By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - China, Russia, Pakistan and Azerbaijan abstained from a U.N. Security Council vote on children and armed conflict on Wednesday over concerns that the U.N. envoy on the issue can investigate any conflict, not just those before the council.
The remaining 11 members of the Security Council voted in favor of the resolution that laid out the mandate for Leila Zerrougui, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's special representative for children and armed conflict.
Zerrougui, an Algerian who recently replaced Radhika Coomaraswamy, works to promote and protect children's rights during armed conflicts and identifies countries and groups that kill, maim or rape children in conflicts, or recruit and use children as soldiers.
The four abstaining states argued that the work of the special envoy was restricted to conflicts before the council, and that this limit should have been more clearly reflected in the resolution.
"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 U.N. Security Council's agenda," said Russia's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Sergey Karev.
A report by Ban to the Security Council on children and armed conflict, based on the work of his envoy, covers conflicts in 23 countries, of which 16 are on the council agenda and seven are not - Colombia, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, the southern border provinces of Thailand and Yemen.
"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 U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong told the council.
"The international community should provide more support and help to Pakistan's effort to counter terrorism rather than creating difficulties and obstacles," he said.
Ban's report said that children in Pakistan were being used by armed groups allied to Islamist extremists to carry out in suicide attacks and were victims of indiscriminate attacks. It also said armed groups continued to target schools in bomb attacks.
Pakistan's U.N. Ambassador Raza Bashir Tarar described the report's section on Pakistan as "unwarranted and completely misleading." He said Pakistan would have voted against the resolution, but instead abstained to show a willingness to work with Zerrougui and a commitment to the issue.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said that during negotiations on the resolution, some countries proposed amendments "whose effect would have been unacceptably to constrain the role of the special representative."
"We could not accept the assertion made by some council members that (the former envoy Coomaraswamy) over-reached her mandate in the conduct of her business. That accusation is completely unfounded," Lyall Grant told the council.
New conflicts included in the U.N. report - which covers 2011 - were those in Syria and Libya, while those in Haiti and Burundi were removed. It accused 52 armed forces and groups of violating the rights of children. Ten of them were government forces, while the rest were non-state armed groups.
"The situation for children in Syria is dire," Zerrougui told the council on Wednesday.
"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," she said.
Zerrougui added that since the publication of the report, her office had received information about bomb attacks by opposition groups that have killed children, and that the Free Syrian Army "may have children associated with their forces."
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Xavier Briand)