Sudan tops UN envoy’s concerns about children caught in conflicts, with Congo and Haiti next

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations envoy charged with reporting on violations against children in conflicts around the world said Thursday that first and foremost she is worried about what’s happening to youngsters in war-torn Sudan, followed by Congo and Haiti.

Virginia Gamba told a news conference officially launching the secretary-general’s annual report and U.N. blacklist of violators that she is also very worried about children caught in Myanmar’s civil war and the spillover into neighboring Bangladesh.

“For the future, on the horizon,” she said, “I’m worried about Somalia and Afghanistan.”

The report for the first time put both Israeli forces and Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants on the blacklist for violating children’s rights in 2023 during Hamas’ Oct. 7 surprise invasion of southern Israel and its massive military retaliation in Gaza that is ongoing.

The U.N. also kept the Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups on the blacklist for a second year over their killing and maiming of Ukrainian children and attacks on schools and hospitals in 2023.

Gamba said she remains very concerned about the plight of children in the wars in Ukraine and in Gaza, as well as in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

“But the ones that I’m really worried about for, let’s say, the rest of this year and beginning of next year, are first and foremost Sudan, particularly Darfur, and Chad because it is expanding,” she said.

Sudan plunged into conflict in mid-April 2023, when long-simmering tensions between its military and paramilitary leaders broke out in the capital Khartoum and spread to other regions including Darfur, which became synonymous with genocide and war crimes two decades ago. The U.N. says over 14,000 people have been killed and 33,000 injured.

Gamba said their “ferocious armed struggle” led to the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces being put on the blacklist for killing and maiming, raping and committing other acts of sexual violence, as well as attacking schools and hospitals. The Sudanese Armed Forces were listed for killing and injuring children and attacking schools and hospitals.

In Congo, the 13,500-strong U.N. peacekeeping force is in the process of withdrawing by the end of December, leaving rebel groups and government forces fighting in its mineral-rich east where security has deteriorated. Gamba said “massive sexual violence” against children is taking place and “is going to swell.”

The new report has Congo’s armed forces and 16 armed groups fighting in the country on the U.N. blacklist for violating children’s rights.

When the U.N. withdrawal is completed, Gamba said, “I lose my eyes.” Though monitoring of abuses will continue, it won’t be the same level of engagement, she said.

The violence in Haiti only became “a situation of concern” for her office in June 2023, Gamba said, so it only monitored violence against children for the last six months of that year. This meant Secretary-General Antonio Guterres didn’t have enough data to decide whether any parties should go on the blacklist.

Gangs have grown in power since the July 7, 2021, assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, and are now estimated to control up to 80% of the capital. The surge in killings, rapes and kidnappings has led to a violent uprising by civilian vigilante group s.

In the report, the U.N. chief expressed deep concern at the “indiscriminate armed gang violence and grave violations against children.” It says the U.N. verified 383 grave violations against 307 children in the last six months of 2023 — 160 boys, 117 girls and 30 whose sex wasn’t known — and it lists about a dozen gangs that were responsible for the violations.

Gamba said she is very concerned because grave violations of children’s rights seem to be “endemic, and particularly systemic (is) the rape of girls.”

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