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UN split over investigations into children in conflict

Four UN Security Council members have refused to back a German-drafted resolution condemning the abuse of children in conflict. It came as a UN envoy decried the Syrian regime and rebels for attacks targeting children.

A boy looks back while he and another boy play on a Syrian military tank, (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

Syrien Alltag Kinder

China, Russia, Pakistan and Azerbaijan abstained from the normally routine UN Security Council vote on children and armed conflict on Wednesday in an apparent effort to restrict investigations conducted by the newly appointed UN special envoy to children.

The resolution set out a mandate for Leila Zerrougui, which the four nations said would allow her to investigate conflicts which are not listed on the Security Council agenda.

"The sphere of activities [of the special envoy] does not cover all issues of protecting children in armed conflict, but only those situations that are on UN Security Council's agenda," said Russia's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Sergey Karev.

Their objections followed a recent report compiled by the former special envoy Radhika Coomaraswamy which detailed abuse of children's rights in conflict regions including attacks on children and the use of child soldiers. Seven of the 23 nations listed are not on the council agenda and details regarding the use of children for suicide attacks in Pakistan were met with fierce objections.

"The mandate of the Security Council resolution cannot be wilfully interpreted to equalize the incidents of terrorist attacks in Pakistan to armed conflict," China's UN Ambassador Li Baodong told the council on Wednesday.

Eleven members of the Security Council voted in favor of the German-drafted resolution, condemning the action taken by the remaining four.

The bodies of people whom anti-government protesters say were killed by government security forces lie on the ground in Huola, near Homs May 26, 2012. (REUTERS/Shaam News Network/Handout)

In Houla at least 105 people, many of them children, were allegedly killed by Syrian militia in May

"We regret that some members chose not to support that resolution," said Germany's UN ambassador Peter Wittig. He said his country would not compromise on watering down the reporting of violations against children, commenting: "That would have been irresponsible."

'Dire' crisis in Syria

Newly listed in the UN report, which covered 2011, were the conflicts in Syria and Libya. Zerrougui told the council that UN investigators had found evidence that 52 armed forces and groups were violating the rights of children. Ten of those were government forces, while the rest were armed opposition groups.

"The situation for children in Syria is dire," Zerrougui told the council meeting.

"My staff and other United Nations colleagues have documented government attacks on schools, children denied access to hospitals, girls and boys suffering and dying in bombardments of their neighborhoods, and also being subject to torture, including sexual violence, sometimes for weeks."

UN investigations are ongoing and since the publication of the report, Zerrougui said her office had received information about bomb attacks by opposition groups that have killed children. She said it continued to document incidents by armed forces, including the Free Syrian Army, who "may have children associated with their forces."

On the ground in Syria, violence escalated on Thursday. Rebel fighters shot down a helicopter in Damascus according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, with rebels declaring sections of the capital a "disaster zone."

ccp/sej (AFP, Reuters)