UN’s Double Standard on Human Rights Abusers Protects Big Powers
By Thalif Deen*
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 2021 (IPS) – When the UN’s
annual report on Children and Armed Conflict was released last week, it was
expected to “name and shame” some of the world’s worst human rights violators –
particularly the abusers of children.
But these violators were protected– and never
stigmatized—despite the hundreds of children killed by warring parties in
ongoing conflicts, particularly in Yemen, Syria and Myanmar, involving the US,
Russia and China as arms suppliers, triggering criticism from UN watchers and
human rights organizations.
Jo Becker, Children’s Rights Advocacy Director
at Human Rights Watch, told IPS: “We continue to be disappointed that the
Secretary-General (SG) is not using the “list of shame” to hold all parties
accountable for their grave violations against children”.
The message he is sending to the Saudi-led
coalition regarding their operations in Yemen is that “as long as they kill and
maim fewer children than they did the year before, they can stay off the list”.
“We also saw in the case of Myanmar how
disastrous it was to remove the Tatmadaw (the country’s armed forces) from the
list while they were still recruiting and using children; the number the
following year tripled”.
The SG should not make listing decisions based
on his hopes for future improvement, but based on the facts on the ground, said
His repeated failure to base his list, on the
UN’s own evidence, betrays children and fuels impunity. ”Now that his second
term as Secretary-General is assured, he should abandon that approach and
ensure his list reflects the facts. And the UN Security Council should insist
that he list all violators, without exception,” declared Becker.
The oil-blessed Saudi Arabia, which is leading
a coalition in the military conflict in Yemen, is a longstanding political and
military ally of the US– which along with the UK, China, Russia and France– is
armed with veto powers in the Security Council.
Russia provides political and military support
to war-ravaged Syria while China, one of the largest arms suppliers to Myanmar,
has undermined Security Council attempts to impose an arms embargo in the
Ian Williams, President of the New York-based
Foreign Press Association (FPA) and author of ‘UNtold: The Real Story of the
United Nations in Peace and War’, told IPS Guterres has adopted a human rights
profile that is low enough to be subterranean.
History suggests that one of the few weapons
open to the SG and the UN collectively is “naming and shaming”, he said,
pointing out, it is also true that many member states — like the 57-member
Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) that refuses to support the Uighurs,
are also shamelessly unprincipled in the face of power — but an ethical and
forthright SG, as the tribune for the UN Charter, could turn the tide.
“If Guterres is more concerned about posterity
than his pension—and if he wants to make the history books rather than the
footnotes– he should take his cue from Dag Hammarskjold, speak truth to power.
And avoid chartered aircraft,” said Williams, a former President of the UN
Correspondents’ Association (UNCA).
Various models of SG-ship have been tried, he
pointed out, but none of them are entirely successful.
“Kofi Annan tried the nice approach. Ban
Ki-moon tried being nice in public, firm in meetings with heads of state, and
furious in private with the gratuitous insults they heaped upon him”, said
Perhaps the most hard-hitting comments came
from Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW): “Guterres’s
first term was defined by public silence regarding human rights abuses by
China, Russia, and the United States and their allies,” he said, referring to
the three veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council.
“With his re-election behind him, Guterres
should use the next five years to become a strong vocal advocate for rights.
His recent willingness to denounce abuses in Myanmar and Belarus
should expand to include all governments deserving condemnation, including
those that are powerful and protected.”
Since taking office in January 2017, Guterres
has rarely criticized or called for accountability by specific
governments or their leaders, said Roth.
Guterres “adopted a non-confrontational
approach toward former US President Donald Trump’s efforts to sideline human rights by undermining multilateral organizations like the UN and embracing
He adopted a similar approach to crimes against humanity in Xinjiang by China’s government,
now the UN’s second biggest financial contributor, after the US, and to war
crimes by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, complained Roth.
HRW also said Guterres has been reluctant to
criticize abuses by Russia’s government, which has frequently used its veto
power in the Security Council to block human rights-related resolutions on Syria and elsewhere. Guterres should also exercise stronger
leadership against the global pushback on women’s rights, it added.
According to Watch List on Children and Armed
Conflict, the Secretary-General removed the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition from his annual
list of child rights abusers last year, despite the UN finding that it was
responsible for killing and maiming 222 children in Yemen in 2019.
At the time, he had vowed to re-list the coalition if it failed to sustainably
“As the UN’s latest report shows, the
Secretary-General’s decision to remove the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition from
his shame list last year sent a clear message that parties can get away with
killing children,” said Adrianne Lapar, director of Watchlist on Children and
“If the Secretary-General does not immediately
reconsider his decision and return the coalition to his list, he seriously
undermines international efforts to protect children in war and emboldens
warring parties to be more abusive against children.”
Meanwhile, Save the Children, a leading
humanitarian organization for children, pointed out that 194 Yemeni children
were killed and maimed in 2020, but the UN Report on Children and Armed
Conflict again fails to hold perpetrators to account.
But despite the killings in Yemen in 2020,
according to UN verified data, the Saudi and Emirati led coalition gets a green
light to continue destroying children’s lives in Yemen, the organization said.
“In a disheartening decision, the UN Secretary
General António Guterres again failed to include the coalition in this year’s
‘list of shame’.”
It was taken off the list last year, with a
commitment by the Secretary General to relist them unless there was a
‘sustained significant decrease in killing and maiming’. By not relisting the
coalition, Guterres sends the message that reducing the number of child
casualties to about two hundred is ‘good enough’ progress, Save the Children
Matthew Wells, Deputy Director of Thematics
for Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Programme said Guterres, “who has
just been given another five-year term; must become bolder and more courageous
in prioritizing human rights and calling out perpetrators, including on
children and armed conflict.”
Together with the Special Representative for
Children and Armed Conflict, he should commit publicly to applying the same
standard irrespective of perpetrator or context – producing a complete list based
on evidence and objective criteria, something he has failed to do again this
Next year, he must follow the criteria laid
out in 2010; the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and Israeli military, among others,
will again prove a key test.
For their part, UN member states must demand a
credible list. Why have teams on the ground put themselves in danger to
document violations that get ignored?, asked Wells.
Bureau Chief and Regional Director IPS North America, has been covering the U.N.
since the late 1970s. A former deputy news editor of the Sri Lanka Daily
News, he was a senior editorial writer on the Hong Kong daily, The Standard.
Thalif Deen is a former Director, Foreign Military Markets at Defense Marketing
Services (DMS); Senior Defense Analyst at Forecast International; and military
editor Middle East/Africa at Jane’s Information Group.Thalif Deen is the author
of the newly-released book on the United Nations titled “No Comment – and Don’t
Quote Me on That.” The 220-page book is peppered with scores of anecdotes– from
the serious to the hilarious– and is available on Amazon worldwide and at the
Vijitha Yapa bookshop in Sri Lanka. The links follow: https://www.rodericgrigson.com/no-comment-by-thalif-deen/https://www.vijithayapa.com/