and to Dr. Debuff and the team at IPI for publishing this very timely report and for offering Watchlist the opportunity to discuss this issue in relation to the Children and Armed Conflict agenda.
I’d like to start with just a brief overview of Watchlist’s work. We are a network of humanitarian and human rights organizations that conducts research and advocacy intended to strengthen the UN Security Council’s Children and Armed Conflict agenda. That agenda includes a clear, credible, and accurate list of perpetrators of grave violations of children’s rights in situations of armed conflict in the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict.
For the past two years, Watchlist has focused its research on the impact on children of attacks on health care and denial of humanitarian access. In 2016, we published reports documenting attacks and denials in Afghanistan and Yemen, and this upcoming March we will publish the third report in the series focused on South Sudan.
Throughout the course of this work, we have been an active Steering Committee member of the Safeguarding Health and Conflict Coalition, and conducted joint advocacy on the implementation of Resolution 2286. What we have suggested, as is also suggested in IPI’s report, is that the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) on Children and Armed Conflict—the data collection mechanism that informs the Secretary-General’s listing—is an important existing mechanism for the implementation of 2286—one that can both help to hold perpetrators to account and prevent attacks.
The MRM is currently active in 14 countries, and where verified information makes clear that a party to the conflict that has committed a pattern of attacks, that party is listed—“named and shamed.” But also, to be removed from the list in subsequent years, the party is required to enter into a time-bound action plan with the UN and take demonstrable steps toward ending attacks and providing redress for victims. In this way, the listing provides a means for ongoing dialogue and engagement that can also help spur preventive action.
Each of Watchlist’s reports helps to highlight opportunities and challenges, as well as what we believe are next steps regarding how the Children and Armed Conflict agenda can, in additional ways, help facilitate the implementation of Resolution 2286.
With regards to opportunities, when we launched the Afghanistan report in Kabul in late March of last year, we were told that a sort of “coalition of the willing” had formed between UN agencies, INGOs, and government ministries. The Health Cluster had started regularly collecting information on attacks from health partners during weekly epidemiological reporting. The Ministry of Health was then taking this information and holding regular meetings with the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of the Interior to push for accountability measures to be taken when the Afghan police or armed forces were the parties responsible for attacks. While this isn’t replicable in all situations of armed conflict, we believe it’s a promising practice and that it’s important to share such examples in public contexts. The annual Open Debate on Resolution 2286 could provide a good forum for doing so.
In terms of challenges, the removal of the Saudi-led Coalition from the Secretary-General’s annual report in 2016 made clear the politicization of the listing process. As previously stated, one of the primary reasons the Children and Armed Conflict agenda is significant to the implementation of Resolution 2286 is that it’s existing and ongoing—it is not reliant upon new Security Council resolutions to be “activated” or “implemented,” which in the current climate might be near-impossible. However, in this situation, the Secretary-General removed a party from the list that had routinely and very visibly attacked medical facilities and personnel—in essence, allowing impunity to continue. Watchlist and our Advisory Board members, along with several other civil society organizations, worked diligently to ensure that the Coalition would be returned to the Secretary-General’s list in the 2017 report. That they were helps make clear the important role civil society has in helping hold perpetrators to account. Additionally, while the Coalition was responsible for several attacks in 2016, they carried out fewer attacks than in 2015 and implemented a range of preventive measures—indicating, as also discussed in IPI’s report, that “the mere specter of accountability can serve as a preventive measure.”
And for next steps, another recommendation in IPI’s report is making denial of humanitarian access a trigger violation for inclusion in the Secretary-General’s annual report. Our research in South Sudan revealed that parties to the conflict are systematically attacking medical facilities and personnel while denying civilians access to humanitarian assistance as tactics of war—significantly increasing civilians’, particularly women and children’s, health needs, while at the same time significantly limiting access to health care. The research also revealed that including denial of humanitarian access as a trigger violation could result in the listing of parties that are not listed for attacks on health care. The Government of South Sudan is a good example. In the Secretary-General’s 2017 annual report, in 2016 in South Sudan there were 28 verified attacks on medical facilities and personnel, but 445 incidents of denials of humanitarian access. The majority of attacks and denials were attributed to the SPLA—the armed forces of the Government of South Sudan. With the launch of Watchlist’s South Sudan Field Monitor Report, we’ll be exploring possibilities for including denial of humanitarian access as a trigger violation.
Finally, in all three of the reports, Watchlist calls for the establishment of international, independent investigative mechanisms in each country situation, either by the OHCHR, Security Council, or Human Rights Council. Any of the other mechanisms detailed in IPI’s report would be a tremendous step—one that signifies to parties to conflict that what has become almost normalized as a tactic of war won’t be allowed to continue as such. Civil society reports documenting incidents of attacks and the Secretary-General’s annual report are important for naming and shaming, and as tools that can help make a strong case for the establishment of additional mechanisms. In that way, we might think of these different approaches as used concurrently, sometimes sequentially, but not in mutual exclusion. Each of our respective organizations and agencies has its own role to play.