UN removes Saudi-led coalition off child rights blacklist

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres took the Saudi-led coalition waging war on Yemen off a global list of parties whose actions have harmed children, several years after it was first named and shamed for killing and injuring children in Yemen.

The UN chief’s annual report to the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict released on Monday removed the coalition from a relatively new list of government forces and armed groups “that have put in place measures … aimed at improving the protection of children.”

The report was issued as the Saudi-led aggression launched an airstrike  struck a vehicle carrying civilians in northern Yemen on Monday, killing 13 people, including four children.

Amnesty International was the first human rights organization that denounced the decision of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to remove the Saudi coalition from the blacklist of entities that committed abuses against children.

The organization said in a statement on Monday night that excluding the countries waging war on Yemen from the blacklist questioned its mechanism.

Amnesty International did not find a justification for the decision, and alluded to the United Nations yielding to pressure from the countries of coalition, saying “Perhaps Guterres was hoping that the media would be busy and that no one noticed this political move with distinction.”

The Saudi-led military coalition has officially been on the blacklist for the past three years.

It had been briefly added to the blacklist in 2016 and then removed by former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pending review. At the time, Ban accused Saudi Arabia of exerting “unacceptable” undue pressure after sources told Reuters that Riyadh threatened to cut some UN funding. Saudi Arabia denied threatening Ban.

When asked if the UN had come under any pressure to remove the Saudi-led coalition from the list this year, the UN envoy for children and armed conflict, Virginia Gamba, told reporters: “I can answer that very, very clearly – absolutely not.”

The UN report does not subject those listed to action but rather shames parties to conflicts in the hope of pushing them to implement measures to protect children. It has long been controversial with diplomats saying Saudi Arabia and Israel both exerted pressure in recent years in a bid to stay off the list.