12 March 2018

Africa: The Politicization of Humanitarian Aid Through Budget Cuts

United Nations — Ahead of the pending 'list of shame,' the Secretary-General's Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflicts, child protection actors share concerns about the politicization of humanitarian aid putting child protection capacities at a disadvantage.

UNICEF described 2017 a "nightmare year" for children living in war-affected regions.

Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba stated the progress made last year was outweighed by the "extremely worrisome situation" for children exposed to escalations of violence and denials of humanitarian aid.

"States don't want to be on the same list as terrorist groups so they'll do anything to stay off those lists. Blackmail is the most blatant example of politicization of humanitarian aid," Dragica Mikavica, Advocacy Officer for Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, told IPS.

Saudi Arabia was the most recent publicized example of blackmail when former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon removed the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen from the U.N. blacklist because its supporters threatened to cut U.N. funding. Saudi Arabia denied the allegations.

To deepen Saudi Arabia's commitment to protecting children, current Secretary-General António Guterres added the Saudi-led Coalition to the annexes again -- for killing and injuring 683 children in Yemen and 38 attacks on schools and hospitals in 2016, all incidents verified by the United Nations.

Though, according to Watchlist's recommendations for the 2018 Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict, this year's report draws a line between parties "that have put in place measures during the reporting period aimed at improving the protection of children" and parties who haven't.

It's a ploy to still list but concurrently appease Saudi Arabia.

"They're on the list but there is a list A and list B. On list A are parties that have not taken any measures to protect children and list B is for parties that have taken "positive measures." The Saudis went straight to B because they are taking positive measures although none of us know what these measures are," said Dragica Mikavica.

Child protection actors like Watchlist and Human Rights Watch now demand more transparent updates on the criteria for these lists. "Of course this is in the spirit of trying to be more proactive about efficiency in peacekeeping, it's just gone under the radar that U.N. agendas have been undermined as a result."

Mikavica presumes a much more substantial danger for agendas being eroded from below, "Member states essentially use budget negotiations to undermine agendas at the U.N."

While some contributions are treaty-based and therefore compulsory, the United States provides 22 percent of the United Nations' operating budget and around 28 percent for peacekeeping.

When the U.S. government pressed to cut financial assistance to member states that vote in favor of the U.N.'s calling for the U.S. to withdraw from its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, they eventually secured a $285 million cut.

The 2015 report of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations previously pointed out that "too often, mandates and missions are produced on the basis of templates instead of tailored to support situation-specific political strategies, and technical and military approaches come at the expense of strengthened political efforts."

Political agendas threaten peacekeeping's principle of aid neutrality.

Negotiations within the United Nation's budget committee recommended the General Assembly to adopt a $5.3 billion budget for the 2018/2019 biennium, five percent less than the budget approved for the previous biennium.

According to UNA-UK, the $5 billion budget saves member states around one billion dollars, but it's a

reduction that small missions would not save enough. Resources of large missions need to be drastically reduced, putting particularly child protection capacities at risk, notably in the war-affected regions of South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic.

Last year's budget negotiations for MINUSCA, the mandate in the Central African Republic, suggested cutting off human rights posts of which 90 were intended for child protection.

In 2016, the number of child casualties in the Congo had increased by 75 percent compared to the previous year. One of the UN's most complex missions, the Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), will see a budget reduction of $96 million; however, the budget was reduced by much less than the United States had initially demanded.

As of August 2017, due to the lack of access to medical aid and excessive rates of malnutrition among children, over one million South Sudanese have fled to Uganda alone. The 1.0 percent budget cut to UNMISS, the U.N. Mission in South Sudan, came after a significant budget increase request and meant a fall by 10 percent to the number the U.N. projects the Mission will need.

These consequences fundamentally affect the security of children because of their unique vulnerability and exposure to exploitation and violence. "Rapidly shrinking place for the protection of children is given," Dragica Mikavica concluded.


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