Saudi border guards stand inside a building which was reportedly hit in shelling by Yemeni Huthi rebels in the al-Khobh area in the southern Jizan province, near the border with Yemen on October 3, 2017. In March 2015, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched an air campaign against Shiite Huthi rebels and their allies in Yemen in support of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi. / AFP PHOTO / Fayez Nureldine
The Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen was Thursday placed on a UN blacklist for killing and maiming children, drawing fresh calls from rights groups to step up pressure on Riyadh over the conflict.
The group was briefly included on the annual list of shame last year before a threat by Saudi Arabia to cut off its funding to UN programs forced a reversal.
In announcing the move, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted that the coalition had taken some measures to improve the protection of children.
“In Yemen, the actions of the coalition to restore legitimacy in Yemen objectively led to that party being listed for the killing and maiming of children,” said a report released along with the list as an annex.
In 2016, the coalition was responsible for 683 child casualties and for 38 verified attacks on schools and hospitals, it said.
Yemen’s government forces, pro-government militias, the Huthi rebels and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) were also cited for violations, but in a separate section of the list that said they had failed to protect children.
Guterres spoke to Saudi King Salman ahead of the release of the list, which UN officials had shared with Riyadh months earlier to avoid a repeat of the clash that followed the blacklisting by his predecessor Ban Ki-moon last year.
Ban removed the coalition from the list and publicly complained that it was unacceptable for countries to “exert undue pressure” on the United Nations to avoid scrutiny.
Saudi Arabia denied that it had pressured Ban and has since insisted that the coalition is respecting its obligations under international humanitarian law.
Saudi Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi is scheduled to hold a news conference at the United Nations on Friday.
In a statement, Guterres stressed that the blacklist was “not only to raise awareness” but also to “promote measures that can diminish the tragic plight of children in conflict.”
The UN chief said he was encouraged that some governments were taking steps to spare children from the horrors of conflict and voiced hope that “more will follow.”
Suspend Saudi weapon sales
The report and the list were on Thursday sent to the Security Council, which includes countries such as the United States, Britain and France that support the coalition in its war against Iran-backed Huthi rebels.
Human Rights Watch applauded the decision to include the coalition on the list but disputed the view that the military was taking measures to protect children.
“The coalition needs to stop making empty promises to exercise caution, take concrete action to stop these deadly unlawful attacks in Yemen, and allow desperately needed fuel and aid to reach those in need,” said Jo Becker, HRW’s children’s rights advocate.
“Until this happens, governments should suspend all Saudi weapons sales,” she said.
The report said the coalition was responsible for 683 of the total 1,340 child casualties last year in Yemen and for 73 percent of the 52 attacks on schools and hospitals.
The council will hold a debate on the report on October 31.
Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog, who leads the council’s committee on children and armed conflict, backed Guterres’ efforts to engage with Riyadh on the next steps and said the list should serve to “promote change.”
The Saudi-led Arab military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 to support the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi after the Huthis forced him into exile.
The United Nations has listed Yemen as the world’s number one humanitarian crisis, with seven million Yemenis on the brink of famine and cholera causing more than 2,000 deaths.