UN removes Arab coalition from blacklist of child rights violators
UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations on Monday removed the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen from a blacklist of child rights violators after Riyadh angrily protested the decision.
Saudi Arabia had demanded that a UN report be "corrected" after it concluded that the coalition was responsible for 60 percent of the 785 children killed in Yemen last year.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon agreed to a Saudi proposal to review the facts and cases cited in the report jointly with the coalition, his spokesman Stephan Dujarric said.
"Pending the conclusions of the joint review, the secretary-general removes the listing of the coalition in the report's annex," he added.
Saudi Ambassador Abdullah al-Mouallimi told reporters that the coalition felt "vindicated," declaring that the removal of the coalition from the list was "final and unconditional."
The ambassador had earlier said he was "deeply disappointed" by the report, describing the number of child deaths blamed on the coalition as "wildly exaggerated."
Mouallimi met with UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson at UN headquarters to discuss the listing.
The coalition launched an air campaign in support of Yemen's President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi in March 2015 to push back Huthi rebels after they seized the capital Sanaa and many parts of the country.
The war has left some 6,400 people dead, with more than 80 percent of the population in desperate need of humanitarian aid, according to the UN.
The report was released Thursday as the United Nations sought progress in talks held in Kuwait to try to end the war.
Mouallimi had warned that adding the coalition to the UN blacklist would be "counterproductive for the purposes of the peace negotiations on Yemen."
The ambassador acknowledged that "there were some collateral damages from time to time" but that the coalition had played a "positive role" in restoring Yemen's legitimate government and providing humanitarian aid.
Dujarric earlier defended the report, saying some adjustments would be made even though the list would remain intact.
But just a few hours later, the spokesman issued a statement announcing that the coalition would be removed from the list pending the review.
In Riyadh, the coalition said on Tuesday that it handed over 52 children to Yemeni authorities after they were caught fighting with the rebels along the borders with the kingdom.
The children were captured while planting landmines, the coalition said in a statement carried by the official SPA news agency. It said the repatriation was "coordinated with international organisations" including the Red Cross and UNICEF.
Rights groups have repeatedly raised concerns about the heavy civilian toll from the Saudi-led campaign.
Human Rights Watch charged that Ban had capitulated to Saudi pressure, noting that the United Nations itself had extensively documented the coalition's airstrikes on schools and hospitals in Yemen.
"As this list gives way to political manipulation, it loses its credibility and taints the secretary-general's legacy on human rights," HRW's deputy director Philippe Bolopion said.
Amnesty International also slammed what it called the "shameful pandering" to the Saudi-led coalition.
"It is unprecedented for the UN to bow to pressure to alter its own published report on children in armed conflict," the head of Amnesty's UN office Richard Bennett said in a statement.