Yemen war: UN takes Saudi-led coalition off child rights ‘list of shame’

Children collect metal from the site of a destroyed factory following a reported airstrike by Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa, Yemen (20 January 2019) Image copyright AFP
Image caption The UN said it verified grave violations against 2,159 children in Yemen last year

Human rights groups have criticised the UN for removing the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen from a blacklist of those whose actions harm children.

The UN found 222 children were killed or injured last year by the coalition, which is backing Yemen’s government in its war with the rebel Houthi movement.

Secretary General António Guterres said that represented a “sustained and significant decrease” in casualties.

Human Rights Watch accused him of ignoring evidence of grave violations.

Five years of conflict have devastated Yemen, reportedly killed more than 100,000 people, and triggered the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

The UN secretary general’s report to the security council on children and armed conflict said 4,042 grave violations against 2,159 children in Yemen were verified last year.

In total, at least 395 children were killed and 1,447 children were maimed.

It attributed 313 children killed or injured to the Houthis, 222 to the Saudi-led coalition, 96 to the coalition-backed Yemeni armed forces, 51 to militias opposed to the Houthis, five to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and two to the Islamic State group.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption At least 171 children were killed or injured in air strikes in Yemen last year, according to the UN

Parties were also responsible for the recruitment of children, detentions, abductions, sexual violence, and attacks on schools and hospitals, the report said.

Despite the alleged violations, Mr Guterres said the Saudi-led coalition would be removed from its global list of state and non-state parties that had failed to put in place measures to protect children.

He cited “a sustained, significant decrease in killing and maiming due to air strikes” and the implementation of a memorandum of understanding that called for a programme of activities to strengthen prevention and protection measures.

But Mr Guterres added the programme would be monitored for 12 months and that “any failure in this regard would result in relisting for the same violation”.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The rebel Houthi movement is accused of widespread violations against children

Human rights groups said the decision left children vulnerable to further attacks.

“The secretary-general is adding a new level of shame to his ‘list of shame’ by removing the Saudi-led coalition and ignoring the UN’s own evidence of continued grave violations against children,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

Adrianne Lapar, director of Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, said the delisting “sends the message that powerful actors can get away with killing children” and called for “an independent, objective, transparent assessment of the process leading to the decision”.

When asked if Saudi Arabia had exerted pressure on the UN, Mr Guterres’ envoy for children and armed conflict, Virginia Gamba, said: “Absolutely not.”

The coalition had been on the blacklist for three years.

It was added in 2016, but subsequently removed following protests from Saudi Arabia. Then Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accused the kingdom of exerting “unacceptable” pressure on the UN, with allied countries allegedly threatening to cut off vital funding for aid programmes.