Singling Out Israel While Whitewashing Terrorism: Watchlist’s 2018 Policy Note
- In March 2018, the NGO umbrella group known as Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict (Watchlist) published a Policy Note urging the UN Secretary General to add Israel, Myanmar, and others to a list of “grave violators” of children’s rights. Terror groups, including Hamas and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), are not mentioned in Watchlist’s publication.
- Watchlist’s methodology fails to meet basic requirements for human rights reports, instead claiming to rely on “all publicly available reports related to grave violations against children in 25 relevant country situations in 2017.” There is no information on how the credibility of these reports are evaluated, if at all, and on criteria for including or excluding sources.
- Many of the NGO participants have a history of bias against Israel, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), which coordinates this particular campaign.
- In the section on Israel, Watchlist relies almost exclusively on a Palestinian NGO, Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P) – a group with no credibility that fails to meet Watchlist’s own source requirements of “reputable international nongovernmental organization.” DCI-P has close links to the PFLP – designated as a terrorist organization by the US, EU, Canada, and Israel. Numerous DCI-P staff and board members are hailed by the PFLP as “comrades” and/or “leaders.”
- In its analysis of alleged Israeli grave violations, Watchlist claims that 13 minors (some of whom while in the process of carrying out terror attacks) were killed by Israeli forces in 2017, listing this under the grave violation of “killing and maiming.” In comparison, Watchlist lists “533 verified child casualties” in Syria, “several hundred Rohuungya villagers” (including children) in Myanmar, at least 64 children killed in the Congo. Despite the gross disparity, the IDF gets far more attention in the Watchlist Policy Note than any other country or army/armed group.
In March 2018, the NGO umbrella group known as Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict (Watchlist) published a Policy Note urging the UN Secretary General to add Israel, Myanmar, and others to a list of “grave violators” against children. Notably, terror groups that routinely commit “grave violations,” including Hamas and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), are not mentioned.
The UN Secretary-General compiles and publishes a list, in the form of an annex to his annual report on Children and Armed Conflict, of the worst state and non-state violators of children’s rights. Grave “triggering” violations include attacks on schools and hospitals, killing and maiming, recruitment and use of child soldiers, sexual assault, and/or abduction of children. Being listed in the Annex can result in Security Council sanctions.
NGO Monitor’s report “UNICEF and its NGO Working Group” details the leading role of UNICEF’s partner NGOs in the campaign to list Israel in the Annex, in sharp contrast to accurate and neutral reporting. Watchlist’s Policy Note confirms NGO Monitor’s research regarding the working methods and aims of UNICEF’s NGO Working Group.
Founded in 2001, Watchlist is an organization dedicated to improving “monitoring and reporting on violations against children at war.” Watchlist’s “programmatic content is set by an Advisory Board composed of seven international NGOs. Its network further includes five Associate Member organizations.” These groups include Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Terre des Hommes International, War Child International, Child Soldiers International, The Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, Geneva Call, Child Fund Alliance, and World Vision International. (Save the Children was a long-time member of Watchlist, but is not currently listed on the website. However, there are indications that they continue to partner.)
Watchlist Advisory Board members Terre des Hommes, War Child, World Vision, and Save the Children, are all members of UNICEF OPT’s NGO Working Group. Additionally, NRC is one of the lead coordinators of UN-NGO activity in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
HRW takes a lead among these NGOs, with Jo Becker, advocacy director of the children’s rights division at HRW, serving as chair of Watchlist’s Advisory Board on behalf of HRW. An HRW official was the featured speaker at the press conference to launch the Policy Note, and the campaign’s tagline (“ensure a credible list”) parallels the language from HRW lobbying for Israel’s inclusion in 2015 (“ensure consistency” and “ensure integrity”).
Watchlist’s funders include the governments of Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland, the UK, and the US, and Watchlist’s “fiscal sponsor” is the Tides Center.
ANALYSIS OF REPORT
Lack of Methodology
Watchlist’s Policy Note does not include independent research or verification methodology. Instead, according to the publication, “Watchlist conducted a systematic desk review of all publicly available reports related to grave violations against children in 25 relevant country situations in 2017.” This fundamentally flawed methodology is reflected throughout the Policy Note:
- Watchlist’s criteria for recommending parties to the Secretariat-General Annex is deliberately misleading. It states that its “method to arrive at a recommendation for listing is derived from the Secretary-General’s 2017 annual report…Watchlist examined the minimum number of verified cases quoted by the Secretary General for any party listed in the annexes, and for each of the five trigger violations,” and used this as its “threshold.” Accordingly, Watchlist recommends listing Israel because the alleged number of “killing and maiming” of Palestinian children (13) is above this invented threshold.
However, the vast majority of the parties were listed prior to the Secretary-General’s 2017 report and are included on an ongoing basis to monitor the situations. Therefore, the number of grave violations in the past year is irrelevant for establishing a lower threshold for inclusion.
Moreover, unlike Watchlist’s recommendation for Israel, no party in the 2017 Annex was listed solely for “killing and maiming.” Rather, parties are included for “recruitment and use” (the original “grave violation” when the Annex was established) or for committing multiple types of “grave violations” (almost always alongside “recruitment and use”).
The closest parallel is the “coalition to restore legitimacy in Yemen led by Saudi Arabia,” which was first listed by the Secretary-General in 2017 for “killing and maiming” and “attacks on schools and/or hospitals.” Yet, in sharp contrast to the numbers presented by Watchlist about Israel, coalition forces were accused of causing 683 of 1,340 child casualties (paragraph 190) and 38 of 52 attacks on schools and hospitals.
- Watchlist’s approach allows for significant biases to infect the publication, such as under-reporting of particular actors and an ideological obsession with Israel. In addition, non-credible claims from other NGO publications or from UN reports based on NGO publications are simply recycled.
- Watchlist states that its sources for information include the “Secretary-General’s 2017 annual report on children and armed conflict; reports by UN agencies and treaty bodies, as well as Member State governments; and reputable international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs).” There are no criteria for how these “publicly available sources” of information are selected for review, how contradictory reports are dealt with, or the process by which some sources are ignored or rejected.
- In the section on Israel, Watchlist relies almost exclusively on a Palestinian NGO, Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P) – a group that does not fit any of the categories noted in the previous point. DCI-P has close links to the PFLP– designated as a terrorist organization by the US, EU, Canada, and Israel. Numerous DCI-P staff and board members are hailed by the PFLP as “comrades” and/or “leaders.” These terror ties should have disqualified any so-called evidence reported by the NGO.
In 2017, NGO Monitor contacted HRW’s Jo Becker to clarify the methodology of the Watchlist report. Our request was ignored.
Targeting Israel – With No Evidence
The section on Israel reflects Watchlist’s contrived methodology, an incorrect application of law, and ignorance of the applicable law in Jerusalem (discussed below). Watchlist claims that 13 minors were killed by Israeli forces during 2017, listing this under the grave violation of “killing and maiming.” In comparison, Watchlist lists “533 verified child casualties” in Syria, “several hundred Rohuungya villagers” (including children) in Myanmar, at least 64 children killed in the Congo, and 60 children killed in the Phillipines under this same category of “grave violation.” Despite the gross disparity, the IDF gets far more attention in the Watchlist Policy Note than any other country or army/armed group.
|Army/Armed Group (Country)||Number of Paragraphs in Watchlist Report|
|State Security Forces (Myanmar)||5|
|Police nationale congolaise (PNC) (Democratic Republic of Congo)||2|
|FPRC in coalition with the Mouvement patriotique pour la Centrafrique (MPC), Union pour la paix en Centrafrique (UPC) (Central African Republic)||2|
|Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (South Sudan)||1|
- Watchlist acknowledges that at least 2 of 13 were carrying out terror attacks at the time, and there is no discussion of the circumstances of the other 11 deaths though almost all were engaged in violence with Israeli police and/or military. Watchlist fails to note that an additional 2 minors were involved in stabbings –meaning that at least 4 of the 13 Palestinian children killed were taking part in violent actions, and should instead be noted under the grave violation of Palestinian recruitment and use of child soldiers. Additionally, at least 5 minors were involved in “confrontations” with Israeli forces, including throwing firebombs and chasing military vehicles. Again, these minors should have instead been noted under “recruitment and use” of child soldiers by Palestinian factions.
- There is a fundamental distinction, both legally and morally, between deliberately targeting innocent children, children tragically caught in the crossfire while others are committing violent acts, and children coming to harm as a result of their own engaging in violence and abuse. This principle of “proportionality” is highlighted in the Children and Armed Conflict working paper “The Six Grave Violations Against Children During Armed Conflict: The Legal Foundation,” which states that “The principle of proportionality prohibits military attacks if they result in civilian death or injury, or damage to civilian objects that is excessive when compared to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the attack.” Watchlist immorally obscures these fundamental differences to create a false portrait of IDF malice.
- Reflecting the centrality of demonizing Israel, Watchlist includes statistics regarding the number of adults injured in clashes with the IDF alongside its account of minors.
- For 11 of the 13 accounts of minors killed, Watchlist almost exclusively relies on the Palestinian NGO Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P). As stated above, DCI-P has close links to the PFLP terror group and should not be used as source of information on any issues, especially those concerning children.
Promotion of Impunity for Palestinian Terror Groups
In contrast to its 2017 Policy Note, the 2018 Watchlist publication does not include a section on the PFLP or the Al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas), despite numerous of incidents it could have discussed. As such, Watchlist does not recommend listing Hamas and the PFLP, terror groups that have long exploited children – including by recruitment and use – despite the myriad of evidence available publicly and even presented in Watchlist’s previous publications.
Perhaps the failure to document or recommend listing for the PFLP stems from the membership of several PFLP-linked NGOs on UNICEF’s NGO Working Group, including DCI-P, alongside members of Watchlist’s Advisory Board.
Definition of “Armed Conflict” and Application to Jerusalem
The Secretary-General’s list is based on UN Security Council Resolution 1612 (2005) that calls for the protection of children from six “grave violations” in “armed conflict,” and is focused on four main themes:
- Condemning the recruitment of children as combatants in armed conflict;1
- Condemning the intentional targeting of children in the course of armed conflict;2
- Preventing the proliferation of small arms;3
- Ending the impunity of parties to armed conflicts who commit breaches of international law.4
The language of UNSCR 1612 is clear that not every death of a child in the course of armed conflict is to be the subject of the reporting and monitoring mechanism or the Secretary-General’s listings. Moreover, it is important to note that international humanitarian law (IHL) does not grant special status to children; therefore, teens who are members of armed groups or are civilians directly participating in hostilities can be legally targeted under IHL (provided the rules of proportionality are observed). The correct focus called for by Resolution 1612 and the Secretary-General’s list is identifying instances when children, who were not a legitimate military target, were directly targeted.5 The Watchlist Policy Note ignores these fundamental requirements.
Another flaw in the publication is its reliance on several incidents that took place in Jerusalem. Regardless of whether the international community accepts Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, the Israeli Government applies Israeli Law to Jerusalem (both East and West). As such, the law enforcement personnel who are deployed there are all members of the Israeli Police Force and not IDF personnel. IDF personnel, under Israeli law, have almost no jurisdiction to conduct law enforcement activities within the areas where Israel applies its own domestic law. Thus, even if the evidence regarding incidents mentioned by Watchlist pointed to illegal actions, they were not carried out by the IDF and fall outside the scope of Resolution 1612.
- UNSCR 1612 opening paragraph and paragraph 13; UNSCR 1379 paragraph 8(a); UNSCR 1460 paragraphs 3,4 and 5;UNSCR 1539 paragraphs 1 and 6;
- UNSCR 1612 paragraph 2; UNSCR 1314 paragraph 1;
- UNSCR 1612 paragraph14; UNSCR 1314 paragraph 8; UNSCR 1379 paragraph 6; UNSCR 1460 paragraph 7; UNSCR 1539 paragraph 3;
- UNSCR 1612 paragraph 3; UNSCR 1314 paragraph 2; UNSCR 1379 paragraph 9(a);UNSCR 1460 opening paragraphs; UNSCR 1539 opening paragraphs
- Article 7(2) of the Rome Statute defines an illegitimate attack as “Attack directed against any civilian population”, meaning a course of conduct involving the multiple commission of acts referred to in paragraph 1 against any civilian population, pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to commit such attack.