UN on defensive after backing down to Saudi Arabia over children rights report

by WorldTribune Staff, June 8, 2016

Rights groups are blasting the UN’s decision to remove Saudi Arabia from a blacklist of nations accused of harming children in armed conflict.

“It appears that political power and diplomatic clout have been allowed to trump the UN’s duty to expose those responsible for the killing and maiming of more than 1,000 of Yemen’s children,” Sajjad Mohammad Sajid, Oxfam’s country director in Yemen, said in a statement.

Nearly a third of the more than 3,000 civilians killed in Yemen's war have been children, according to the UN. /EPA
Nearly a third of the more than 3,000 civilians killed in Yemen’s war have been children, according to the UN. /EPA

“The decision to retract its finding is a moral failure and goes against everything the UN is meant to stand for.”

Riyadh was enraged and threatened to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance to UN humanitarian relief and counterterrorism programs after Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon included the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen on a list of countries, rebel movements, and terrorist organizations that killed, maimed, or otherwise abused children in conflict.

The 40-page report issued last week said the coalition was responsible for about 60 percent of 1,953 child deaths and injuries in Yemen since last year.

Ban issued a statement June 6 saying he would remove the Saudi-led coalition from the list, pending a review by a joint UN-Saudi panel.

Saudi diplomats reportedly told top UN officials that Riyadh “would use its influence” to convince other Arab governments and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to sever ties with the United Nations. The threats were said to have been issued in a series of exchanges between top Saudi officials in Riyadh, including Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, according to UN-based officials.

Rights groups say the UN’s folding under Saudi pressure is another in a long line of capitulations to countries who have their human rights records challenged.

In March, Morocco expelled 84 international staffers from a UN peacekeeping mission in the disputed Western Sahara region after Ban characterized the territory as “occupied.”

Last year, the United States warned that Congress would consider cutting off funding to the UN if it included Israel on the same blacklist of armed entities that killed or injured children in conflict, according to two U.N. diplomatic officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. In that case, Ban removed Israel from a draft blacklist before it was made public.

Saudi Arabia’s UN ambassador, Abdallah al-Mouallimi, said it was unfair for Israel to be let off the hook while the Saudi’s initially were not.

“We have to ask the question: Why was Israel removed from the list last year?” Mouallimi said. “Israel has been guilty of crimes against children that are far in excess of even the inaccurate numbers that report contains about Yemen.”

Later, Mouallimi praised Ban for reversing his position.

Taking Riyadh off the list “clearly vindicates” the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, he told reporters. The UN decision, he insisted, is “irreversible and unconditional.”

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