• Press Release

UN: Shameful pandering to Saudi Arabia-led coalition over children killed in Yemen conflict

June 7, 2016

The credibility of the United Nations is on the line after it shamefully caved in to pressure to remove the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition from the UN’s list of states and armed groups that violate children’s rights in conflict, Amnesty International said today.

Last night a spokesperson for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced the change to the list published on June 2 as part of an annual report by his Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. The move was a direct result of diplomatic pressure from Saudi Arabia, angry at the UN’s conclusion that coalition operations had led to the death and suffering of children in the armed conflict in Yemen.

“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, Representative and Head of Amnesty International’s UN Office.

“Blatant pandering such as this undermines all of the UN’s work to protect children caught up in war. Secretary-General Ban must not succumb to pressure and undermine the important role of his own Special Representative. By doing so he also damages the credibility of the UN as a whole. 

“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.”

According to the UN, the removal is temporary while it reviews the report’s findings jointly with Saudi Arabian authorities. But Saudi Arabia’s diplomats to the UN were quick to hail what they saw as an “irreversible” moral victory.

The UN has never before removed a state it had already listed, but it was widely criticized for backing off from including Israel in last year’s report, following many credible allegations of hundreds of children killed and thousands injured in the 2014 armed conflict in Gaza.

“By taking a step further, the Secretary-General has set a dangerous precedent that will put the lives of children in countries in conflict at even greater risk,” said Bennett.

According to the UN report as published on June 2, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition was responsible for 60 percent of child deaths and injuries in the Yemen conflict last year, killing 510 and wounding 667.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was quoted as saying: “Grave violations against children increased dramatically as a result of the escalating conflict.”

Amnesty International has repeatedly documented violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by coalition members during the conflict, including against children. This includes airstrikes on schools and the use of internationally banned cluster munitions which have killed three children and maimed nine.  
Children account for a third – at least 127 – of the 361 civilian deaths that resulted from the 32 apparently unlawful airstrikes documented by Amnesty International since the start of the coalition campaign.