On April 15, 2019, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG-CAAC) briefed the UN Security Council about the war in Yemen’s horrific impact on children. The SRSG-CAAC, Ms. Virginia Gamba, highlighted staggering figures, particularly of children killed, maimed, denied access to humanitarian assistance, and recruited and used by armed actors.
“The levels of killing and maiming of children are unsettling,” Ms. Gamba told the Council. “Between April 2013 and January 2019, the UN verified the killing and maiming of more than 7,500 children, one third of whom were girls, making it the most prevalent violation in Yemen. Almost half of these casualties were caused by airstrikes, for which the [Saudi and Emirati-led] Coalition bears the main responsibility.”
According to Ms. Gamba, between April 2013 and the end of 2018, the UN verified the recruitment and use of more than 3,000 children, the killing and maiming of over 7,500, over 800 cases of denial of humanitarian access to children, and over 350 attacks against schools and hospitals in Yemen. Sexual violence against children, however, she noted, was chronically underreported in Yemen, with only a few cases during the reporting period that could be verified.
The SRSG-CAAC was invited to brief the Council on the situation of children in Yemen during its regular consultation on Yemen, alongside the UN Special Envoy on Yemen Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock, and civil society representative Muna Luqman. Watchlist welcomes such efforts to mainstream children and armed conflict (CAC) concerns in the Council’s agenda, and urges Security Council members to regularly invite the SRSG-CAAC to provide country-specific briefings on the situation of children.
Ms. Gamba also highlighted positive efforts, including the Government’s December 2018 endorsement of a roadmap to revitalize its 2014 action plan to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children, and the March 2019 signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between her office and the Saudi/Emirati-led Coalition (SELC) to strengthen the protection of children affected by armed conflict in Yemen. The MoU foresees the development of a “programme of activities” to strengthen prevention and protection measures for children in Yemen by May 25, 2019.
While welcoming these measures, Watchlist urges parties to conflict to translate them into real change for children affected by armed conflict in Yemen. If the MoU with the SELC is to be successful, it should lead to concrete, meaningful changes and impact for affected children, including the signing and implementation of time-bound action plan or programme of activities, to end and prevent grave violations – as the formal and only path for delisting from the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict. Once the SELC has signed such a plan or programme, the Secretary-General and the SRSG-CAAC should report regularly on its implementation, including in the annual report and future Yemen-specific reports on the situation of children and armed conflict, as well as during regular briefings to the UN Security Council and its Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.
Watchlist reiterates its call to Secretary-General António Guterres to produce a credible, accurate list of parties to conflict that violate children’s rights, on the basis of information documented and verified by the United Nations. This includes listing the SELC in Section A of his annexes for all relevant violations in Yemen in 2018, including killing and maiming, and attacks on schools and hospitals. Watchlist also urges the Secretary-General to further investigate allegations that the SELC has recruited and used children from Sudan and Yemen.