1. What is UNICEF’s humanitarian role during armed conflict?
  2. What are the universal humanitarian principles that guide UNICEF’s operations and advocacy?
  3. Does UNICEF’s commitment to neutrality and other humanitarian principles prevent it from speaking up against violations of children’s rights?
  4. Has UNICEF spoken out on the violations committed against children in Israel and Gaza?
  5. How does UNICEF operate in Israel?
  6. How does UNICEF operate in Gaza?
  7. What is UNICEF’s humanitarian role within the wider United Nations system?
  8. What is UNICEF calling for?

1. What is UNICEF’s humanitarian role during armed conflict? 

UNICEF’s humanitarian mandate is to help alleviate the suffering of children, no matter who they are or where they live.   In certain situations, when resources are readily available to meet children’s needs during an emergency, we do this by offering guidance and support to decision-makers on the ground. In others, we mobilize UNICEF staff and supplies, in collaboration with governments and partners, to provide direct assistance.  UNICEF aims to deliver critical aid to children caught in crisis, as set forth in international humanitarian and human rights law, including the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. Ratified by nearly every country, the convention underpins UNICEF’s work in any context. In armed conflicts, it complements the universal principles that guide our humanitarian operations and advocacy.  UNICEF has been operating impartially and neutrally since 1946. Then, our mandate was to reach children on all sides of the war, regardless of the role their country played in fighting. Today, that mission remains the same. Impartial by procedure, we’re never neutral when it comes to aiding children in need.  

2. What are the universal humanitarian principles that guide UNICEF’s operations and advocacy?

As an operational humanitarian organization, UNICEF holds itself accountable to the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. We aim to uphold these universal principles in every context, by action and by word.

  • Humanity: Human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found. The purpose of humanitarian action is to save lives, protect health and ensure respect for human beings. UNICEF seeks to assist and protect every vulnerable child, treating each with dignity and respect. 
  • Impartiality: UNICEF allocates and delivers assistance based on needs and without discrimination for nationality, ethnicity, race, age, sex, language, disability, religious belief, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinions or other. 
  • Neutrality: UNICEF refrains from engaging in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature, and does not take sides in hostilities.  
  • Independence: Humanitarian action must be autonomous from the political, economic, military or other objectives that any actor may hold with regard to areas where humanitarian action is implemented. UNICEF is independent of political, economic, military, security or other objectives.  

Humanitarian principles are critical to fulfill our United Nations mandate. They guide UNICEF’s programmatic and operational decisions, while earning frontline workers the trust of the communities we seek to serve. In dangerous environments – and especially during armed conflict – the security of humanitarian workers depends on the acceptance of those involved in fighting. We cannot reach children without this. 

Our humanitarian policies and advocacy follow the same principles. UNICEF is mandated to promote and protect the rights of all children, guided primarily by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols, as well as international humanitarian law. Humanitarian advocacy includes promoting adherence to international and regional legal norms, standards and principles.  

UNICEF’s commitment to humanitarian principles has kept us operational in complex situations since our founding. Today, we’re on the ground in over 190 countries. Neutral and impartial, we’re never indifferent when it comes to caring for children.

3. Does UNICEF’s commitment to neutrality and other humanitarian principles prevent it from speaking up against violations of children’s rights? 

No. UNICEF will continue to speak out against violations of children’s rights, including grave violations committed against children on every side of violence. Our mandate is to conduct humanitarian advocacy for sustained, unimpeded access to all children in need, and to do so in line with humanitarian principles. How and where we speak out is determined by risk assessments that prioritize the ability of humanitarian workers and emergency supplies to reach children caught in conflict.  

Children bear no responsibility for war. We persist in pressing world leaders on every occasion to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, which afford children special protections in any circumstance.

4. Has UNICEF spoken out on the violations committed against children in Israel and Gaza? 

Yes. In public and behind closed doors, UNICEF has spoken out on the violations committed against children in Israel and Gaza unequivocally, consistently and since the earliest days.

Even wars have rules. The killing and maiming of children is a grave violation condemned by the United Nations Security Council. Attacks on schools and hospitals are grave violations. The abduction of children – as an intentional act of violence or retaliation, to instill fear among populations, to sexually abuse children, and in absolutely any other circumstance – is a grave violation. The denial of humanitarian access to children is a grave violation.   

We condemn every violation committed against children throughout this crisis: Armed conflict inflicts the most severe and heinous harm on them. Deprived of fundamental human rights, children living through war are also exposed to unconscionable forms of violence, including sexual violence – a grave violation – unlawful arrest, and detention.   

We appeal to world leaders, from the start of this catastrophe through today: Children on every side of fighting must be protected from further suffering. In any circumstance, at all times, they must not come under attack.  

Public statements on violations against children in Gaza 

From the earliest days of escalating hostilities in the Gaza Strip, UNICEF has unequivocally called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. Like many others, we have pleaded for the killing of children to stop. Like many others, we have pleaded for an end to the bombardment of schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure. Like many others, we have pleaded for the opening of all access crossings into the Gaza Strip, and for the safe, unimpeded movement of humanitarian workers and supplies across Gaza.  

But today, the Gaza Strip is the most dangerous place in the world to be a child. And when fighting ends, it will likely remain that way – with the heaviest concentration of unexploded ordnance expected on the planet.  

Public statements on violations against children in Israel   

UNICEF calls for the immediate, safe and unconditional release of all Israeli and foreign hostages being held captive in Gaza – children, women and men. Hostage-taking is a war crime, prohibited by international humanitarian law in all circumstances. Every hostage must be released immediately and safely. Release must not be made conditional on any other demand.   

UNICEF has publicly pressed for the release of hostages since 9 October and will continue to do so through private advocacy and public statements. As of 4 December, UNICEF has called for the release of abducted Israeli children in over 100 public statements, remarks and interviews with press, as well as across social media. We have reiterated these demands at the Security Council, imploring the adoption of a resolution that includes the release of all abducted children.

UNICEF senior officials have also travelled to Gaza, the West Bank and Israel to meet with the families of victims and press for humanitarian action for child survivors of all violations.   

For more information on UNICEF’s work to help protect children during humanitarian crises, read on.

5. How does UNICEF operate in Israel?

In high-income countries such as Israel, Governments generally have adequate capacity to respond to emergencies. Upon request from the Government, UNICEF can extend support, such as mental health and psychosocial support for children. 

In over 30 countries where UNICEF does not perform programmatic activities, National Committees for UNICEF serve as our dedicated voice, helping to raise funds for UNICEF’s work worldwide, to promote children’s rights, and to lift visibility for children threatened by poverty, disasters, armed conflict, abuse and exploitation. The Israeli Fund for UNICEF was established in 2009 to raise awareness of children’s rights in Israel and fundraise for UNICEF’s life-saving work across the world.

6. How does UNICEF operate in Gaza?

UNICEF has been supporting Palestinian children in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since the early 1980’s. Following the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, UNICEF appointed its first Special Representative to serve Palestinian children.

With staff in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, we work to fulfil children’s rights and provide them with critical services and care. Our teams help keep children connected to water and sanitation, education, health care and protection services, while supporting social policy programmes that shield children from the lifelong consequences of poverty and exclusion.  

Learn more about UNICEF’s humanitarian response in Gaza here.

7. What is UNICEF’s humanitarian role within the wider United Nations system?

The United Nations was founded in the aftermath of World War II to bolster international peace and security and promote fundamental human rights. By mandate from the United Nations General Assembly, UNICEF works to protect the rights of children, in times of peace or crisis.  

Our duty to protect underlies all others during armed conflict: UNICEF carries out emergency relief efforts, in coordination with United Nations partners and other humanitarian actors, to address children’s life-saving needs and help alleviate suffering. While this action reinforces that of other UN bodies – including those fulfilling mandates in peace, security and the rule of law – its central purpose remains the delivery of protective care. UNICEF stands with the United Nations Secretary-General, and our entire UN family, in support of all efforts to end conflict. On every side of violence, and in every way, it’s children who suffer first and foremost.

8. What is UNICEF calling for?

UNICEF appeals for world leaders to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law to protect children suffering through this unprecedented catastrophe. Children need a humanitarian ceasefire now. UNICEF continues to call for unrestricted access for aid to move across Gaza and for the safe release of all hostages. See all our calls for action here.