The UK government has been condemned for arming states named and shamed in a new United Nations (UN) report revealing that more than 12,000 children were killed or maimed last year in armed conflicts.
Innocent children across the world were shot, bombed, raped, recruited as child soldiers, imprisoned and had limbs amputated after being targeted by warring parties, the UN said.
A Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen, and Israel – both major buyers of UK arms – are among a number of nations and terror groups criticised in a disturbing report.
India, Pakistan and Thailand – who also buy weapons from the UK – were also named alongside terror outfits Islamic State, Al-Shabaab in Somalia, and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which operates in Yemen.
The UN said that more than 24,000 “grave violations” were committed against children, prompting critics of the arms trade to express outrage at the carnage. They have accused the UK government of having “blood on its hands” and “complicity” in the crimes of regimes named in the report.
UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, revealed that a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition fighting in Yemen killed or injured 729 children during 2018. A total of 43 per cent of child casualties were attributed to the coalition, of which 684 were due to airstrikes.
Regarding Israel and Palestine, the report said that 59 Palestinian children were killed in the West Bank and Gaza, some as young as 18 months old. Israeli forces killed 56 children, while an Israeli settler killed one child.
Another child was killed by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s al-Quds Brigades, and one boy was killed by an improvised explosive device accidentally detonated at his home by an Al-Aqsa Brigade member.
The report said: “Of these 59 children, 33 boys and 1 girl were killed by Israeli forces during demonstrations at the Gaza fence, 88 per cent of whom (30) were shot by live ammunition to the upper body, while reportedly posing no imminent threat of death or serious injury to Israeli forces, and another 2 boys died after being struck in the head by tear gas canisters.”
Another 2,756 Palestinian children were injured, many hurt during the Great March of Return in Gaza. Twenty children had limbs amputated. Six Israeli children were injured, the report added, including two girls hurt in their home by a rocket fired indiscriminately by a Palestinian armed group.
Secretary-General Guterres said: “I am deeply concerned by the scale and severity of the grave violations committed against children in 2018, notably the record high number of casualties as a result of killing and maiming and the increase in the number of violations attributed to international forces.
“I call upon all parties to immediately end and take all necessary measures to prevent such grave violations, including through ensuring mitigation measures and enhancing training on preventing the six grave violations, as well as by ensuring strong accountability measures for the perpetrators of crimes against children.”
The UK’s arms sales to both Saudi Arabia and Israel have been condemned in recent years due to concerns over human rights abuses and allegations of war crimes.
As a result of mounting civilian casualties in Yemen due to indiscriminate airstrikes, the Saudi-led coalition has been accused of scores of war crimes, piling pressure on the UK government to stop arms sales to its Middle East ally.
Ministers have refused to stop weaponry sales, however, even though they were ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal in London. Following that landmark judgement in June the UK government said it would not grant any new licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia but ministers are appealing the decision.
The Ferret subsequently revealed that UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia would continue unabated due to a secretive export licensing system used by the government.
Since 2015 the UK government has also approved £355 million worth of arms sales to Israel. These include licences for grenades, bombs, missiles, assault rifles, sniper rifles, ammunition and electronic warfare equipment. Israel has been accused of war crimes in Gaza, although it has denied those claims.
UK arms sales to India, Pakistan and Thailand over the past four years were worth £569m, £53m and £52m respectively.
The UN said that in India – in Jammu and Kashmir – 31 children between the ages of seven and 17 were killed during government armed forces operations.
In Pakistan, seven children were killed and 56 injured, while children in Thailand continued to be victims of shootings and improvised explosive devices.
Saudi Arabia, Israel, India, Pakistan and Thailand will all soon be guests of the UK government after having been invited by the Department of Trade to the Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair which takes place this September in London.
By arming and supporting these regimes the government is making itself complicit in their crimes and abuses. Andrew Smith, Campaign Against Arms Trade
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “These shameful arms sales expose the moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy. These atrocities would not be possible without the weapons being provided by arms dealing governments like the UK.
“By arming and supporting these regimes the government is making itself complicit in their crimes and abuses. Particularly in Yemen, where UK-made fighter jets and bombs have helped to create the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
The arms companies don’t care how their weapons are used or who they are used against, all they care about is their profits. The weapons they are selling could be used in violations and abuses for years to come.”
Green MSP, Ross Greer, said: “The Westminster government has been found yet again to have the blood of children on its hands. We all know the brutal truth though – that the morally bankrupt charlatans in this Tory cabinet don’t give a damn about children in Yemen, Israel or anywhere else.
“The Conservatives are only interested in enriching their friends in the arms trade and empowering their friends in the world’s most brutal regimes. Only further court action will stop them. The Scottish Government on the other hand, who do possess a moral compass, urgently need to cut their ties with these same arms dealers.”
Mick Napier of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign said: “This report from the Secretary General to the UN Security Council confirms the February findings of UN refugee agency investigators that Israeli snipers have killed scores and injured and maimed almost 3,000 Palestinian children.
“Previous UN reports, endorsed by Amnesty and other human rights groups, over the last decade, have charged the Israel military with war crimes and crimes against humanity to no avail. Perhaps this new practice, deploying trained snipers to kill and maim from a distance large numbers of children who posed no threat to the soldiers, will lead to some governments imposing sanctions.”
Napier added: “When – as seems likely – our government continues to arm the snipers who commit such crimes, only an enraged public opinion will be able to stop this complicity.”
A UK Government spokesperson said: “The government takes its export control responsibilities very seriously. A licence will not be issued, to Saudi Arabia or any other destination, if to do so would be inconsistent with any provision of the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria.
“The UK operates one of the most robust export control regimes in the world and we keep our defence exports to Saudi Arabia under careful and continual review.”
The UN said that highest number of child casualties last year was in Afghanistan, with 3,062 recorded. In the Syrian Arab Republic, air strikes, barrel bombs and cluster munitions resulted in 1,854 child casualties. Al-Shabaab was condemned for recruiting 2,300 child soldiers in Somalia, some as young as eight-years-old.
Nigeria was in second place, with 1947 children recruited, including some used as suicide bombers. Boko Haram abducted 180 children, often for the purpose of recruitment, sexual abuse, forced marriage or for use as carriers of improvised explosive devices.
Somalia also had the highest verified figure for sexual violence against children, with 331 cases in 2018, followed by Congo with 277 cases. The UN secretary-general said, though, that cases remain significantly under-reported, particularly against boys because of stigma.
In total, 933 cases of sexual violence against children were verified.
Somalia had the highest number of child abductions last year – 1,609. The armed forces of Syria, Myanmar, and South Sudan were also listed, as was Al Qaeda and Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The Security Council has requested an annual list of those responsible for grave violations against children in armed conflict since 2001.
The UK embassies of Israel and Saudi Arabia did not reply to our requests for comments.
The Confederation of Friends of Israel, Scotland, also did not respond to our request for a comment.
This story was published in tandem with the Sunday National.