The UN published last week a blacklist naming the world’s worst violators of children’s rights. Amongst the offenders was a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states, which has conducted airstrikes against rebel Houthi forces in Yemen since March 2015. Just three days after publication, UN officials suddenly removed the coalition from the list, which had held Saudi Arabia and its allies responsible for 60% of child casualties in the past year of Yemen’s devastating conflict – a number that included 510 children killed and 667 wounded.
Exactly what happened in those three days remains shady. Diplomatic sources told the Guardian that Saudi diplomats pressured UN chief Ban Ki-Moon’s office with “blackmail” and threats to sever millions of dollars of funding for UN-run Palestinian relief programs. One source even claimed Saudi clerics were considering issuing a fatwa – a legal opinion in Islamic law – declaring the UN “anti-Muslim.”
Human rights groups are fuming over the sudden reversal. “Allowing governments that commit abuses against children to bully their way off the list makes a mockery of the UN’s children protection efforts,” said Human Rights Watch children right’s director Jo Becker in a statement. US-based group Amnesty International pointed out that the UN’s revision of its own blacklist is “unprecedented.”
Still, Saudi envoy to the UN Abdullah al-Mouallimi maintains his country's coalition does not belong on the blacklist. The child casualties were “wildly exaggerated,” he told reporters. “We were wrongly placed on the list.”
Children continue to bear much of the brunt of Yemen’s ongoing conflict. UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, reports child soldiers as young as 10 taking part in combat, while over 900 children have been killed in the past year alone. Another 10,000 have died from preventable diseases since last year, and 320,000 more face acute malnutrition, according to the UN.
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