Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1300, (16 - 22 June 2016)
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1300, (16 - 22 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Pressure on UN over Yemen war report backfires

In a first, the UN secretary-general has publicly admitted coming under pressure and removing the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen from a blacklist of children’s rights violators

Al-Ahram Weekly

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was forced to remove mention of the Saudi-led coalition spearheading a war in Yemen for over a year from a report issued by the international body on states and groups engaged in grave violations against children in Yemen.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Ban Ki-moon said he bowed to pressure. But he didn’t do it quietly.

“My latest report on children and armed conflict has documented the harrowing situation of Yemen’s children,” he said Thursday. His described his decision to remove Saudi-led coalition countries from the report’s annex as “temporary” and as “one of the most painful and difficult” decisions he has had to make.

“The report describes horrors no child should have to face,” the UN secretary-general said. He explained that he was forced to omit any reference to the Saudi-led coalition because, in his own words, if he hadn’t it would have resulted in a “de-fund” of “many UN programmes” by “countries” he did not name and that would have ultimately caused millions of children to suffer.

He described the pressure exerted by “member states” as “unacceptable”.

This year’s annual “Children and Armed Conflict” report covers January to December 2015 and provides information on grave violations committed against children in that period.

The annexes to the report include a list of parties that engage in these violations, including the killing and maiming of children and attacks on schools and hospitals. It refers to the situation in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and South Sudan but put special focus on the “particularly worrisome” escalation of conflict in Yemen.

The UN secretary-general fell short of naming Saudi Arabia as the main culprit, but the feud that has emerged between the two since Ban Ki-moon’s statement placed both in a bad light.

“If Ban Ki-moon lets Saudi money silence him what credibility does the UN have when it does speak?” Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch, commented on Twitter.

Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the UN, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, denied the accusations, arguing, “It is not in our style, it is not in our genes, it is not in our culture, to use threats and intimidation.” He added: “We did not exercise pressure or intimidation. We made our point clear; we made it firmly.”

Saudi Arabia is among the 10 largest donors supporting international humanitarian assistance. In February, it donated $59 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Over the past three years, it has become the agency’s third-largest donor, contributing $500 million to date.

According to Reuters, citing diplomatic sources, Ban Ki-moon’s office was bombarded with calls from Gulf Arab foreign ministers, as well as ministers from Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries, after the blacklisting was announced. The source said there was also a threat of “clerics in Riyadh meeting to issue a fatwa against the UN, declaring it anti-Muslim, which would mean no contacts of OIC members, no relations, contributions, support, to any UN projects, programmes.”

Amnesty International described Ban Ki-moon’s stance as shameful, placing the credibility of the UN on the line.

“It is unprecedented for the UN to bow to pressure to alter its own published report on children in armed conflict. It is unconscionable that this pressure was brought to bear by one of the very states listed in the report,” said Richard Bennett, the head of Amnesty International’s UN Office.

Blatant pandering such as this undermines all the UN’s work to protect children caught up in war, the Amnesty statement added. By bowing to pressure, Ban Ki-moon undermined the important role of his own special representative, and by doing so also damages the credibility of the UN as a whole, saidAmnesty.

“This is a stark example of why the UN needs to stand up for human rights and its own principles. Otherwise it will rapidly become part of the problem rather than the solution.”

The UN’s “Children and Armed Conflict” report cited violations committed by all parties engaged in the war in Yemen, including local actors responsible for recruiting child soldiers whose numbers increased fivefold in 2015, ultimately increasing six-fold the number of children killed or maimed compared with 2014 totalling 1,953 child casualties.

Of the casualties, 60 per cent (510 deaths and 667 injuries) were attributed to the Saudi-led coalition and 20 per cent (142 deaths and 247 injuries) to the Houthis — the rebel group that overran Sanaa in October 2014, eventually prompting the Saudi-led military intervention in March 2015, aiming to defeat them.

Attacks on schools and hospitals were prevalent in 2015, linked to the increased use of air strikes and explosive weapons in populated areas.

The report verified 101 incidents of attacks on schools and hospitals — double the number of incidents verified in 2014. Of the attacks, 90 per cent caused the partial or complete destruction of schools or health facilities, while the remaining 10 per cent involved attacks on protected personnel, including students. Of the attacks on schools and hospitals, 48 per cent was attributed to the Saudi-led coalition, 29 per cent to the Houthis and 20 per cent to unidentified perpetrators.

Fifty-nine incidents of attacks on 34 hospitals were verified, with multiple attacks on the same facilities, especially in Aden and Taiz. In Aden, six facilities were attacked 10 times. In Taiz, three health facilities were hit in 23 separate incidents. The majority of repeated attacks were attributed to Houthi forces.

The report included the Saudi-led coalition in its list of five parties in Yemen that recruit or use children, kill or maim children, commit rape and other forms of sexual violence against children, or engage in attacks on schools and/or hospitals, or abduct children in situations of armed conflict. The Houthis and Al-Qaeda are also included in the list.

While Ban Ki-moon says the removal of the Saudi-led coalition is temporary and for the purpose of review, Saudi Arabia’s UN ambassador insisted it was “final and unconditional”.

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