[DRAFT]Statement by Brad Parker to UNSC on 24 February 2020*
Thank you, Mr. President,
Thank you, members of the Security Council,
Defense for Children International - Palestine (DCIP) is an independent, local Palestinian child rights organization dedicated to defending and promoting the rights of children living in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. For nearly 30 years, we have investigated, documented, and exposed grave human rights violations against children; provided legal services to children in urgent need; held Israeli and Palestinian authorities accountable to universal human rights principles; and advocated at the international and national levels to advance access to justice and protection for children.
Since 2007, Defense for Children International - Palestine has been a member of a UNICEF-led working group monitoring and reporting on grave violations against children in Israel and the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
Inputs based on UN-verified information and documentation collected by the working group are regularly submitted to the Office of the Special Representative to the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict to inform this Council’s agenda.
Despite significant obstacles and intense pressure, the working group monitors and reports on killing and maiming and injuries, arrest and detention, ill-treatment and torture of child detainees, recruitment and use of children by armed forces and groups, attacks on schools and hospitals, displacement, and denial of humanitarian access.
I have been told many times over the years that this UNICEF-led working group is arguably one of the most proficient monitoring and reporting groups associated with the UN’s children and armed conflict agenda.
You have access to all the data and information on grave violations in the Global Horizontal Notes, so as a representative of a local Palestinian human rights organization I will try to convey a little of what is missing from that data.
Over the past 20 years, the Office of the Secretary-General, the Security Council and various UN agencies have repeatedly affirmed that protection of children in situations of armed conflict is a fundamental concern for international peace and security.
The monitoring and reporting mechanism (MRM) established by the Security Council in 2005 with Resolution 1612 was created not only to systematically gather evidence related to the six grave violations against children during armed conflict worldwide but also to provide a mechanism for accountability when armed forces or armed groups violate these universal and fundamental principles.
Despite persistent reports of grave violations against children attributed to Israeli forces and extensive and detailed monitoring and reporting of those grave violations by the UNICEF-led working group, the children and armed conflict framework has failed to foster accountability and compliance of Israeli forces with international child protection standards.
Repeated Israeli military offensives, military occupation with no end in sight, and recurrent military violence combined with a near complete disregard for international law has hindered any meaningful efforts toward implementing comprehensive protections for children affected by armed conflict in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
In 2015, we were deeply troubled by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s decision not to include Israel’s armed forces in the annual list of groups that commit grave violations against children.
During Israel’s military offensive, known as “Operation Protective Edge,” in July and August 2014, Israeli armed forces carried out a significant number of direct attacks on civilian homes and other civilian buildings, including schools, in the Gaza Strip. Defense for Children International - Palestine found overwhelming and repeated evidence of direct targeting of children by Israeli drone-fired missiles. Palestinian armed groups in Gaza responded with rocket and mortar fire affecting both Palestinian and Israeli children.
In his annual report, the Secretary-General noted a “dramatic increase in the number of children killed and injured, especially in Gaza” with at least 557 Palestinian children and 4 Israeli children killed and 4,249 Palestinian children and 22 Israeli children injured.
Yet, while he expressed deep alarm “at the extent of grave violations suffered by children as a result of Israeli military operations in 2014” and recognized the “unprecedented and unacceptable scale” of Israel’s military violence, he omitted Israel’s armed forces from the annex. This decision went against the recommendation of the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.
I raise this not to rehash old disputes, but to make clear and reaffirm a message regularly brought to this council by civil society: A rules-based international order will not defend itself.
If the children and armed conflict agenda is to remain a relevant and credible evidence-based mechanism, it is imperative that the listing process is undoubtedly impartial and that members of the Security Council pursue accountability for grave violations against children.
While here in this Council and across the Secretary-General’s desk, the annual reports come and go as segments of data and information arranged by calendar year across the various country situations, children affected by armed conflict and civil society actors on the ground must, year after year, deal with the compounded failures or successes of policy makers. Without accountability, grave violations against children bleed through from one year to the next.
Our view since 2015 is that the decision not to include Israeli forces in the annex provided Israeli forces with tacit approval to continue committing grave breaches of international law with impunity. We are still, today, dealing with the impact of this decision.
Between 2015 and 2019, Defense for Children International - Palestine confirmed Israeli forces and settlers killed at least 159 Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, including at least 134 Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces with live ammunition or crowd-control weapons.
Analyzing these specific incidents and the context in which they occurred shows Israeli forces increasingly targeted Palestinian children with live ammunition to quash protests beginning in 2014. UN-verified information shows that between 2012 and 2013, Israeli forces injured at least 106 Palestinian children with live ammunition. In 2014, that figure spiked to at least 260 live ammunition injuries.
This development in 2014 not only marked a significant escalation in Israeli forces’ tactics confronting demonstrations throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, but it also signified an apparent relaxation in operational protocols in complete disregard of international law that enabled Israeli forces to routinely employ intentional lethal force in situations not justified by international law.
In subsequent years, the increasing use of live ammunition combined with complete lack of accountability for Israeli forces’ unjustified use of intentional lethal force helped to foster a precarious situation. Between 2015 and 2017, Israeli forces killed at least 71 Palestinian children with live ammunition and at least 528 sustained live ammunition injuries.
Then, in 2018, the situation deteriorated dramatically. During 2018, UN-verified information shows 59 Palestinian children were killed in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, including at least 34 children in the Gaza Strip in the context of demonstrations at the perimeter fence. This is the highest number of Palestinian children killed since 2014. No Israeli children were killed in 2018, however the UN verified six injuries to Israeli children. UN-verified information shows at least 714 Palestinian children were injured with live ammunition in 2018 alone.
While international law norms concerning the intentional use of lethal force permit live ammunition to be used when an imminent mortal threat or threat of serious injury exists, Defense for Children International - Palestine found in the overwhelming majority of cases that children killed by Israeli forces with live ammunition did not pose any direct threat to Israeli forces that would justify the use of intentional lethal force at the time they were killed.
One example of this is the killing of 14-year-old Othman Hilles. Othman was shot dead by Israeli forces on July 13, 2018 near the perimeter fence east of Gaza City. Video shows him calmly walking up to the fence before a live bullet struck him in the chest and exited through his back. He posed no direct or mortal threat to Israeli forces at the time he was killed. In a rare instance, the Israeli soldier alleged to be responsible for the killing agreed to a plea bargain in October 2019. They was not held accountable for the unlawful killing of Othman, but was convicted of “disobeying an order leading to a threat to life or health.”
While UN-verified data is not yet available for 2019, Defense for Children International – Palestine confirmed at least 28 Palestinian children were killed last year, including at least 17 killed by live ammunition.
The current precarious nature of the annual list also surely hinders the ability of UN and civil society actors to mitigate grave violations against children in other country situations.
As grave violations against children during armed conflict are increasing worldwide, accountability becomes increasingly necessary given the striking fact noted in the Secretary-General’s latest annual report that while the number of violations attributed to non-State actors remained steady in 2018, there was an alarming increase in the number of violations attributed to State actors and to international forces compared with 2017.
We believe ample UN-verified evidence exists to trigger the listing of Israel’s armed forces for grave violations against children living in the OPT. What can only be described as a persistent failure to list Israel forces not only undermines a strong global tool necessary to protect children in armed conflict, but ensures Israeli forces will continue to engage in grave breaches of international law with impunity, including grave violations against children.
We must not let systemic impunity remain the norm.
Before closing, I want to express my sincere thanks to Belgium for inviting a local Palestinian human rights organization to brief the Council.
We carry out our work in a situation of armed conflict and work to document and expose grave breaches of international law, including grave violations against children, as well as the human impact of non-rights respecting policies and actions. We attempt to hold Israeli and Palestinian authorities accountable to universal human rights principles; and advocate at the international and national levels to advance access to justice and protection for children.
We and other civil society organizations in Israel and the State of Palestine are increasingly targeted and attacked by Israeli officials, Israeli government ministries, and a network of rising conservative nationalist social forces in Israel, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe.
Rather than demand Israeli forces stop unlawfully killing Palestinian child protesters in Gaza with live ammunition, end ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian child detainees, or that Israeli authorities hold perpetrators accountable, they create and disseminate misinformation through well-orchestrated political and media campaigns aiming to silence and eliminate legitimate human rights work and criticism of Israeli policies and actions toward Palestinians.
I recognize that my presence here today comes with a price. I commend Belgium for their leadership on the children and armed conflict agenda over the years, and thank you again for prioritizing the issue of children affected by armed conflict in Israel and the State of Palestine.
*Attribute to Brad Parker, Senior Adviser, Policy and Advocacy at Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP).