Middle East

Yemen conflict: UN accuses Saudis of pressure over blacklist

Disabled young Yemenis wait for treatment at a rehabilitation centre in Sanaa (4 June 2016) Image copyright EPA
Image caption The UN said 1,168 children, more than 70% of them boys, were injured in the conflict in 2015

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says he faced "unacceptable" pressure to remove the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen from a blacklist over child casualties.

Mr Ban said a number of countries had threatened to cut off vital funding for many UN programmes.

He said the decision to remove them from the UN list of violators of children's rights was "one of the most painful" he'd had to make.

Saudi Arabia denies the threats.

The UN announced on Monday that it had temporarily removed the Saudi-led coalition from the child's rights blacklist which was published last week.

In his first public remarks following the announcement, Mr Ban said he decided to do so after Saudi Arabia along with some other Arab and Muslim countries threatened to cut off funding to UN humanitarian programs.

He said he "had to consider the very real prospect that millions of other children would suffer grievously if, as was suggested to me, countries would de-fund many UN programmes."

"It is unacceptable for member-states to exert undue pressure," Mr Ban told reporters at UN headquarters.

Human rights groups had sharply criticised the decision to take Saudis off the list, saying the UN chief's office had "hit a new low".

Saudi reaction

The Saudi Ambassador to the UN, Abdullah Mouallimi, denied that his government had exerted pressure on the UN.

"We did not use threats or intimidation and we did not talk about funding," said Mr Mouallimi.

On Monday, Saudi Arabia vigorously protested against the released UN report which said the coalition was responsible for 60% of child deaths and injuries in Yemen last year.

Saudi officials said the casualty figures were "wildly exaggerated".

Later that day, Mr Ban accepted a Saudi proposal to remove the coalition from the blacklist pending a joint review of the cases and numbers cited in his report.

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The coalition - which comprises Saudi Arabia and nine other Arab and Muslim nations, supported by the US and UK - began fighting the Houthis in March 2015, two months after the rebels drove Yemen's government from power and took full control of the capital, Sanaa.

Last Thursday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued his annual report on children and armed conflict, which described the situation in Yemen as "particularly worrisome".

It said there was a five-fold increase in the number of children recruited and used by armed groups in 2015 and that six times more children were killed and maimed compared with 2014.

The report attributed 510 child deaths and 667 injuries last year to the Saudi-led coalition, most of them caused by air strikes, and 142 child deaths and 247 injuries to the Houthis.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The UN attributed 60% of the 785 child deaths to the Saudi-led coalition, a figure it disputed